In the coming weeks, debates over next pope will be not only about the person who will embody the office but about how the church will wrestle with shifting demographics and the relationship between tradition and modern culture. A look at these shifts and tensions among American Catholics provides a microcosm into the larger global dynamics at play.
First, the Catholic Church has been experiencing significant demographic and geographic transformations over the last century. In the American context, the demographic changes began relatively recently. In 1990, nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) Catholics were white, while less than 1-in-5 (14 percent) were Hispanic. Today, less than two-thirds (63 percent) of Catholics are white, while nearly 3-in-10 (29 percent) Catholics are Hispanic. In other words, in the span of two decades, the ratio of white to Hispanic Catholics has dropped from 5-to-1 to 2-to-1. This shift has also had considerable impact on the Catholic political engagement, given the decidedly different profiles of white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics: in the 2012 election, 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for Barack Obama, while 59 percent of white Catholics voted for Mitt Romney.
A parallel shift away from a European center of gravity has occurred in Catholicism worldwide over the past century. Recent data from the Pew Research Center and the World Christian Database maintained by Gordon-Conwell Seminary has shown that the percentage of Catholics worldwide living in Europe has dropped from 65 percent in 1910 to less than one-quarter (24 percent) today. The largest share of Catholics today live in Latin America and the Caribbean (39 percent), while a substantial number also live in sub-Saharan Africa (16 percent) and the Asia-Pacific region (12 percent).
These changes have led to calls for a pope from one of these new centers of Catholic culture, but the makeup of the 117-member College of Cardinals may stack the deck in favor of another European pope. The conclave will be overwhelmingly European (with 28 cardinals from Italy alone, compared to South and Central America’s 19).
Second, a central question facing each new pontiff is how the church engages the broader culture. American Catholics are divided on whether the church should focus on conserving tradition or adapting to modern culture. According to Public Religion Research Institute, more than 4-in-10 (42 percent) American Catholics say that their church should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices; however, a majority say either that their church should adjust traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances (37 percent) or adopt modern beliefs and practices (16 percent).
Third, the new pontiff will likely determine which of two major streams of Catholic theology will be dominant for the foreseeable future: “Catholic social teaching,” which is focused primarily on economic justice, or Catholic teaching about “a culture of life,” which is focused largely on abortion. A solid majority (60 percent) of American Catholics agree that the Church’s public policy statements should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life. Less than one-third (31 percent) disagree, saying that the church should focus more on abortion and the right to life in its public policy statements, even if it means focusing less on social justice and the obligation to help the poor. This emphasis persists even among the most loyal churchgoers: a slim majority (51 percent) of Catholics who attend church at least weekly agree that the Church should emphasize social justice over abortion and the right to life.
Finally, the new pope will continue to face questions about the church’s stands on the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships, amidst rapid shifts toward more acceptance in the broader culture. Here generational divides among American Catholics suggest these tensions will be felt not just between the church and society but within the church itself. Overall, a majority (54 percent) of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, including majorities of both white Catholics (54 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (57 percent). Importantly, there is a yawning 30-point gap between younger and older American Catholics on the issue of same-sex marriage. Nearly 7-in-10 (68 percent) younger Catholics (age 18-39) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, compared to only 37 percent of Catholic seniors (age 65 and older). Notably, opposition to same-sex marriage seems to be confined to America’s oldest Catholics: even a solid majority (60 percent) of Catholics under the age of 60 favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Moreover, the Catholic Church is facing these trends worldwide. Since 2000, more than a dozen nations have legalized same-sex marriage either nationwide or in certain jurisdictions-including nations like Spain, Argentina, and Mexico, where the Catholic Church has a strong presence. There is also strong momentum for legalization of same-sex marriage underway in France.
As the cardinals go into their conclave next month, their selection will tell us much about their intentions for how the church, for the foreseeable future, will wrestle with the shifting demographics and center of gravity of the laity, with the engagement of church tradition and the broader culture, and with the appropriate emphasis it draws from the rich set of Catholic teaching.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, was looking for ways to woo the “values voters” (many of them Catholic) who had just helped Bush win re-election, and prominent Democrats were calling for a friendlier attitude toward religion and a bigger tent on social issues.
That was a long eight years ago. Since then, the sex abuse scandals that shadowed John Paul’s last years have become the defining story of his successor’s papacy, and the unexpected abdication of Benedict XVI has only confirmed the narrative of a church in disarray. His predecessor was buried amid reverent coverage from secular outlets, but the current pope can expect a send-off marked by sourness and shrugs.
The collapse in the church’s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.
Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.
This transformation suggests that we may have reached the end of a distinctive “Catholic moment” (to repurpose a phrase from the late Catholic priest-intellectual Richard John Neuhaus) in American politics, one that began in the 1980s after John Paul’s ascension to the papacy and the migration of many Catholic “Reagan Democrats” into the Republican Party.
This was hardly the first era when Catholic ideas shaped American debates. (New Deal-era liberalism, for instance, owed a major debt to Catholic social thought.) But it was the first era when the Catholic vote was both frequently decisive and genuinely up for grabs, and it was an era when Catholic debates and personalities filled the vacuum left by the decline of the Protestant mainline.
