PO BOX 5079 (51102)
SIOUX CITY, IA (51105)


Participate in election with Christ as guide

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


In response to the “Faithful Citizenship” bulletin insert you have received in recent weeks, I have several times been asked why the Iowa bishops are in favor of the mandated ballot question on a constitutional convention, and about the ballot measure for retention of three Iowa Supreme Court justices. As we approach the elections on November 2, I hope this letter will be clear and instructive to all the faithful.

First, very briefly, let me review the most basic truths Christ teaches about political involvement. We know, of course, that the Kingdom of God is not of this world. If we belong to Christ, we do not belong to the “prince of this world.” Our true citizenship is in Heaven, not in any temporal kingdom or state.

Yet, even given full submission to our Lord Jesus Christ, how we live in the world matters greatly. Political structures and outcomes have consequences, for good or ill. Good politics and good laws favor the common good; bad politics and bad laws injure the common good. Natural virtues like humility, prudence, generosity, hospitality to the weak and to strangers, self-restraint in exercising power and respect for human life and dignity, will all be either fostered or hindered by our laws, policies and institutions. Christians, therefore, must make use of political means to the extent possible, in order to work for the common good and natural virtue. Especially in the kind of democratic and representative system we are privileged with, Christian voters must vote for the best means of achieving the common good, and Christian politicians must follow the moral truths of Christ consistently.

In judging which means are the best for achieving the common good, Christians must follow the objective, divinely revealed moral law. At our baptism as Catholics, we rejected the devil and all his works and the glamour of evil. We also believe, as Catholics, that evil means may never be chosen for a good end. Abortion (the killing of a baby in the womb of the mother), euthanasia (“mercy killing” of one who suffers,) human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research are clear examples of evil means. Voting or advocating for these policies is never morally permissible.

There are many ways to work for the common good. The first and most important priority must be of respect for human life and dignity. We then are called to make sure that the principles of solidarity and subsidiary are followed. Solidarity means that all human beings share one anothers burdens and joys.
Subsidiary means that the larger and more powerful always serves the smaller groups or individual person. For example, the offices and departments here at the Chancery are meant to serve our parishes and individuals. Protection of rights and dignity for families, workers, and the poor are likewise necessary criteria for just governance, followed by care for what God has created. At each level within this list of priorities, God-given rights must take precedence over state-created rights (given by our governmental bodies). Private and personal rights are generally more fundamental than public and corporate rights. For example the newly invented “right” to “same-sex marriage”, cannot be supported by Christian conscience, both because it exceeds the authority of the state, and because it can only be pursued by violating the God-given right and dignity of traditional marriage.

These are the foundations of faithful, Catholic citizenship. These shape how, in our efforts to be good servants for our Lord Jesus Christ, my brother bishops of Iowa and I seek to express our desire to work for good for each person in our society.


The Iowa Catholic Conference supports the possibility of a Constitutional Convention (our state allows one every 10 years), simply as a prudentially just means of hopefully achieving the common good especially with regard to a marriage amendment to our Iowa State Constitution. Because the common good always rests on the strength and stability of families, and because marriage, pre-exists the state (and is given to us by God from the beginning), the state (government) cannot change its definition. This Convention would be a licit and lawful means to hopefully accomplish this end. Further, because the current executive and legislative branches of our government have blocked the normal avenues of constitutional reform on this issue, the sovereignty of the people over all three branches of government demands this redress.


The “Faithful Citizenship” insert did not directly address the question of retaining the three Iowa Supreme Court judges who are up for a retention vote. As a matter of prudence, voters must ask whether the judicial record of these judges warrants their continued service to the people of Iowa. If, in one’s judgment, they have demonstrated the consistent devotion to moral principle, universality of law, and respect for the peoples’ sovereignty which they are sworn to uphold without fear or favor, then it would not be wrong to vote for their retention. But if one judged them to have swerved from these high standards, then let them be accountable to us, the people.

It is objectively true, for example, that the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision regarding so called “same sex marriage” in Varnum v. Brien was an unjust decision. Rather than treating all equally under the same law, it created special and private law for a minority, at the expense of existing law, both divine and human. This ruling seems not to recognize but explicitly deny the public good of marriage; namely, the flourishing stability of that institution which best and most profoundly provides for the loving support of a husband and wife and children, enabled to be formed in natural virtue, and protected from poverty and its effects. It implies, then, that schools, prisons, or other public or private institutions can do for the common good what, in reality, only families can do, and thereby does violence to the rights of parents. Moreover, it incoherently asserts that religious marriage and civil marriage remain the same, despite the fact that they now have contradictory and mutually exclusive definitions.

We must do all we can to support the traditional definition and institution of marriage.

May the light of faith and the fearless grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. I urge you to participate in the elections on November 2, as His full disciples and servants, so that through our faithful devotion, He may extend His innumerable blessings to all people in Iowa and in our country. Please pray for all our elected officials, that Christ may guide their choices for the common good, and keep them obedient to His generous will.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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