In recent decades, 2004 was the only year in which practicing Catholics faced a tough choice in a Presidential election. This year it is much again clear despite the fact that the threat of a hostile IRS forces Catholic pastors to try to “balance” reasons to vote for each side from the pulpit.
Obviously some self-identify as Catholics because of their heritage, and therefore use the term “I am a Catholic” much as you might say “I have a red car.” Their Catholicism is incidental, in most cases those that are merely self-identified Catholics go along with more liberal candidates and resent practicing Catholics who strive to practice their faith from their daily life to the voting booth.
This article addresses practicing Catholics, who adhere to church teaching that you must attend Mass at least on Sundays, abide by Catholic doctrine and especially dogma, and therefore say “I am Catholic” in the same way that someone says, “that is water” because it is made up of twice as many hydrogen atoms as oxygen atoms bonded together – not the car that can simply be repainted.
To be a practicing Catholic means to believe the Church is inspired to lay out doctrine on issues such as abortion as well as teachings on immigration, war, climate change, denying pro-choice politicians communion to indicate they have broken with church teaching, natural law and many other issues that divide Donald Trump from Hillary Clinton as well as many other candidates.
Abortion – Since the first century, the Church has taught that strong penalties should be enacted to attempt to prevent people from performing abortions. While the Church maintains that Pope John Paul II statements on Capital Punishment or Pope Francis statements on climate control are open to discussion, the need to attempt to prevent abortions is not. You can certainly discuss which steps can be taken to stop which abortions, from a law that prevents abortionists except in tough cases such as rape and incest, to more modest approaches to stop some of the millions of abortions, but Catholic officials and voters are required to apply their faith to finding ways to save as many babies as they can. While many Catholics like myself oppose the death penalty and every life is precious, the choice between support for a million abortions a year or a couple of dozen executions a year is clear.
While progressives insist that other Catholic teachings “balance” the choice for Catholic voters and candidates, it would take quite an issue to balance off millions of abortions performed, including partial-birth abortions and abortions to get baby parts.
Iraq War – The only time in the past several decades in which a legitimate counter claim could have been made to offset the obligation of Catholics to vote for the pro-life candidate in a given race was 2004. The Iraq war was strongly opposed by the Church, and like abortion led to many innocent people being killed. It also removed religious freedom for millions living in the country, and ruined lives. A Catholic who chose to vote for John Kerry due to weighing the death and destruction in Iraq against the death and destruction at Planned Parenthood clinics certainly could make a case. Ironically 12 years later the Democratic nominee cannot claim the same issue, as she supported that war and supports abortion including apparently her husband’s support of partial-birth abortion, while the Republican nominee has pledge to appoint pro-life judges and oppose the War in Iraq.
Immigration and Natural Law – With the apparently clear choice between a pro-life, anti-Iraq War Republican who picked a pro-life running mate against a pro-choice Democrat who voted for the war and chose a Catholic running mate with a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood, Democrats attempt to elevate immigration as their issue to remove the obligation to vote for Trump for practicing Catholics. Catholics certainly have an obligation to treat immigrants humanely, and resist any attempt by government to stop churches from helping those in need – including illegal immigrants.
However, natural law is the bedrock of Catholic thought on democratically elected governments, and it does not dictate and even calls into question open borders.
The Catholic understanding of natural law is that authority starts from God and a Catholic’s obligation is first to church teaching if it contradicts bad governments (e.g. Nazi or Communist regimes), but that a legitimate government like a Republic or Democracy has the authority to set up laws on all other matters for the good of the culture and community of that country. The Church values national culture, particularly one such as the United States that was founded on religious freedom for Catholics and others. On this matter the Church clashes specifically with progressives, as the church believes it is important for those entering a functioning culture to assimilate into that culture to help maintain the culture.
Catholic officials and voters may even feel compelled to act to stem the invasion of people from outside the culture who refuse to assimilate and adopt the basic customs and language of a legitimate society such as the American culture. If an American wanted to become a French Citizen, it would be reasonable for the French to ask that the citizen attempt to learn French, even if they could only get far enough to apologize to the French they encountered for their inability to learn the language and humbly ask if the person would converse in English instead – rather than be the Ugly American who simply became angry if someone would not speak to them in English.
A Catholic could legitimately support policies that close the immigration gate in light of threats to national culture that is in line with Natural Law, or they can support opening the gate narrowly to those who are willing to become a part of that culture, or they can even support opening the gate widely to those coming from an area in which it appears there is wide spread support for American ideals (e.g. Cubans fleeing Castro). However, no matter which of the immigration approaches a practicing Catholic chooses, they cannot use their legitimate choice on that issue as a justification for choosing a candidate who supports partial birth abortion against one that pledges to appoint pro-life judges that will consider options for stopping that practice.
Finally, progressives assert it is “bad political strategy” for bishops to deny communion to candidates who claim to be Catholic even though they disagree with the Church on abortion. The Churches job is not to win elections, it is to work tirelessly to help people get to Heaven. If a Catholic politician or any other Catholic commits a serious sin, the Church can refuse that person communion as part of letting them know their actions are actions that prevent people from going to Heaven.
Knowing that statement will drive non-Catholics crazy, it should be noted that Catholic charity also teaches that if someone has no way of knowing what they are doing is a serious sin, they can still go to Heaven. The Church teaches the opposite of government law – ignorance is in fact a very good defense so long as the person is truly trying to determine what is right and wrong. But for someone like Joe Biden or Tim Kaine that has been immersed in Catholic teaching their whole lives to then turn against their faith on abortion or any other issue, the risk is far greater. When the Church decides to deny any such Catholic communion it is not an attempt to win over millions of voters (in fact it may do the opposite), but to warn them that they have strayed from the road to salvation. The Church is focused on the best way help each person get to Heaven even when that means them hearing something they do not want to hear – not winning the next election.
They need to count on Catholics taking their faith seriously to choose their clear voting obligation – which has been clear every year since 2004.