The fact that the Second Vatican Council had left the church internally divided limited Catholic influence in some ways but magnified it in others. Because the church’s divisions often mirrored the country’s, a politician who captured the typical Catholic voter was probably well on his way to victory, and so would-be leaders of both parties had every incentive to frame their positions in Catholic-friendly terms. The church might not always be speaking with one voice, but both left and right tried to borrow its language.
If this era is now passing, and Catholic ideas are becoming more marginal to our politics, it’s partially because institutional Christianity is weaker over all than a generation ago, and partially because Catholicism’s leaders have done their part, and then some, to hasten that de-Christianization. Any church that presides over a huge cover-up of sex abuse can hardly complain when its worldview is regarded with suspicion. The present pope has too often been scapegoated for the sex abuse crisis, but America’s bishops have if anything gotten off too easily, and even now seem insufficiently chastened for their sins.
The recent turn away from Catholic ideas has also been furthered by a political class that never particularly cared for them in the first place. Even in a more unchurched America, a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies could have a great deal of mass appeal. But our elites seem mostly relieved to stop paying lip service to the Catholic synthesis: professional Republicans are more libertarian than their constituents, professional Democrats are more secular than their party’s rank-and-file, and professional centrists get their encyclicals from Michael Bloomberg rather than the Vatican.
Nothing that happens in Rome over the next few months is likely to convert the Acela Corridor’s donors and strategists and think tankers to a more Catholic-friendly worldview. The next pope may be more effective than Benedict, or he may be clumsier; he may improve the church’s image in this country, or he may worsen it.
But if there is another Catholic moment waiting in our nation’s future, it can only be made by Americans themselves.
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Divisions in the Catholic vote for president show the continued importance of “educating Catholics about our own faith,” said analyst Joshua Mercer, co-founder of CatholicVote.org.
“If something’s really important, you don’t just say it once,” he said in a Nov. 7 interview with CNA. Rather, he explained, the Church must be creative, working to find as many venues as possible to continue spreading its message on life, marriage and religious liberty.
While more extensive information will be available in the coming months, initial data from the Nov. 6 presidential election indicates that Catholics maintained their standing as a bellwether group that indicates trends among the general electorate.
National exit polls show that Governor Mitt Romney held a significant lead among Protestants, especially Evangelicals, while those with no religious affiliation strongly favored President Barack Obama, according to a report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
When it came to Catholics, the analysis determined they were more divided.
Overall, national exit polls indicated that Catholics voted for Obama over Romney by a 50 to 48 percent margin, identical to Obama’s victory in the national popular vote.
The report found that white Catholics “swung strongly in the Republican direction relative to 2008.” Almost six in ten white Catholics voted for Romney, up from 52 percent who cast ballots for McCain in 2008.
Among Hispanic Catholics, however, 75 percent voted for Obama, with just 21 percent voting for Romney.
Differences in Church attendance also revealed patterns in voting behavior. Among voters of all faith backgrounds, those who attended religious services at least once per week preferred Romney by a 20 point margin.
Those who never attend religious services strongly favored Obama, while those attending a few times per month or per year supported Obama over Romney by a 55 to 43 percent margin.
Mercer said that these distinctions among Catholics are significant in understanding their voting behavior and reaching out with the message of the Church on critical issues.
While Catholics make up a large portion of the electorate – about one in four voters – they do not vote as a unified group, he recalled.
But Mercer said it is possible to identify at least three distinct subgroups of Catholics, each with their own voting behaviors.
While those who attended religious services regularly favored Romney, it is difficult from initial exit poll data to tell what impact issues such as religious liberty played in their vote.
The U.S. bishops have spoken out recently about threats to religious liberty, including a federal contraception mandate issued by the Obama administration that requires many religious institutions to offer insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs in violation of their beliefs.
A Pew survey shortly before the election showed that about one-third of Catholics who attend religious services at least monthly remembered hearing about religious liberty from the pulpit.
Mercer observed that it is possible that more than one-third of Catholics were present when religious liberty was discussed at Mass, but that they did not remember it because the issue was not consistently presented as an urgent matter.
The bishops have been unified in presenting a strong and clear message about the importance of religious liberty and the threat posed by the mandate, he said, and that message must continue to be proclaimed, so that the average person in the pew realizes that this “truly must be important.”
A second group of Catholic voters is comprised of those who are “cultural Catholics,” Mercer said. These individuals do not attend Mass regularly but still identify as Catholics. Although they have a basically “secular mindset,” they participate in the “rich culture” of the Church.
Among these Catholics, the faithful should see an “opportunity to evangelize” by reaching out through their shared culture and seek to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the Church, he said.
Another subgroup that is distinct in its voting behavior is the Latino Catholic population, said Mercer. Although most Hispanic Catholics are strongly pro-life and pro-marriage, this voting group heavily favored Obama, often differing from the Republican Party on immigration.
Reaching out to these Latino Catholics will require “a sustained effort,” Mercer said, explaining that teaching about the importance of pro-life and pro-marriage voting cannot be done simply through pamphlets handed out in the month before an election.
