What Is Really At Stake for Catholic Voters in this Election

November 2016 Editorial

editorial-on-voting-artwork

In his Republic, Plato argues that we all get the government we deserve. That is, the political leaders of any given people are a direct reflection of what those people hold dear. Does a society think riches are the defining characteristic of excellence? Their leaders will no doubt be elected because they are billionaires. Does a society think military might is the most important factor? The leaders of that citizenry will be hawkish soldiers, mindful of nothing but their own ability to dominate.

These days, we all have our minds on government. The political wrangling, insincere promises, and shameless currying of favor has filled our ears and souls for many, many months now. Many in the country have been attracted to the fresh (yet, candidly too fresh) voice and bravado of Trump; many find Clinton’s supposed solicitude for the under-served comforting. I doubt many of us trust either of them, surely neither fully, but their candidacies have only reminded me how far ahead the Church is in proclaiming truth, the dignity of human freedom, the true nature of liberty and the common good. No party can do what the Church does, not even come close, as the prophets will always outrun the politicians. So what are we to do? Fr. John Lankeit of the Diocese of Phoenix fed his faithful with a sermon treating the 2016 presidential election from one of the best Catholic perspectives I have heard from the pulpit in a very long time (if you haven’t watched it, please do so).

Fr. Lankeit also begins by reminding us that we faithful Catholics will never find a lasting home here. But that does not mean we become so other-worldly that we neglect this one! As Americans, we all have the responsibility to vote; and as Catholic, we all have the duty to vote rightly. In his sermon, Fr. Lankeit teaches the faithful that we are surrounded by a myriad of important issues, and that living as a Catholic in America is not always an easy thing. Yet, political issues must be ordered properly: the depletion of our inner-cities, financial matters, racial injustice, healthcare, and the other items on both the Democratic and Republican platforms are all of concern. But they are not of equal concern, and the wise person is able to distinguish between those things which can allow for leeway and thus disagreement, and those issues which are absolute and cannot allow for any latitude.

Therefore, we hear how Fr. Lankeit leads his flock through an exercise of self-reflection, meant for all of us. He never names names, and he never insists on the superiority of one party over another. What he does do is simply hold up a mirror to the American voter to have each of us reflect on what we think is essential in the building up of our great nation. Is there any one issue that should be more foundational and formative than any other one issue? Is there a breaking point in what each of us would refuse to condone if asked directly? Fr. Lankeit thinks there is and we hear him very calmly and effectively preach, asking each of us:

Do you know which candidate and party in this election promotes abortion and even promises to expand its availability here at home as well as abroad?

Do you know that this candidate and party intend to make you and me pay for other people’s abortions with our tax dollars — something that has always been illegal?

Are you aware that this candidate and party, which until recently, said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” no longer even bothers to say that it should be rare —but rather, that it must be available any time, any place, even up to the last moment that the fully formed, full-term baby remains in the womb?

… if you do know which candidate and party want to promote and expand abortion, and you still intend to enable them to continue their war on the unborn with the help of your vote, then it is my duty as a priest to tell you that your soul will be in grave danger, especially if you present yourself for Holy Communion.

How many of us preachers have this kind of love for our people, this kind of love for the confused parishioner who gets overwhelmed by all the voices, and the cacophony of an election year? I want to thank Fr. Lankeit in these pages for his clear message and parrhesia in proclaiming the fullness of the Faith.

It may surprise many modern-minded Catholics that to be “in communion” is a requirement for receiving communion. Those who willingly jeopardize innocent life, and freely allow the powerful to cooperate with the murder of the unborn are, sadly, not in communion with Christ’s Church. They may argue on why their vote for the anti-life candidate was justified, abortion being one platform point among many. But the killing of the innocent is never justified. Never. Without people whose lives have been protected and nourished, all other laws are meaningless; life is not just one issue among many, but is necessarily the foundational, and indispensable, issue on which all other policies depend.

Most of us reading Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other faithful Catholic publications, have surely tested our consciences, and have wrestled with the right thing to do in this 2016 election cycle. Is either candidate really pro-life? Clearly not. But which candidate might have the interests of American Catholics more in mind? Hilary has promised to force those who have sought rightful refuge under the Helms Amendment—a decades long clause that allows those medical professionals (and funds) who actually take their Hippocratic Oath seriously and refuse to do any harm—to perform abortions, stripping them of any liberty, or their God-given right to conscientious objection. This is serious. This is (literally) grave.

