Across social media, there seems to be a fair bit of election-season hysteria among Catholics.
Horrified by a Democratic candidate who openly supports abortion up to birth, conservatives have rallied to the Republican candidate who claims to be pro-life. Meanwhile, progressive Catholics are enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, and are aghast at the seeming incompetence and severe character flaws of Donald Trump.
On the religious front, Clinton’s team are ignorantly and arrogantly anti-Catholic, while one cannot help but suspect Trump’s cozy relationship with Evangelicals and conservative Catholics is merely political window-dressing.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has summed up many people’s dismay at the choice of White House wannabees, saying that the choice is between “A vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women, or a scheming, robotic liar with a lifelong appetite for power and an entourage riddled with anti-Catholic bigots.”
If conservative Catholics are to be believed, a Hillary Clinton presidency will destroy America. Not only will she expand abortion provisions, but she has promised to load the Supreme Court with progressive justices.
Donald Trump is their savior. Despite his soiled personal reputation, they believe his new found pro-life label. They warn Clinton voters that they will be committing a mortal sin on election day. For Trump fans, for Catholics to do anything less than jump on the Trump Train is a grave sin.
It is, no doubt, a worrying election cycle.
The bishops have published two very clear documents which help voting Catholics form their conscience. A collection of resources supporting their main document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship is available online. Very briefly, Catholics are asked to be aware of four pillars of Catholic social teaching:
- Human Dignity – All Human Life is Sacred
- Subsidiarity – Local Solutions and Initiatives are Best
- Solidarity – We Are Our Brother’s Keeper
- The Common Good – Solutions and Initiatives Should Benefit All
The second summary of the bishops’ teaching goes into more detail on our responsibilities and specifies eight key issues for Catholics:
- Defense of Human Life from womb to tomb
- Defense of Historic and Traditional Marriage
- Fair Treatment of Immigrants
- Economic Fairness of opportunity
- Defense of Religious Freedom
- Health Care for All
- Elimination of Racial or Ethnic Hatred
- Peaceful solutions to conflict
- Solidarity with others to solve global problems.
Our consciences should be formed so that we not only understand the importance of all these issues, but we should also be able to clarify and prioritize them. Abortion is not the only issue, but the bishops are clear that it is a priority issue.
They teach, “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”
If Catholics are expected to exercise their conscience, they are also expected to exercise their common sense.
The fact of the matter is that in the American system, one person’s vote doesn’t matter much. If you live in a swing state you might have to hold your nose and vote strategically against a particular candidate. However, if you do not live in a swing state your vote will be inconsequential, and you could vote for a third party according to your conscience.
When it comes to the abortion issue, common sense and honesty should prevail. Since 1968, neither the Republican nor Democratic presidents have done much to eliminate abortion. While Clinton is an open supporter of abortion, it is unrealistic to think that either candidate will seek to overturn Roe v. Wade completely.
Whomever is elected, Catholics should continue the national campaign, but should also roll up their sleeves and be involved in the pro-life cause at the local level. While working to be rid of abortion we should also do all we can to support women in crisis pregnancies, inform young people about the realities of abortion and work to support adoption and realistic child care and family support programs.
Listening to the doom and gloom merchants on both sides of the debate, one would be led to believe either that Hillary Clinton will lead the nation into a communist dictatorship or that Donald Trump will be America’s Mussolini.
Both scenarios are unlikely. In fact, common sense suggests that America will continue much as she has been—a great, sprawling, brawling, smart, tender-hearted, confused and diverse nation. We’ll go on fighting, loving, working hard and playing hard, building businesses and families much as we have always done.
We’ll have triumphs and tragedies, victories and defeats, and we’ll probably survive a lousy occupant in the White House.
Common sense demands that we be realistic not only about the current choices for president, but also about politicians in general. Politics is a dirty business, and always has been. Candidates promise everything and deliver nothing. The Bible warns us, “Do not put your trust in princes.” It might say, …”and not in presidents either.”
That being the case, whoever is elected, as St Paul teaches, “As much as possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
Life will go on after the election, and we should decide to live out our faith where we are with what we have — living local and loving local, so that our world will be changed not by a president, but by ordinary people, one day at a time.