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Bob Pyne

Robert Pyne

Catherine Zirnigibl

Catherine Zirnigibl

November 2012

Election season prompts reflection, thoughtful discussion of voter responsibility

A panel discussion ahead of today’s elections offered two views of “Voting in Good Faith,” followed by an open forum for broader discussion.

The Oct. 25 event, co-sponsored by St. Norbert College and the Diocese of Green Bay, featured panelists Robert Pyne (Community Engagement) and Catherine Zirnigibl, living justice director for the diocese.

Framing the discussion
Pyne outlined what it might mean to vote “in bad faith,” referencing the writings of the 20th-century French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

“Acting in bad faith would be to think that your choices are somehow determined or guided by another, perhaps dictated by a tradition, perhaps bequeathed to you by authority,” he said, “and you have no option but to act according to those choices of the other.”

Instead, to vote in good faith, people needed to act responsibly by taking their own judgment seriously, he explained. 

“We are not constrained by the traditions that we represent,” he said. “Instead, we are able to judge the issues fairly, squarely in front of us, and learn the best we can how we should act.”

Pyne also presented the notion of structural pluralism, which states that authority is legitimate but limited. He explained the difference between the theological sphere and the public sphere. 

“I believe that we’ve made a mistake in a lot of our churches in giving the keys to what we call a sacrament,” he said. “Let the church be responsible for the sacrament; let the public sphere be responsible for its expression of rights.

“In the public sphere, we ask what is good for the people, not what’s good for me,” he added.

Zirnigibl picked up the theme, emphasizing the connection between the two spheres and presenting Catholic social teaching as a guide to voting in good faith. She focused on three main principles of the doctrine: human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity.

“We are all created in God’s image and likeness and we have this innate quality to be respected and loved,” she said in reference to human dignity.

Zirnigibl explained the principle of solidarity as a call to stand together regardless of differences. 

Subsidiarity is based on the idea that people at the grassroots level, those who work closest to a problem, know best how to handle the situation.

The United States Council of Catholic Bishops has articulated seven themes of Catholic social teaching that stem from the three principles. Zirnigibl recommended to voters the document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States.” 

“The beauty of Catholic social teaching is that we are able to use that lens, to reflect on it and evaluate society at large to see that if there are unjust structures in society, we have a responsibility, especially as Catholics and people of faith, to act on those structures and change them if they are unjust,” said Zirnigibl.

Many perspectives
The Rev. Jay Fostner, O.Praem., ’84 (Mission & Student Affairs) says the Catholic intellectual tradition calls us all – and particularly those of us who work in institutions of learning – to engage in discussions like this one, and to think these issues through in conversation with our whole community.

“The purpose of the 'Voting in Good Faith' forum," Fostner says, “was to present Church teaching clearly and then to open up the conversation – to give people a space where they can think and talk about how their faith informs their conscience as they go to the polls. This cannot be a black-and-white issue because of the complexities of our values and the platforms of each candidate.”

The panel discussion was the latest in a series of campus events that explore and promote the theme of civility. The college has crafted a civility statement and is offering prayer services, speakers and other programs designed to promote civility – including civility in public discussion – in the community. 

Nov. 6, 2012



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