When St. Augustine was looking back at the history of the Roman Empire, he was glad that Constantine finally legitimatized the Christian faith. But the Great Bishop of Hippo was grateful not so much for the Empire at large, but rather for Constantine’s soul. Augustine knew well that politics is politics, and heaven is heaven. It’s nice when the two can realize fruitful convergence, but in the end the real work of truth and beauty happens not in the politburo, but in the individual soul. So, as November, of yet another election year, comes around, I pray with Augustine, and the entire heavenly court, that, in the end, I can live my life as a priest and professor with as much integrity, fidelity, and joy that my broken soul allows itself to receive. As St. Thomas More realized better than any of us:

The times are never so bad, that a good man cannot live in them.

For, in the end, none of us is responsible for getting our candidate of choice into elected government. In the end, we are each responsible for our own souls, as well as those souls God has put into our life to defend, protect, and love. Let us do that well.

Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ About Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.

Comments

  1. I thank you & Claire Marie thanks you for naming names & being specific.
    That’s what’s needed when most Catholics don’t have a “well formed conscience” to refer to anymore.

    • Amen to that. It is maddening to hear church leaders “bravely” speak out on the importance of voting one’s conscience – when they have done precious little to rightly form consciences of the laity, for decades now. I pray that the Lord will send us more preachers and teachers who are unafraid to speak and teach Truth – plainly. We need it, and the world needs us to have it.

  2. Frederick Costello says:

    We have one more Sunday in which to convey this message to the faithful. Fr. Lankeit should be heard by all. I know many Catholics who do not think this way and intend to vote for candidates who are for more abortions. Trump might do evil. Clinton promises to do evil (promoting abortions, reducing religious liberty, attacking marriage).

  3. James Carter's says:

    Amen!!

  4. Tom McGuire says:

    I heard Fr Lankeit. I am not convinced that a his identification of one political party with Catholic values. Fathers Lankeit and Meconi want Catholics to vote for Trump. They do not say that but imply it.

    I lived in New York during the Cuban crisis. At that time, I did not know if New York City would survive a nuclear attack. What saved the world from nuclear destruction was reasonable leaders. Nothing I have seen in Trump convinces me that he would be reasonable if a situation like the Cuban crisis would take place during his presidency. His emotional outbursts when someone disagrees with him give me no confidence that he would put self interest aside for the good of all human kind. As a Catholic pro life voter, I cannot vote for Trump!

    • Katie Hagemann says:

      Because of his irrationality and ability to change his mind and go with what would get him more voles, along with his narcisstic personality , I feel he could easily be swayed to be pro-choice. He also does not necessarily agree with the Republican agenda which includes pro – life. As a Catholic pro life voter, I cannot support Trump.

      • James Stagg says:

        Those remarks are very sad to hear. Please reconsider your personal priorities with your faithful Catholic conscience. We will pray for you.

      • Ted Heywood says:

        The article is about voting for Hillary. Since you cannot support Trump are you implying that you will vote for Hillary — the most ardent declared supporter of the three non-negotiable tenets of Catholic Faith? i.e Abortion up to the time of birth (paid for with your tax dollars), gay marriage and fetal experimentation. By your own words ‘Not Necessarily’ is a better option than ‘absolutely and definitely’.

    • Like most voters I feel I do not know Trump as well as I would like to, but on the other hand, I had 20 plus years of Hillary and what I do know of her is scary, not only for a pro-Life like me and the unborn, but all life issues that will rise up, (euthanasia for one), and forthe list of lies and secrecies that follow her. That scares me way more than Trump. Ted

    • Deborah McVey Richard says:

      Dear Mr. McGuire,

      I’m a native New Yorker too, and I also lived through the Cuban crisis. God delivered us then and desires to deliver us now, through men and women who choose good over evil. God has permitted these 2 candidates for us to make a choice. I believe God can work with Mr. Trump and his promise to choose Pro-Life Justices. Hilary has promised to uphold the intrinsic evil of abortion even to the 9th month of pregnancy. St. Teresa of Calcutta saw this evil. She said if a baby is unsafe in the mother’s womb, no one is safe. She received a standing ovation, while then President Clinton and his wife remained seated.

    • john.isola says:

      we have to vote in the present time Clinton will promote abortion and force laws for catholics to put aside the sacrament of marriage its nonsense to equate the Cuban crisis to abortion.we either follow the catholic faith or suffer the results of a Clinton presidency.

  5. Mary Bast says:

    I appreciate this article, and thank you very much for sharing your opinion. As a voter who is truly, truly struggling with the most conscionable decision to make in this election, I’m wondering, if either in the comments or in another op-ed, you’d be willing to make a statement on the positions Donald Trump takes on immigration, poverty, and the environment, and if you would be able to place those within the context of the “proper ordering” of issues the USCCB mentions in their “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” pamphlet and (to my understanding) you are referencing with your statement of life being “the foundational, and indispensable issue, on which all other issues depend”.

