Catholics last November voted 52 percent for Donald Trump and 48 for Hillary Clinton. Contrary to the “fake news” that said Pope Francis endorsed the former because he claimed a pro-life stance on abortion, the Holy Father never took a position of favoring anyone. It would have been nearly impossible for him to have done this because Vatican II’s The Church in the Modern World holds religious leaders from Rome on down to partisan neutrality in civil elections.
Preachers in pulpits may and must speak about issues of justice in society, but without naming a candidate or a party as the one whom Catholics must choose. You may be aware of deviations from this global norm perhaps because of the enthusiasm of a particular priest or deacon, but that does not affect the prohibition. Parishioners usually take exception to such “guidance” and generally vote opposite, as I suspect voting records will show.
The U.S. bishops have issued a teaching document to help voters for the past 30-some years before major elections, urging voters to use their consciences to choose the candidate who they think best approaches the Catholic social justice agenda. The bishops frequently admit that no candidate fully corresponds to what a Catholic would want to see in executive or legislative offices. But they leave it to the maturity of the voter to vote wisely. General reminders of what makes for an intelligent choice fill the material bishops offer to help those interested.
One directive of course that is of great importance to the electorate is the abortion issue. The bishops have taught that a Catholic may not choose a candidate because he or she is pro-abortion. This should be obvious. Abortion on demand is the direct taking of an innocent life, and most Catholics by now know of its unacceptability. However, the bishops teach that a pro-abortion candidate may be chosen not for this reason but for other reasons.
For instance, a pro-abortion candidate who promises to work for the ending of human-caused global warming can merit a Catholic vote. This too concerns human life, and if left unattended will result in the flooding of a quarter of the earth’s populated lands along coastlines. Millions of deaths can result.
There is no downgrading of the 60 million abortion deaths since Roe. The carnage is appalling, making me think that Americans in a century will look back on us as savages with one foot out of the caves. They will see us as we see slaveholders a century ago, barbarian brutes with the absurd conviction that one race is allowed to lash another to pick cotton. We who preach to our children that certain behavior is wrong even if “everybody’s doing it” must admit that the Holocaust or the barring of desperate immigrants or the systemic cruelty to women and gays or the capitalistic contempt for the environment all are terribly wrong even though they are widely common in our so sophisticated society.
This last issue baffles many rational and educated Americans and others. Widespread misogyny or gay bashing or hatred for foreigners or greed-driven abuse of finite resources or vicious anti-Semitism characterize speech all throughout the United States and beyond, gulling many into thinking that these things cannot be wrong. How could they be immoral when so many moral people speak these ways? Yet any student of history or of human nature can examine mega-blunders of the distant past, like the Inquisition or the Crusades and conclude that evils like these were rampantly common and wholly permissible, with even church fathers having to learn like everyone else the sinfulness of longstanding practices.
Historians could cite that Pope Nicholas IV in 1552 declared the practice of slavery allowable. Saint Pope John Paul II declared it intrinsically evil. It is papal reversals like this that enable even the most conservative Catholic to begrudge change at the top level of moral instruction. And thank God for that.
As we begin a new presidential administration, it is incumbent on us all to pray and work for the social justice agenda so necessary for humane life and so absent from last fall’s abominable campaign, with the most vile speech and sentiment directed at whole minorities and even at the female majority. One felt that he or she needed a bath after yet another night’s political TV ads.
May God grant our country unity.