Faithful Catholic voters cannot help but be confused by what they are hearing (or not hearing) from the pastors of their parishes, and the bishops of their dioceses, about the importance of life issues in the upcoming election. While IRS guidelines prohibit Churches from participating in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate running for public office, this prohibition does not prevent prelates from speaking out on the non-negotiable life issues.
But, it has. When Tim Kaine, a Catholic Senator with a 100% pro-abortion voting record from Planned Parenthood, was chosen as the Democratic candidate for vice-president, Fr. Jim Arsenault, Kaine’s parish priest provided Catholic cover by telling an NPR reporter that when it comes to the life issues, “sometimes lawmakers make difficult decisions.” Pointing to the fact that Kaine cares for the poor and does not support the death penalty—even though he presided over 11 executions during his tenure as Virginia’s Governor— Fr. Arsenault concluded that the issues that are “most important” to Kaine are: “Equal pay for equal work for women…social justice issues…he is a bridge-builder among races and communities…he really helps build community.
Faithful Catholics may not agree that Kaine has helped “build community” with the pro-life community. Described by Planned Parenthood leader Cecile Richardson as an “ally” in the abortion rights arena, Kaine has refused to engage with the pro-life community. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, the leader of Kaine’s home diocese of Richmond Virginia released a statement reminding Catholics that “The right to life is a fundamental human right for the unborn.” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, of Providence, Rhode Island, courageously claimed that Kaine’s support for abortion is “contrary to well-established Catholic teachings,”
But, Bishop Tobin’s has been a lonely voice among the bishops. Even those bishops who had been reliable supporters of pro-life causes in the past have been silent throughout this election cycle. Although we are in the midst of a presidential election between a candidate who has promised to expand a woman’s access to abortion through federal funding for abortion and removing all restrictions, and an avowed pro-life candidate who has promised to appoint only pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, the pro-life candidate appears so flawed to some Catholic leaders that they seem reluctant to support voting for him. Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput published a column in his Archdiocesan newspaper concluding that, “neither candidate is clearly better than the other.”
Abortion seems to have become contested terrain for some Catholic leaders. In fact, there was great debate during the annual conference of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last year on whether to revise the bishop’s voter guide, called Faithful Citizenship, to reflect the “new agenda” of Pope Francis. There were sharp disagreements among the bishops on how much they can adjust their priorities to match those of Pope Francis. San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy argued that the 2007 voting guide “should be scrapped because it did not reflect the way that Francis has elevated the battle against poverty and for the environment as central concerns for the Catholic Church.” Bishop McElroy was joined by Bishops Stephen Blaire of Stockton, and Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, complaining that the voter guide “tilts in favor of abortion and euthanasia.”
The Catholic voter guide tilts in favor of abortion and euthanasia because when the guide was created in 2007, there was no question that the Church held life issues as paramount among all other issues. The life issues had always been the non-negotiable issues. The Church has always taught that the right to life is fundamental. All other rights are based on the right to life and a few courageous bishops are still willing to remind us of that. Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Chairman of the drafting committee for the voting guide was joined by Hartford Archbishop Leonard Blair in rejecting the idea that Pope Francis has “ushered in a revolution in Catholicism that their documents needed to reflect.”
It is ironic that after decades of leadership on pro-life issues, many Catholics appear to be ceding that role to Evangelical Protestants. The latest Pew poll reveals that 78% of Evangelicals will vote for the pro-life candidate, Donald Trump, while about half of all white Catholics and 77% of all Hispanic Catholics will vote for the pro-choice candidate, Hilary Clinton. The erosion of Catholic distinctiveness continues as a majority of Catholics indicate that they will line up alongside religiously unaffiliated voters, those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, to vote for the candidate who promises to expand access to abortion by repealing the Hyde Amendment—forcing all taxpayers to be complicit in funding abortion.
In an attempt to offer guidance Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke—a hero to most in the pro-life Catholic community—participated in an international teleconference to advise Catholics that they must vote for the candidate who will do the most to “advance the common good both with respect to the good of human life, the good of the family, the freedom of conscience, the care of the poor.” Adding that it is not an option for faithful Catholics to fail to vote, or to “write in” the name of a preferred candidate on the ballot, Cardinal Burke suggested that doing so would “inadvertently cause the election of a candidate who does not respect life, family and freedom.”
Evangelical voters seem to understand the obligation to vote for the candidate who appears to respect unborn children enough to want to protect them. Perhaps Catholics will begin to join them.