The fact is: The Catholic vote is not a monolith.
This was the core of an online discussion organized by Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public life.
Participants included Emma Green, an award-winning journalist; Karina De Avila, a leader in local immigrant support and advocacy; Mary FioRito, an attorney and pro-life leader; and John Carr, the director of the Initiative.
According to Kim Daniels, the moderator and associate director of the Georgetown Initiative, the wide range of political beliefs within the Church means Catholics wrestle with “how to best live out the moral principles we share, like the equal dignity of every person, the priority for the poor and vulnerable and our responsibility to pursue the common good.”
“We think that no one should be written out from our Catholic family for how they form and follow their conscience about how to cast their ballot,” she said.
In a closely divided Catholic community, Daniels continued, it’s better to engage than to demonize, hence the dialogue on the latest updates to Faithful Citizenship, released last year by the U.S. bishops to help guide voters’ consciences.
“So here we are, just two weeks out from election day, with this polarizing presidential campaign in high gear,” she said. “We remain in the thick of a global pandemic and economic crisis, all within what Pope Francis has called a throwaway culture, that too often fails to protect the most vulnerable among us, including unborn children and their mothers, migrants and refugees, the unemployed, the elderly, and so many others.”
The Catholic vote is split, complicated and really important, Daniels said, all of which was proven throughout the hour-long conversation that included questions posed by the over 1,000 people who followed the livestream of the event.
Green noted that Catholic’s are split 50-50, “like a Solomon baby,” between the Democratic and Republican parties, and it becomes evident during every election year that “they are the ultimate swing constituency.” She noted that in three quarters of the presidential elections in the past 50 years, Catholics “sided with the winner, so you can see why presidential candidates would be eager” to have Catholics on their side.
This presidential election is no different, and both candidates, Green said, are working hard to persuade the Catholic voters.
When it comes to dividing the Catholic vote, however, one cannot discount the difference between white Catholics, 57 percent of whom identify as Republican and Latino Catholics, nearly 68 percent of whom identify as Democrats.
Carr said that between the candidates – Joe Biden and Donald Trump – there are at least two intrinsic evils as central issues: racism and abortion. Biden, who began his political career as a pro-life Democrat, “has now under pressure embraced his party’s extreme abortion agenda, with federal funding for abortion and no restrictions,” he said.
Trump, on the other hand, has moved in the opposite direction, from a “’very pro-choice position’ to committing to appoint judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade, oppose abortion in legislation and executive orders and establish conscience protections for religious objections to abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.”
When it comes to the other intrinsic evil Carr sees in this election, racism, “the differences are also stark,” he said.
On the one hand, Trump “demonizes immigrants, fans the flames of race and division, refuses to denounce racist groups or actions and seeks to divide the country by overt appeals to racial fears.” On the other, Biden “condemns racism and seeks national healing, speaks for voting rights and against systemic racism. He served as vice president to the first Black president and chose the first Black woman to run as a major party’s nominee for vice president.”
“At this moment of national reckoning on racial injustice and clear disparities in the impact of the coronavirus crisis, electing a president who will fight racism, not exacerbate it, is a moral imperative for me,” he said.
Carr, De Avila and FioRito were up-front on who they’re voting for, with the first two being pro-Biden and the latter a life-long Democrat who’s voting for Trump.
When her time came to express why she’s going to vote for Trump, FioRito underlined the fact that her parents immigrated to America from Scotland “primarily for religious liberty reasons,” and that she grew up in a Democratic household.
“For a family like ours to have to move to the Republican party to cast a ballot is a serious and significant thing,” she said, before listing a series of Democratic campaigns she volunteered for.
FioRito was the director of pro-life activities for the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and the first female vice-chancellor for the Archdiocese of Chicago. She quoted the late cardinal saying that “you can’t subscribe to the consistent ethic and then vote for someone who believes that abortion is a basic right for the individual, because the consequence of that is a lack of legal protection for the unborn.”
The Biden-Harris position on abortion is not neutral, FioRito said, and she’s grown increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that as one of the Democratic candidates during the primaries said, there’s no room in the party for pro-life politicians.
The Democrat’s plank on abortion went from “safe, legal and rare, that I think people could agree with, to all nine-months and the taxpayers will pay for it. That’s the kind of extremism that pushed this life-long Democrat into voting for President Trump,” FioRito said.
Asked to make the Catholic case for Biden over Trump, De Avila, a leader for immigrant rights and a founding member of the Latinx Catholic Leadership Coalition, she said she couldn’t vote for a man who is “the opposite to nearly everything that is human and Christian.”
“So why should I vote for Biden? Because on nearly every account, Trump has failed the American nation and the Catholic world by promoting racism, implicitly and explicitly,” De Avila said. “By using the pro-life cause to advance his interests, arguing that he’s against abortion yet his administration restored the federal death penalty. He has created conditions for the lives of migrants and refugees to be threatened, and wants to take away basic healthcare from millions of people, including the young and poor.”
“Biden is not perfect, no candidate is,” she acknowledged. “Democrats are not perfect, and no one would claim that. Yet the decision is clear for me.”
De Avila also said that everyone in the United States has a voice, not only “the rich and powerful elites, or the religious powers that want to co-opt people’s conscience by instilling fear. It’s everyone.”
Despite the fact that three of the participants were very open on who they are voting for and why, the exchange was, as Daniels noted in her closing remarks, “principled, respectful and candid,” serving as a healthy reminder that dialogue without hatred can, in fact, occur.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma