When I wrote “Why the Catholic Church Doesn’t Really Care About Abortion,” I thought it would fall, as they say, on deaf ears. I was surprised that so many readers immediately grasped the issues I had with Archbishop Chaput’s column of August 12, 2016, as well as my claim that the Catholic bureaucracy (most of them) intend to help the Clinton/Kaine ticket in whatever ways they can.
I disagreed with the Archbishop’s evaluation of the two presidential candidates, and did my best to explain it. My concern came down to this: If the “right to life undergirds all other rights and all genuine social progress,” as he says, why did he ignore the abortion issue in his assessment of Clinton and Trump? In fact, he called a Trump presidency as “inconceivable,” while not ascribing the same to Clinton, who is about as extreme on supporting abortion on demand as you can get. Trump, at least, has made specific legislative and judicial promises on the basis of his pro-life conviction which go back a decade.
I wasn’t surprised when a syndicated column appeared later the same day extolling Archbishop’s message to Catholic voters, warning them not to vote on “autopilot.” Of course I fully agree with His Excellency on this point if it means that Catholic voters don’t keep voting for pro-abortion candidates as they did for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Unfortunately, this is not the message being taken from the Archbishop’s column, but rather the surprising adjudication that for a Catholic choosing between Clinton and Trump, “neither is clearly better than the other.” Perhaps I was wrongly catechized, being a convert, but what about the intrinsic evils we, as Catholics, are obliged not to support with our votes?
As I will explain below, the Archbishop’s letter contains two of the ways the Church, consciously and unconsciously, is helping the Clinton/Kaine ticket. Church leadership, with exceptions, has long given Democratic candidates a complete pass on the issue of abortion. Why? For the simple reason that they prefer Democrats to Republicans, and that is putting it mildly. I could go into the reasons for this preference, including the financial factors, but the story is long and I have already explored it thoroughly in my 2008 book, Onward Christian Soldiers.
Let me ask you: Through how many election cycles have pro-life Catholics applauded the public comments of a handful of bishops while not facing up to the fact that the bulk of the Catholic establishment will not do anything to hurt the chances of a Democratic candidate or administration?
Let me count six of the ways the Church, and by that I mean most of its leadership, media, and institutions will virtually campaign for the Clinton/Kaine ticket.
First, confusion about the candidates and the issues will be sown — an example of this is already been described in the column by Archbishop Chaput, “Some personal thoughts on the months ahead” published on August 12, 2016. Much of the confusion will come from the voter guides published by the state Catholic conferences in which all the issues will be presented as morally equal. (I will be posting these as they are made available.)
In fairness to Archbishop Chaput, he is only articulating a way of thinking about voting contained in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the documents published by the bishops every four years to prepare Catholics for the national election. Since the 2008 version of “Faithful Citizenship” there are serious problems with this document which have not been corrected. Thus, in the 2016 version there is moral ambiguity that provides various loopholes allowing Catholics to to lay aside concern about abortion and other intrinsic evils.
As I have explained elsewhere, most of these problems can be found in Sections 34-37 of “Faithful Citizenship.” For example, when Archbishop Chaput begins his column with allegations about the character of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, rather than the policies they espouse, he is following the dictate of Section 37:
“In making these [voting] decisions,it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue” [Emphasis added],
It get worse, take Section 34, which basically says as long as a voter does not intend to support the morally evil position of a candidate then voting for him or her is justified.
“A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” [Emphasis added].
Sections 35 and 36 offer two more loopholes, the former allowing support for a pro-abortion candidates if there are offsetting “morally grave reasons,” while the later justifies such a vote if a candidate will pursue “authentic human goods” rather than the “morally-flawed” position he or she holds .
I am not making this up — this is the official teaching of our bishops as explained in their own document.
Secondly, on a more practical front, many in the Church will treat anti-abortion advocacy as partisan, amounting to an endorsement of a candidate or part. See what the bishops recommend in discussing candidates in a parish “forum.” In “Tips for Conducting Candidate Forums” we read: “Cover a broad range of issues: Focusing on one issue will create the appearance of endorsing some candidates over others. A broader focus will more effectively educate voters and will avoid any appearance of bias” [Emphasis added].
Thus, persons and organizations focussed on the abortion issue will be excluded from meetings and conferences sponsored by the Catholic Church, through a diocese, a parish, an agency, or an office.
Thirdly, diocesan and parish media platforms will be used to send messages burying the abortion issue under the theme of compassion for the poor and the immigrant. Such compassion is important, even necessary, but there is no reason compassion should not be extended to the unborn as well. That this “social justice” compassion is not extended to the unborn is both deliberate and usually politically motivated to favor the Democratic Party.
Church leadership, especially in the bureaucracy, will forget the fact that the bishops ever wrote a pastoral letter in 1998, “Living the Gospel of Life, which says:
“Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power. We must exercise that power in ways that defend human life, especially those of God’s children who are unborn, disabled or otherwise vulnerable” [Paragraph 33; Emphasis added]. I wonder how many parishes will hear these words spoken aloud before November 8th?
Fourthly, what parishes will get are are conferences and forums held under the banners such as “Respect Life,” used entirely as a bait-and-switch tactic. If you attend you will hear about the lives the poor, the immigrant, women who have suffered from having abortion, but you won’t hear any kind of sustained treatment of the Church’s teaching against abortion and how it should be applied to casting your ballot. Will there be exceptions to this, of course. I could probably name the dioceses, but the list would be short.
Fifthly, at the grassroots level, many in the parishes and dioceses will deliberately create obstacles to the pro-life message being used to measure the difference between candidates and parties. I describe the typical experience of hostility and discouragement a Catholic pro-life advocate trying participate politically in the Church here. Pro-life groups and leaders will be described to laypersons as “partisan,” etc. (I’ve already seen that happen in this election cycle.)
The sixth way, and perhaps the most powerful, the Church will help the Clinton/Kaine ticket is its silence. A strict silence has been maintained about Hillary Clinton’s expressed affection for Planned Parenthood and the celebration of abortion on demand at the Democratic National Convention, held in Philadelphia as a matter of fact.
I hope the Catholics who read this will become more aware of what is going on around them in their parishes and dioceses, and will challenge the confusion, ambiguity, and silence when they are manifest. The silence, of course, is manifest in the omission of preaching and teaching on our obligation to consider the abortion, and other intrinsic evils, in our estimation of political candidates. Indeed, the silence can be called out anytime!