TORONTO, Canada – A few days ago I was sitting in a hotel ballroom here listening to Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, deliver his annual report on the work the Knights have been up to over the past year.
During the course of some 10,000 words, he spoke relatively briefly about the upcoming election, but his words made waves when he insisted that Catholics in good conscience can’t vote for candidates who are proponents of legal abortion. (In fact, he was quoting from an address he gave eight years ago on a similar occasion.)
Anderson said abortion must be a priority. He didn’t say it’s the only thing we need to care about, but he did say that when assessing a candidate it ought to be a showstopper and a game-changer, and he’s completely right.
A point worth making is that Anderson was not speaking in the context of an academic theological debate. He was making an argument for a new, non-partisan political strategy, which is that we can change policy by withholding our vote from any candidate, of any party, who supports abortion.
Anderson sees that voting for pro-abortion politicians for other reasons has not brought them closer to a moral position, or even the pro-restriction position that polling shows is held by 8 in 10 Americans. His point was that at a time when America’s fundamental moral direction seems up for grabs, encouraging a pro-abortion candidate, for whatever reason, is not a wise prudential choice.
That’s all the more so as another Catholic vice-presidential candidate wraps himself in the flag of Pope Francis. Yet Francis, as it happens, is also against abortion. The fifth Commandment is a fundamental, as far as both he and the Bible are concerned.
To give you a taste of Anderson’s speech as it had to do with politics, he said:
“Some partisan advocates have sought to excuse support for pro-abortion candidates through a complex balancing act. They claim other issues are important enough to offset a candidate’s support for abortion. But the right to abortion is not just another political issue; it is, in reality, a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.”
Anderson offered a visual to make this more than numbers in the abstract:
“Imagine for a moment the largest 25 cities in the United States and Canada – including New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas and Vancouver – all of these cities – suddenly empty of people. This is what the loss of 40 million human beings would look like. In fact, 40 million is greater than the entire population of Canada.”
And then he emphasized:
“What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation? The answer, of course, is that there is none. Abortion is different. Abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale.”
Anderson was spot-on: Abortion is a poison. It hurts men and women and families, and it makes for the throwaway society Pope Francis so often talks about.
It is precisely Catholics not taking this reality seriously – not to mention the Gospel and Catholic social teaching – that has gotten us to the point we are today: Mad, confused and dismayed about politics.
In effect, Anderson was leading us in a civic examination of conscience, in the spirit of the first Jesuit pope, a student of Ignatius Loyola, who was a master of rigorous discernment in the spiritual life.
In many ways – having been a witness to some of what the Knights have done over the past year on the Christian genocide by the Islamic State, and and having just been in Krakow at their Mercy Centre where young lives were changed and transformed – I thought what he said about the election was not only obvious, but just what the doctor ordered.
(For the record, I was hosted by the Knights in Krakow for World Youth Day, where I was a speaker and moderator.)
Around the same time eight years ago, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia expressed his disappointment in Catholics for not being leaders for life in an interview with the Catholic News Service.
“Catholics have been historically part of the Democratic party in great numbers,” he said, “and I think they could have really stopped that development and movement if they had tried. But they didn’t.”
He said that, “We are Catholics before we are Democrats, we are Catholics before we are Republicans, we are even Catholics before we are Americans.”
This is not news to anyone who has read John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae – a document that was a leaven for ecumenical unity — or who’s heard Pope Francis’s warnings against ideological colonization. It’s also not new to anyone familiar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christians do not belong to this world, and certainly are not bound to political parties above the love God has demonstrated to us on the Cross.
If there’s any breaking news in Anderson’s remarks, it is that we remain stuck in an unnecessary divide. This election is an opportunity for Catholics, for other Christians and religious believers, and all people of good will.
Don’t be party people. Be a people of life.
Talking about politics and practical front-line work, Anderson said to his brother Knights of Columbus: “Every time we save a life, we change the course of history.” And he meant that not just at the beginning of life, but throughout all of life and at its end.
He explained: “This is why the Knights of Columbus will always be at the forefront of the pro-life cause, protecting life from its beginning to its natural end.”
He emphasized: “In 1882 [when the Knights were founded], widows and orphans were on the margins of society. Today, it is the unborn and those at the end of life. That is why now, as throughout our history, the Knights of Columbus embrace those who are being ignored by society.”
We are a nation that loves opining, and disagreeing. Yet when it comes to the Knights and Anderson’s advice on voting, as well as on charity and telling the truth, following their lead seems the most obvious thing to do.
In many ways, it seems the least we could do.