We Catholic leaders – clergy, women religious, parochial educators, parish administrators, prison ministers, chaplains, campus and youth ministers, theologians and writers, senior parish council and diocesan volunteers, social justice activists, social service providers, and lay leaders – across Ohio believe this year’s presidential election holds major moral consequences.
Sadly, many Catholics have been wrongly told that the single issue of abortion compels them to vote for President Trump. In fact, our Church encourages Catholics to be multi-issue voters, who are free to and should consider Vice President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, as well.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides a document titled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” to help Catholics prepare to vote. It advises: “Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic social teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace.” The bishops list 47 issues for consideration, including racism, worker pay, healthcare, gun violence, and the death penalty. The website catholicvoterguide.com shows Biden agreeing with 38 issues, Trump with only 11.
That may surprise some who narrowly interpret “voting pro-life.” But Pope Francis’ writings declare “equally sacred” defending the innocent unborn, “those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly,” and immigrants. That surely includes the defense of all persons from the Covid-19 pandemic that has sickened millions and killed 220,000 vulnerable Americans. Pope Francis compares climate change to killing in that it robs future generations of the resources they need to survive. Just this month, Pope Francis rejected “false prophets” who claim tax cuts to the rich that defund critical services will “trickle down” to the poor. Yet many conservative politicians ridicule such pro-life compassion – rooted in the Beatitudes and loving thy neighbor – as “socialism.” They seem content to be pro-birth, and little more.
Certainly, Catholics do and should mourn abortion. During Biden’s Vice Presidency, abortion in the U.S. declined by 26%. Many of us believe the fastest route to reducing abortion is to provide healthcare and economic security to every woman and mother and banning it simply drives it underground. Biden has said: “I accept my church’s position on abortion … I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”
The bishops also recommend that Catholic voters consider “candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance.” Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego wrote recently that “because our nation is in a moment of political division and degradation in its public life, character represents a particularly compelling criterion for faithful voting in 2020.” We admire the example Biden sets for fellow Catholics in his empathy, kindness, restraint, and faithful Catholic practice.
To be clear, we Catholics are political orphans. Neither party is fully responsive to our convictions. But no Catholic authority can or should mislead the faithful into thinking any one issue constitutes an electoral commandment. Church teaching encourages the faithful to vote, to form their conscience, to focus on the common good, and to know they are free to vote as their conscience recommends. Each person’s conscience rightly governs each person’s vote. No one else.