Panel highlights importance of Catholic teaching in voting

Guidance counselor Louise Wibbenmeyer described it as a "God moment."

She had been asked to be on senior Levi Krauss's panel to speak about voting with a Catholic perspective with the senior class at St. Vincent de Paul High School in Perryville.

Then she read a column by George Weigel about that very subject in the St. Louis Review dated Jan. 18-24.

So it was that Wibbenmeyer stood in the school library Feb. 11, talking about voting — Catholic style — and quoting Weigel from a column that became prophetic just two days later.

Weigel wrote that "the most important numbers to keep in mind between now and election day are 78, 80 and 83," she said. "I wonder what those numbers mean?"

She provided the answer: the ages of four Supreme Court justices, out of nine total — or almost half of the bench.

"Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78 by Nov. 8; Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy will be 80 by then, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83," she said, quoting Weigel. "If the actuarial tables mean anything, those numbers suggest that the next president of the United States is likely to have between two and four nominations to the Court.

"This demographic reality creates an opportunity, unprecedented since the disaster of Roe v. Wade, to make significant advances in rebuilding the structure of legal protection for human life from conception until natural death."

The culture of life might replace the culture of death. Imagine that.

"I think it's pretty cool the next president could nominate four," she said.

It might only be three, though. Scalia died just two days later, and President Barack Obama has said he will nominate the replacement. But bickering already has begun about whether Obama or the new president should make the appointment.

Either way, Wibbenmeyer's — and Weigel's — point is that the president has this power, which means voters need to make reasoned, researched choices in November when they go the polls. Most of St. Vincent de Paul's 33 seniors will be among those voters, of voting age by then, and they'll be away at college and from the friendly halls at the high school and their quiet hometown.

The former reality prompted Krauss to organize a voter registration drive for seniors a few weeks ago and that morphed into a half-hour presentation on Catholic voting because of the latter. At larger campuses with thousands of students, the few from St. Vincent de Paul will be bombarded with messages contrary to Catholic social teaching.

Primary among them is abortion, which some call the killing of unborn babies in the guise of "health care." St. Vincent de Paul students have been involved in the Pro Life Movement for many years and have regularly attended the March For Life in Washington, D.C. A group went to Washington last month only to turn around and come right back home to avoid the two-foot snowstorm.

"We've prayed about it and know our stance as Catholics," Krauss said. "Now it's time for us to get out and make sure we research our candidates and find the ones who are pro life and find the ones who support the things that St. Vincent has instilled within us."

Hearing messages contrary to Catholic teaching will present challenges but not insurmountable ones, based on the education at St. Vincent de Paul and life in Perryville.

Senior Trevor Leivle described Perryville as "a small town, very Catholic. It'll be a different environment."

"Being Catholic has made a big impact on my life, going to a Catholic school and living in a Catholic family," senior Jessica Unterreiner said. "Religion is big in my life."

Said Isaac Baer: 'You have to listen to what other people say, but it's good to form your own opinions."

And that's regardless of whether issues are on the national, state or local levels.

Panelist Thomas Prost, St. Vincent de Paul's service hours coordinator, pointed out that local elections have as few as 200 votes in a town of 8,000.

"You have a great opportunity to have a say on a local level how we spend our money," Prost told the students. "A lot of people say that it's no big deal, but you have a say if you want a say."

St. Vincent de Paul Parish associate pastor Father Richard Wehrmeyer, CM, history/religion teacher Tim Weilert and religion teacher Kim Finger also served on the panel with Prost and Wibbenmeyer. They simply stressed the importance of voting.

"As Catholics we want a society that affirms life; that's a universal desire among Catholics," Weilert said. "If we want to have (a) society that affirms life, it is our duty as citizens to participate and make that happen."

Because other people can't.

"People have died for our freedom," said Finger, who brought a visual to the presentation. She showed the students a shoebox with "VOTE" written in Stars and Stripes letters.

"People throughout the world do not have that what we would call a fundamental right," Father Wehrmeyer said. 

With a number of hot topic issues at the forefront in our culture, it is important that Catholics have an understanding of the Church's position on these issues.
Visit www.archstl.org/vote to find links to resources to help you stay informed. 

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