Rather, he said, there is a need to “invite our brothers and sisters who are Latino into the pro-life and pro-family movement and listen to them.”
We must recognize that this means committing to “long-term grassroots work” and investing in Hispanic communities, Mercer stressed.
If Latinos become more integrated into those movements, Mercer believes it will strengthen the pro-life and pro-marriage causes and allow different Catholic groups to learn from one another.
“It’s going to require building relationships,” he said.
2012 election, Catholic vote
Editor’s note: Vincent Miller is the Gudorf Chair of Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton.
By Vincent Miller, Special to CNN
President Obama’s narrow victory among Catholic voters this week will be seen by many as a political loss for the U.S. Catholic bishops, who appeared to be openly opposing Obama during the presidential campaign.
The Catholic Church was well within its rights to conduct its campaign on religious liberty, but its “Preserve Religious Freedom” yard signs were clearly designed to be placed alongside partisan candidate signs. And they were – in very large numbers.
The technically nonpartisan nature of the Church’s religious liberty campaign was further drowned out by a small chorus of strident bishops who left no doubt about how Catholics ought to vote for president.
In a letter he ordered read at all parishes last Sunday, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria juxtaposed the Obama administration’s new contraception mandate with the scourging and mockery of Jesus. Jenky declared that “electoral supporters” of pro-abortion rights politicians reject “Jesus as their lord,” as did the crowd that roared, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Such forceful statements were never balanced by significant challenges to the Republican presidential ticket.
There is more at stake here than politics.
Though I agree with the bishops that the exemption for religious employers in the White House contraceptive insurance mandate is too narrow, the bishops’ posture toward the administration during the election poses a major risk to the Church because it left the impression that there was only one legitimate Catholic choice for president – Mitt Romney.
The result is that half of the Catholic electorate felt it was being judged as voting “against the Church,” even though such voters weren’t actually dissenting from Catholic teaching. They were, instead, making the complex decisions that any serious voter must, weighing their own moral commitments against a candidate’s professed values, the policies they propose and how much is likely to be accomplished on a given issue given the political climate.
Voters must weigh the mix of positions of both candidates, not just the objections against one. This year, they had to weigh, among other things, a new problem with religious liberty against the Republicans’ earnest proposal to replace Medicare’s guaranteed coverage with a subsidy for private insurance.
By putting voters in a “with us or against us” bind, some of America’s bishops have risked eroding their own authority. They imply that specific political judgments are matters of Church teaching, when by Catholic tradition, the more they descend into the details of policy, the less certain their judgments become.
Bishops must allow room for and respect believers’ own specific political judgments. The Second Vatican Council taught that it is primarily the responsibility of the laity to undertake the secular work of inscribing “the divine law…in the life of the earthly city.”
The way out of this crisis is for the bishops to carefully respect the necessary limits involved in the task of forming the consciences of lay believers. They must teach moral principles and, yes, argue for their specific application, but always in a way that respects individual judgments about how best to enact these principles.
At times this formation might even require forceful challenge, but it should never assume ill will or ignorance when the faithful vote differently than they desire.
Trusting laypeople to make the political decisions that are properly theirs gives them room to embrace the Church’s doctrines, even if they cannot enact all of them in their voting choices. This is essential to sustaining a Catholic identity separate from the divisiveness of partisan politics. This election season like none before left many Catholics feeling like the Church gave them no such room.
The Catholic Church will enhance its public authority by speaking out in a way that supports and challenges both parties. Prophets are respected when they are perceived to be an independent and fair voice. When the deep coherence of Catholic moral teaching is communicated, it can free people from our partisan moral straightjackets. But when parts of this teaching are passed over in silence, the Church puts itself in a partisan straightjacket.
The official Church response to the candidacy of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan displayed this failure to forcefully challenge both parties. In the spring, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had challenged Ryan’s proposed federal budget for failing to put “the needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty” first. But the bishops were largely silent on this issue during the campaign.
The response of Catholic voters, however, displayed a decidedly Catholic instinct for the common good. Introduced as a “faithful Catholic” by Romney, Ryan brought no significant bump in Catholic support for the ticket.
Indeed, Ryan’s radical budget and ideologically driven plan to end Medicare as a guaranteed benefit program did what decades of work by Catholic social justice advocates had never been able to achieve: It activated a gut level Catholic concern for solidarity and the common good. President Obama’s Catholic poll numbers peaked in the weeks following Ryan’s selection.
The Catholic Church can never turn its back on the moral dimension of politics. But it must beware the divisiveness that even the appearance of partisanship can bring into the Church. Teach and preach the fullness of the Church’s doctrines forthrightly and forcefully, but honor the decisions of the laity. The danger is not that the Church might inappropriately interfere with politics, but that partisan politics will infect the Church.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vincent Miller.
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — When Anastasia Nicklaus walks into the voting booth, she believes her choices should reflect her values, and those values are shaped by her Catholic faith.
Nicklaus said she feels compelled to be an informed voter and to consider what is the best interest of society as a whole.
Which is precisely where it can get complicated.
A self-described political moderate, Nicklaus isn’t 100 percent sure which candidate for president of the United States should get her support. She cares deeply about the welfare of the poor. She also upholds the Catholic church’s teachings about protecting and valuing all life.
“No one seems to have middle ground. It just makes it feel really difficult,” Nicklaus said. “No one protects life at all it’s stages. Nobody is for that.”
Even though during campaign trail appearances and debates, President Barack Obama, a professing Christian, and Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon with a Roman Catholic running mate, have attempted to paint a clear and distinct choice for American voters, some people of faith remain conflicted. For those who have already made up their minds, the decision wasn’t without a lot of soul searching.
Richard Thompson, 27, a Catholic and a graduate student studying history at University of Northern Iowa, said the current political environment makes it unlikely that he’ll find a candidate that would work to repeal abortion, stand against the death penalty and advocate for social justice — all issues important to him.
Thompson resolved his dilemma at the polls by focusing on what he feels are the most urgent and pressing issues at this point in time likely to be addressed; the most important values and the most-likely-to-be resolved issues aren’t necessarily the same thing, he added.
“Sometimes we are pulled multiple ways by our secular society,” Thompson said. “One of the tough things about being a modern-day Catholic is neither party does what we want in our politics.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released resources to help Catholics balance conscience, values and issues in light of the upcoming election. Although the Catholic church takes stances on specific issues, it does not instruct individuals how to vote and stresses the importance of participation, according to Cedar Valley priests.
For other Christians, it’s not difficult to find a party or candidate that aligns with faith-informed values. If there is tension, it comes from trying to explain their position to other believers who don’t come to the same conclusions.
Melissa Mitchell, 35, of Waterloo, is an Obama supporter. She remembers attending a church where being a Republican seemed to be the “implied proper choice.”
“For me, the most important values I see coming out of my faith that do line up with the overall Democrat party is a concern for the poor, concern for children through education but also health care,” said Mitchell, a Protestant Christian. “Just looking out for them and having that safety net and realizing that life is complicated and it’s not always black and white and realizing there are times people do need help.”
Caring for the least of these is also a mission of charities and churches, she added, but Mitchell believes those institutes aren’t equipped to handle all needs.
Just because Thompson is a person of faith doesn’t mean he is comfortable when candidates start talking religion and politics. Admittedly critical of his politicians, he says it comes across as pandering.
“Faith is being used as a punch line to get votes,” Thompson said.
When I met Robert Aguirre in Miami this August at a gathering of Hispanic Catholic leaders, someone handed me a bilingual, nonpartisan rubber bracelet asking, “How would Jesus vote?”
One of the biggest question marks about the coming presidential election results is what Catholics will do. Will Mass-attending Catholics be affected by calls to protect religious liberty in the wake of the Obama administration’s HHS mandate? Will other Catholics respond to religious-liberty-education campaigns with a tribal — or baptismal — loyalty?
Aguirre is president of the Catholic Hispanic Leadership Alliance, which has been doing its part to educate, urging Catholics to live their civic lives in accord with their faith. With a long YouTube voters’ guide that has been circulating since August, the group focuses on awakening a Catholic conscience, with an emphasis on issues involving the very dignity of human life. The guide asks voters in stark terms “What are you voting for?,” covering multiple policy issues involving abortion and innocent human life, explaining that the “services” mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act are, according to a well-informed Catholic conscience, “immoral” and “an unprecedented breech of religious liberty,” in American-historical terms. And lest you think it a commercial for Mitt Romney, it leaves him with a question mark (as well as the president) on immigration reform, and reminds Catholic voters we need to raise our voices as it pertains to the death penalty.
(The Catholic Association has also distributed a Spanish voting guide, focusing on religious liberty.)
“We are challenged to reconcile our strong feelings, opinions, and habits with what Catholic social teaching tells us is right and just, as we are faced with our commitment with our faith versus our public choices at the voting booth,” the YouTube guide emphasizes. Robert Aguirre, president of the Catholic Hispanic Leadership Alliance, based in San Antonio, talks more about the issues, the audience, and the future.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: According to a Gallup poll taken just before the Republican convention took place n Florida — about the time you introduced your guides — President Obama was leading with Hispanic registered voters 64 percent to 27. Is there really any competition for their votes?
ROBERT AGUIRRE: Yes, a lot of competition — in two ways: First we have to invest our efforts in informing all Catholics as they constitute one in four voters in the U.S. Second, historically, whoever wins the Catholic vote wins the election and recent research by Georgetown University puts the race in a dead heat. Just a few percentage points within the Catholic vote can make a huge difference in the outcome of the election.
LOPEZ: Mitt Romney has told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce he’d “permanently fix our immigration system.” Is this what Catholic Hispanics need to hear?
AGUIRRE: No, not really. Catholic Hispanics want to know that a candidate for president is serious about decreasing unemployment, improving the economy, providing better and safer educational options and improved educational outcomes for our children — especially low-income children. It’s about jobs, the economy, and the education of our children. These are the things most important to us. But having said that, everyone agrees that our current immigration system is broken. This is an issue that affects families, communities, and society as a whole. Anyone running for president should be committed to “fixing” our immigration system, something that we have not seen at all in recent years.
LOPEZ: Why do a “Catholic Hispanic” voter guide . . . why not one or the other?
AGUIRRE: The name of the voters guide is “Catholic Hispanic,” but the document is universal in absolutely every respect since it seeks to be a moral voice, reflective of Catholic moral and social teaching, for the country.
LOPEZ: Whom does the Catholic Hispanic Leadership Alliance speak for?
AGUIRRE: CHLA speaks on behalf of any Catholic Christian who seeks to be faithful to the principles of the Gospel and who wants to have their voice heard. In a broader sense, CHLA speaks on behalf of anyone who wants to see that the Godly principles upon which this nation was founded are preserved.
LOPEZ: What does “civic responsibility and . . . faithfulness” mean to a Catholic going into an election year?
AGUIRRE: As a community of Catholic faith, and as citizens of the United States, we all have the personal responsibility to help shape and preserve the founding moral character of American society, to share our values and moral principles, and to participate in the ongoing political process in order to build a just society. In the Vatican Council II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae), it says “society itself may enjoy the benefits of justice and peace, which result from [people’s] faithfulness to God and His holy will” (No. 6). Becoming faithful citizens, then, requires that the mind and the heart of Catholics be educated and formed to know and practice the whole faith. In our formed and informed conscience, responsibility and faithfulness come to term.
LOPEZ: Who realistically is your audience? How do you get these guides out, both on paper and on video?
AGUIRRE: Our audience consists of all discerning Catholic voters; we seek to provide them with materials that will allow them to take the time to learn more about the issues and the candidates prior to casting their vote in November. It is our hope that non-Catholics will also find our voters guide to be useful in their discernment.
LOPEZ: What does the Gospel have to do with voting?
AGUIRRE: The Gospel calls all followers of Christ to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors. They also call us to have a serious and lifelong obligation to forming our consciences in accord with human reason and the moral teachings of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. Those truths, based upon love of God, ourselves and others, tell us what is right and what is wrong. And as inconvenient and uncomfortable as that might be to us personally, we must recognize that the truths of the Gospel must be reflective of our choices in the voting booth.
LOPEZ: When you suggest that Hispanic Catholics “don’t vote from habit or tradition,” isn’t that implicitly a plea to consider the Republican party?
AGUIRRE: The statement cuts both ways. Pointing out that we should all pray, learn Church teaching, and apply the teaching to current social issues before we go into a voting booth is not a plea to consider one specific political party. Rather, it is a plea to consider a moral imperative. What we are doing is providing a substantive framework on how to make an informed and faithful decision this November. Voting out of habit or tradition does not lend itself to carefully discerning public policies which is what we as faithful citizens are called to do. “Don’t vote from habit or tradition” is a timely and timeless admonition!
LOPEZ: “It seems that in this presidential election year, more than most, we are challenged to reconcile our strong feelings, opinions or old habits with what our Catholic teaching tells us is right and wrong as we come face-to-face with our expressed commitment to our faith versus our public choices in the voting booth.” What accounts for that?
AGUIRRE: Sadly we find ourselves in a war — a war which we did not seek — declared on religious liberty and on social justice by the Obama administration. People of faith are deeply saddened by the attempts to curb, reduce, or eliminate the moral voice and fabric of our country which was founded on such principles. This attack on our freedom of faith, coupled with continued high unemployment, a very weak economy, and soaring poverty rates, especially among Hispanics, challenges us this year in more ways than most presidential elections.
LOPEZ: “This personal reconciliation can be difficult, even painful,” the voting guide begins. “It requires prayer, discernment, and a careful examination of a well formed and informed conscience.” Is choosing between President Obama or Governor Romney really all that complicated?
AGUIRRE: No, it’s not. But we must be clear that choosing a candidate for president should involve prayer, discernment, and careful examination. Choosing between the two isn’t complicated in and of itself. What can be complicated, and uncomfortable, and inconvenient is being faithful to the principles of our faith, sometimes in contrast to our personal opinions and wants.
LOPEZ: Why are voters’ guides important?
AGUIRRE: Voter guides can provide a moral compass in identifying and evaluating the issues that are important in an election, and they can define how candidates stand on such issues. They also provide an invitation to thought, discernment, and action with the realization that the private decisions we make in the voting booth are still a factor in how we are judged to be faithful.
LOPEZ: Why do you put the “right” to abortion in quotes? It is in fact a legal right, for 40 years and counting.
AGUIRRE: We put the “right” to an abortion in quotes to highlight that it was a right recently granted by the Supreme Court — yes, 40 years is recent when it comes to Supreme Court cases — and to highlight that the Court’s decision was based on unsound legal precedent which must be overturned. But much more importantly our faith’s teaching, which is supported by history, the Constitution, and the latest scientific information, is that there is no moral right to an abortion and that the destruction of innocent human life is intrinsically evil.
We also put the “right” to an abortion in quotes because many politicians falsely claim to be pro-life, but vote for and support the “right” to an abortion.
LOPEZ: Why is a candidate’s position on stem-cell research important in 2012?
AGUIRRE: While we are encouraged to see that more and more public officials are turning away from the immorality of embryonic-stem-cell research, there are still too many who do not understand this moral wrong, which involves the conceiving of a child for the sole purpose of killing that child in order to harvest stem cells. That’s why the Catholic bishops list stem cells as a “Major Issue” in their Faithful Citizenship publication.