    To clarify my line of questioning: one thing I’ve come to recognize this election cycle, is that so much of our political polarization comes from the lack of inclusion and clarity, definition-wise, of what ALL “life” truly constitutes. (Personally, I deplore “life” so often *simply* (as in, exclusively) being referenced as concerning only the unborn in mainstream political discourse; life, as Church teaching clearly states, means “from conception until natural death,” and all life–ALL life–must be defended equally and rigorously. The unborn obviously obviously obviously must be defended until our last breath, and we should never let up on the importance of justice for those innocently killed–I want to make sure I’m clarifying my position on that issue in my following line of questioning as well, in case there’s any confusion about it.)

    So, in the context of this election cycle, and especially with the consideration of the two main candidates, their positions, and their characters, my questions for you are the following:

    1) Which issues fall under the banner of non-negotiable “life” issues? Is abortion the only issue you are saying we need to consider in this election? If so, where do the importance of other “life” issues (for example, the very real threat of global warming wiping out innocent lives, refugees’ plight for asylum and dying by the thousands in unsafe ocean crossings and camps, etc.) fall under the classification of “negotiable” vs. “non-negotiable” life issues, especially in reference to and in order of importance with, abortion? I’ve learned very much that with God, things come in their proper order and context, and I don’t see why politics should be excluded from that realm. I’d very much appreciate your opinion on this question.

    2) Because anyone with two eyes and a brain can see that Fr. Lankeit’s line of questioning is referencing Hilary Clinton (and because you mention her by name), is this article an official (or unofficial) statement of endorsing the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump? Or, rather, are you urging Catholics to consider voting third party, and seriously evaluate other candidates beyond the two “main” options?

    3) Finally, in my understanding of Fr. Lankeit’s homilitical statement you referenced, he is claiming that voting for Hilary Clinton and the Democratic Party is a mortal sin. Can you comment on that more specificially–as in, can you please clarify, through a direct statement, whether it is a mortal sin to vote for Hilary Clinton and the Democratic Party, who openly espouse abortion? I’ve heard both answers to the question, so I’m wondering your position on the matter.

    Lastly, in the spirit of civil discourse–thank you for your article. (I was going to include a disclaimer about not trying to play devil’s advocate with this comment, but that would be a bold-faced lie if I didn’t say it hadn’t crossed my mind in the writing of this. ^_~)

    Thanks again for your insights, and I look forward to your response.

    • I’m not the author, but I’d like to respond… Without trying to respond with the completeness deserved by your questions (a book would be required), let me suggest some of the teachings in our wonderful Catechism of the Catholic Church. I added these symbols – *word or phrase* – for emphasis.

      ———
      CCC 2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the *inviolable* right of every *innocent* being to life….
      CCC 2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the *moral evil of every procured abortion*. This teaching has not changed and *remains unchangeable*. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is *gravely contrary* to the moral law….
      God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are *abominable crimes*.
      CCC 2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a *grave offense*. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this *crime against human life*. …
      CCC 2273 The *inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual* is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation…
      ———-

      If a human person does *not* have an inviolable right to life in the womb, if he may be deprived of THAT right by the changeable laws of men, then what right does he have that men may not take away as they choose? What “right” is safe, in a culture where men can willfully kill the most innocent and weak among us?

      You asked for comparison of abortion, climate change and the refugee crisis as all “pro-life issues.” I suggest considering this:

      1) There is none (NONE) more innocent, dependent, needy and vulnerable – deserving care, love and respect – than a baby in the mother’s womb, uniquely created and entrusted there by God.

      2) Climate change is not a settled issue among those in science who understand it. The human contribution to changing *weather* (not to mention “climate”) is not settled. The Christian response to this issue on the scale of national policy requires prudential judgment involving many interconnected matters – it is not simple, it is not clear, it is not binary. The life issue of the human rights of the unborn IS binary, and primary: the child has a right to life, or he/she has no right to life.

      3) Refugees need and deserve help – not necessarily inclusion in the country of their choice. Nations have the right and obligation to VET immigrants, especially when terrorists are looking for and finding ways to infiltrate the West with a heart to destroy it. The refugee issue can be addressed in other ways than a blind open door policy: safe zones created and protected near their home country and culture, as one example. This too is a matter for prudence: it is not simple, it is not clear, it is not binary. Many factors are involved in adapting a sane and moral immigration policy for a nation.