LOPEZ: How important is the religious-liberty issue before voters, and what is it exactly?
AGUIRRE: Religious liberty is one of the formative principles of American democracy. Today, however, the challenge to faith-based ministries is twofold. The most obvious challenge is the Obama administration’s policy that would force the Church and Church-related institutions to provide drugs and services like sterilizations and abortifacients that violate their consciences. Less obvious, but even more serious, are policies that are designed to force the Church out of the practice of public ministry all together (such as hospitals, social services, adoption services, etc). Under these rules, a Catholic ministry forfeits its right to remain Catholic if it opens its doors to all in need, regardless of their faith. This administration’s challenge to our religious liberties must be a call to prayer and a serious call to action.
LOPEZ: Is there any evidence Catholic Hispanics consider this a concern?
AGUIRRE: The best evidence would be an independent, scientifically designed national survey of Catholic Hispanics — which does not exist. Other than that, we have only the hundreds of emails we have received as an indication of evidence.
LOPEZ: What’s wrong with the Affordable Care Act itself?
AGUIRRE: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported health care reform for decades, but the Conference was forced to oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act because the statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s support for abortion, as the original House bill of November 2009 did, undermined the law and threatened the consensus opinion held by the majority of Americans, that federal funds should not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions (a promise reiterated by President Obama in a speech at Notre Dame University).
Additionally, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. The statute is further profoundly morally flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context).
LOPEZ: What should Catholics be doing about the death penalty?
AGUIRRE: Catholics have been very active over the years on this important life issue. The Church’s involvement has been instrumental in getting states such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and New Mexico to abolish their use of the death penalty. The bishops have also successfully weighed in on Supreme Court cases dealing with whether or not our society should be executing juveniles and the mentally retarded. There are now 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, which do not use the death penalty, meaning we still have work to do in 33 states, at the federal level, and in the military.
Currently the states of Maryland and California are considering changes to their death-penalty positions, and Catholics there should be making their voices heard on this important moral issue.
LOPEZ: You score Barack Obama as having “four out of twenty-three positions aligned with Catholic social teaching” and Mitt Romney, “twelve our of twenty-three.” Are some of these positions more important than others?
AGUIRRE: Let us say that not all issues are equal; some are always, always intrinsically wrong, such as issues dealing with respect for life and the sanctity of marriage. But equal or not, the disparity between the two scores is clear — and meaningful.
LOPEZ: Can a Catholic vote for Barack Obama?
AGUIRRE: The U.S. Catholic bishops provided us with an important publication entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.” The purpose of that document was to form and inform our consciences. In the end what a voter does in the privacy of the voting booth is a function of his conscience and faithfulness to his faith.
But, as recent research from Georgetown University tells us, the Catholic vote — which is one in four voters — is currently too close to call and, historically, whoever wins the Catholic vote wins the election. It is interesting to note that while the “Catholic vote” is currently thought to be a toss up between the two major party candidates, President Obama’s strongest base of support comes from people who have no religious affiliation whatsoever. For anyone of faith, that should mean something.
Both friends and strangers have challenged why a Catholic theologian like me would publicly support the re-election of President Barack Obama. The implication always is that my Catholic faith should dictate otherwise.
Of course, I cite Catholic social doctrine (note the weighty term) and the mandate of my faith to care for “the least” among us (Matthew 25:34). Social programs for the common good and especially for the most vulnerable are central to Catholic social teaching.
By contrast, Ayn Rand’s proposal of a “virtue of selfishness,” besides being an oxymoron, is the antithesis of Catholic faith.
If implemented as social policy — a la the Romney/Ryan budget — the neediest among us will suffer by far the most. Some 64 percent of its alleged “savings” come from cutting programs that aid poor families and individuals.
The comeback is invariably around abortion, whereupon I explain that my opposition to abortion is precisely the tipping point that prompts my unqualified support of President Obama.
As a loyal Catholic, I accept the teaching of my Church that “every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred” and that abortion is “gravely contrary to the moral law” (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2319, 2271).
Though the U.S. Catholic Bishops caution, “As Catholics we are not single issue voters” (Faithful Citizenship, November 2007), yet with some 1.3 million annually in the U.S., abortion presents our country with a grave moral crisis.
The dilemma for citizens like me is that the great majority of our fellow Americans favor some possibility of abortion and do not want to criminalize it again.
As Thomas Aquinas taught wisely, laws must reflect “the consensus of the governed” and there is no agreement in this country to ban all abortions. Even Gov. Mitt Romney is now making “exceptions.”
When faced with a strategic dilemma in applying a general moral principle, the same Aquinas argued that Christians should choose whatever appears to be the lesser evil and the greater good.
In this light, the most feasible moral choice is to reduce the number of abortions. So, Catholics like me and citizens of like mind should support the candidate who has the best abortion reducing policies.
There is ample evidence that good social programs can dramatically reduce the number of abortions — and that the lack of them increase it. The Dutch and the Germans have an abortion rate approximately one-third of the U.S. because they have universal health care, including prenatal and postnatal care, and programs to encourage adoption.
All the statistics show a deep correlation between abortion and economic need. More than three out of four women give economic reasons for choosing abortion, and the abortion rate is 300 percent higher among people below the poverty level than those above it.
A fine instance of good social services reducing abortion is the Massachusetts health-care plan that Gov. Romney signed into law before his flip-flop on health care.
It has lowered the number significantly, with a 21 percent decrease among teenagers.
If Gov. Romney makes good on his commitment to rescind the Affordable Health Care Act, coupled with the Romney/Ryan budget proposal that slashes services to poor people, then under a Romney administration, the rate of abortions in the U.S. will skyrocket.
If elected, Gov. Romney would join a line of Republican presidents who campaigned as pro-life but whose social policies increased the number of abortions. The cuts in social services during the Ronald Reagan administration caused the abortion rate to rise dramatically.
President Bill Clinton, by contrast, having campaigned on a pro-choice position, improved social services and the abortion rate declined nearly 30 percent under his administration — a decline that then stagnated under President George W. Bush.
By way of being truly pro-life, it would seem that presidential Republican candidates are no more than “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Meanwhile, President Obama has made good on the commitment that he personally had inserted into the 2008 Democratic platform (reiterated in 2012), namely to “strongly support a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and postnatal health care, parenting skills, income support and caring adoption programs.”
The current Republican Platform, and certainly candidate Romney, has no such abortion-reducing commitment.
President Obama has signed into law the Pregnancy Assistance Fund — a $250 million program that helps local organizations support vulnerable pregnant women who wish to have their babies.
He has extended and tripled the Adoption Tax Credit and proposes making it permanent.
He supports the Child Tax Credit, which the Romney/Ryan budget would cut. Going forward, his overall social policies and affordable health care will insure that the U.S. rate of abortions will decline significantly.
No one could reasonably assert that my Catholic faith requires me to vote for one or another candidate in this election. However, my Catholic conscience prompts me to support President Obama as a practical strategy to reduce abortion in America.
THOMAS GROOME is a professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College and a National co-chairman of Catholics for Obama.
PEORIA, IL (Catholic Online) – On November 6, 2012, Americans head to polling places all over the Nation to vote. Along with Congressional contests and ballot initiatives, they will be asked to choose a President and Vice president. The choice is between Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan or Barack Obama and Joseph Biden. Oh, I know there are other options – but to vote for them is to eliminate the effect of your vote.
U.S. Catholics can determine the outcome of this Presidential election. That is if we act in a manner which is, to use words of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “morally coherent”. That phrase was used in an instruction released in 2002 entitled a “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life“.
Here is an excerpt, “The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. Living and acting in conformity with one’s own conscience on questions of politics is not slavish acceptance of positions alien to politics or some kind of ‘confessionalism’, but rather the way in which Christians offer their concrete contribution so that, through political life, society will become more just and more consistent with the dignity of the human person.”
The same congregation repeatedly addressed the primacy of the Right to Life. Here is one example: “The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are more precious, but this one is fundamental – the condition of all the others. Hence it must be protected above all others. It does not belong to society, nor does it belong to public authority in any form to recognize this right for some and not for others” (Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974), no. 11. I)
To insist upon the fundamental Human Right to Life is not single issue politics. Human rights are goods of human persons. When there is no human person to exercise them all the rhetoric extolling them is sloganeering and sophistry. Nor is our position only a matter of adherence to our “religious” beliefs. It is a response to the truth revealed by the Natural Law and confirmed by medical science. The Child in the womb is our neighbor. It is always and everywhere wrong to kill him or her through procured abortion.
So too with our obligation to defend Marriage and the family and society founded upon it. Marriage is the preeminent and the most fundamental of all human social institutions. It is a relationship defined by nature and protected by the natural law that binds all men and women. It finds its foundation in the order of creation. Civil institutions do not create marriage nor can they create a “right” to marry for those who are incapable of marriage. The institutions of government should, when acting properly, defend marriage against those who would redefine it.
Government has long regulated marriage for the common good. The ban on polygamy and age requirements were enforced in order to ensure that there was a mature decision at the basis of the Marriage contract. Heterosexual marriage, procreation, and the nurturing of children form the foundation for the family, and the family forms the foundation of civil society.
To “limit” marriage to heterosexual couples is not discriminatory now, nor has it ever been. Homosexual couples cannot bring into existence what marriage intends by its very definition. To now “confer” the benefits that have been conferred in the past only to stable married couples and families to homosexual paramours is bad public policy.
We are living under what Pope Benedict XVI called a “Dictatorship of Relativism” in the West. When there is a wholesale effort to deny the existence of anything objectively true which can be known by all and form the basis of our common life, then there is no real freedom. Instead, we teeter on the brink of anarchy. On January 19, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Bishops of Region IV in the United States gathered in Rome for their ad limina visit.
He warned them of a “radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres”. He told them that the “seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”
The pope’s admonition to defend religious freedom came the day before Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, issued a mandate requiring all employers, including Catholic and other religious employers, to cover sterilization, …
She shared one of those Emmys with fellow co-hosts of “The View,” the popular daytime TV show. Goldberg has made news several times disagreeing on various issues with her colleagues and/or the guests, including Ann Romney and conservative commentator Ann Coulter in recent days.
Given that Goldberg will be appearing at in Baltimore three days before a tightened presidential race, is it safe to assume that her Baltimore show will address politics and other hot-button issues?
“It will be all of those things — plus menopause,” Goldberg said. “It’s an interesting combination.”
Menopause? Is she having some problems dealing with that unavoidable biological development?
“It might be making this not the best time for me to be electing anybody,” she said.
Nothing, though, is likely to prevent Goldberg from continuing to espouse strong opinions.
Whether the Baltimore performance turns into something akin to a Bill Maher or Lewis Black rant remains to be seen — “It depends on my mood,” said Goldberg. She won’t be entirely sure what she will be saying until closer to curtain time.
“I write it the day of the show,” she said. “I like to be current. I’ve been doing it this way a long time and I’m confident in this process. It has made me smart.”
If Goldberg decides to include the election in her stand-up act here, count on a critical word or two about former Gov. Mitt Romney, who visited “The View” in 2010 but has kept his distance since.
During the same Boca Raton fundraiser that contained his controversial remarks about “47 percent” of Americans being dependent on government, Romney spoke about his appearance on “The View” and how he was favorably received by Goldberg at the time. “I must have done something really wrong,” Romney said.
Goldberg was not amused.
“I’m sure he wanted that remark to be funny,” she said. “But he should leave that to people who actually know how to do it. He was pandering. I didn’t like it.”
In addition to the presidential campaign, Goldberg has something to say about a provocative topic that is dividing Marylanders — same-sex marriage.
“I would hope that in the days of separation of church and state, this would not be an issue we would be talking about,” she said. “We are all American citizens, entitled to marrying anyone they love. That right was given to black people in 1967 with the Loving [v. Virginia] decision. No one said at the time that, OK, now you can marry anyone — except another man or another woman.”
Goldberg paused. Even over the phone it was possible feel the trademark gaze of her eyes peering over her glasses as she added: “Except if it is a sheep. I think we can all agree that’s not quite right.”
The Bishops, who brought you the resoundingly unsuccessful “Fortnight for Freedom,” are now preparing their Sunday homilies for the faithful to encourage them to “vote Catholic”—i.e. vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket. Leading the charge is Bishop Daniel Jenky, of Peoria, Illinois, who is calling for all priests “by virtue of their vow of obedience to me as your Bishop” to read his letter on the election at each mass they celebrate this weekend. The letter, addressed to Catholic believers, is an appeal to the “threat to religious liberty” because of the HHS mandate. Since Bishop Jenky did not say the priests had to read the letter aloud, one hopes that some smart priest or two will simply read the letter silently to himself in the pulpit.
Bishop Jenky’s overbearing order to his parish priests smacks of hypocrisy. After all, this is the same Bishop who said that President Obama was like Hitler and Stalin. Jenky and his Bishop brethren are threatening Catholic believers; and are doing so by insinuating it would be a “grave sin” to vote for anyone who enables abortion. What about war, or murder? Surely those should count as a grave sin as well?
The fact of the matter is, if you vote for Obama, that’s not a sin. That’s a choice. It’s also about one’s conscience—which last time I looked, still was part of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The truth is Bishop Jenky and the other Bishops who have doubled down to support Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are fighting a losing battle. A recent survey by Public Religion Research Institute suggests that Catholics are not a monolithic vote, but break out on ethnic lines and age in terms of voting. The Pew Forum also released a survey dispelling the “Catholic Swing Voter Myth,” and showing that most Catholics have consistently voted for one party or the other, and have not wavered. Much like Catholics on the issue of birth control, Catholics vote more on their own political leanings rather than the admonition of the seldom seen, but often heard, Bishops.
Bishops like Jenky may hope that Catholics listen to the entreaties from the pulpit on “pro-life” and voting for “religious freedom” but they are for a losing battle. The “Catholic vote” is really a series of voting blocs, each pursuing their interests. The Bishops also have to contend with their dwindling flocks, who, after repeated sexual abuse scandals, find it difficult to listen to the Bishops for moral and spiritual guidance. While the Bishops have thrown in their lot with the Republican Party, the Nuns on the Bus are canvassing in Iowa and other states talking about poverty and the inequities that continue to hurt the poor and working families. There is a rich tradition of caring for the poor and indigent in the Catholic Church. Since the USCCB has decided to become vocal, card-carrying right-wingers, their witness in that regard is withering away. Perhaps the Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J said it best when he remarked recently that Bishops may be unhappy about the contraception mandate, but they have only 200 votes in this election.
If the American Bishops really want religious freedom, the last thing they should promote is a top-down demand to vote the way they say. Their attempts to make the Republican Party their new “partners” is not going as well as the USCCB would like. Voting for Republicans simply because they are pro-life and ignoring the poor certainly isn’t freedom to exercise one’s conscience. Besides, as much as I think the American Bishops might like it, I don’t think Rome is going to order up a canonization for Ayn Rand if Romney and Ryan happen to win the election.
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