      Finally, the Commandment is better stated “You shall not intentionally murder the innocent person”, than simply “You shall not kill” – as if a state-imposed death penalty for a mass murderer (which requires prudential judgment), death resulting from the legitimate self-defense of a person or a nation (as in a justifiable war), and the intended death of an innocent child *while being born!* (“partial birth abortion” – which Hillary would not condemn, in a recent interview) were all morally equivalent. I hope they are clearly NOT all morally equivalent, to you, and I hope you can morally discern the differences.

      Catholics – please! – vote pro-life!

  6. Robert Boackle Robert Boackle says:

    Dear Father Merconi,
    Thank you.
    As faithful Catholics we must beg God for the grace to allow the love in our eyes and actions to tell the amazing story of Almighty God’s Unconditional Vulnerable Love continually poured upon all people, including the unborn; a Love meant to be shared and lived to the fullness in Our Lord Jesus.
    http://www.hprweb.com/2014/01/the-person-of-jesus-unites-himself-with-the-unborn

  7. John Murray says:

    I will be voting in California, where Hillary Clinton has a massive lead in every poll. Therefore, my vote is not likely to matter much either way. I am a lifelong Democrat but I can’t vote for any of the four people running for President. Should he be elected, Donald Trump would likely break every pledge he has made this election year, since he has no principles whatever. Hillary Clinton, however, probably would keep her promises, which is exactly the problem. It is a sad day for me to say that as I have voted for President every year since 1964 when I voted for Lyndon Johnson. So, I will vote for the down ballot issues only and trust to God to make everything turn out right for our country.

  8. Dan Burke says:

    Tom McGuire and his ilk have missed the whole point of Father Meconi ‘s editorial! One cannot under any circumstances vote for Hillary as she will be the most deadly president in our history even worse than Obama when it comes to killing innocent babies in the womb! Perhaps Trump may turn and become pro death BUT we know for sure what Hillary will do! Dan Burke St Louis MO.

  9. Mary Bast says:

    I appreciate this article, and thank you very much for sharing your opinion. As a voter who is truly, truly struggling with the most conscionable decision to make in this election, I’m wondering, if either in the comments or in another op-ed, you’d be willing to make a statement on the positions Donald Trump takes on immigration, poverty, and the environment, and if you would be able to place those within the context of the “proper ordering” of issues the USCCB mentions in their “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” pamphlet and (to my understanding) you are referencing with your statement of life being “the foundational, and indispensable issue, on which all other issues depend”.

    To clarify my line of questioning: one thing I’ve come to recognize this election cycle, is that so much of our political polarization comes from the lack of inclusion and clarity, definition-wise, of what ALL “life” truly constitutes. (Personally, I deplore “life” so often *simply* (as in, exclusively) being referenced as concerning only the unborn in mainstream political discourse; life, as Church teaching clearly states, means “from conception until natural death,” and all life–ALL life–must be defended equally and rigorously. The unborn obviously obviously obviously must be defended until our last breath, and we should never let up on the importance of justice for those innocently killed–I want to make sure I’m clarifying my position on that issue in my following line of questioning as well, in case there’s any confusion about it.)

    So, in the context of this election cycle, and especially with the consideration of the two main candidates, their positions, and their characters, my questions for you are the following:

    1) Which issues fall under the banner of non-negotiable “life” issues? Is abortion the only (or rather, main) issue you are saying we need to consider in this election? If so, where do the importance of other “life” issues (for example, the very real threat of global warming wiping out innocent lives, refugees’ plight for asylum and dying by the thousands in unsafe ocean crossings and camps, etc.) fall under the classification of “negotiable” vs. “non-negotiable” life issues, especially in reference to and in order of importance with, abortion? I’ve learned very much that with God, things come in their proper order and context, and I don’t see why politics should be excluded from that realm. I’d very much appreciate your opinion on this question.

    2) Because anyone with two eyes and a brain can see that Fr. Lankeit’s line of questioning is referencing Hilary Clinton (and because you mention her by name), is this article an official (or unofficial) statement of endorsing the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump? Or, rather, are you urging Catholics to consider voting third party, and seriously evaluate other candidates beyond the two “main” options?

    3) Finally, in my understanding of Fr. Lankeit’s homilitical statement you referenced, he is claiming that voting for Hilary Clinton and the Democratic Party is a mortal sin. Can you comment on that more specificially–as in, can you please clarify, through a direct statement, whether it is a mortal sin to vote for Hilary Clinton and the Democratic Party, who openly espouse abortion? I’ve heard both answers to the question, so I’m wondering your position on the matter.

    Lastly, thanks again for your insights, and looking forward to your response.

  10. Mary Lou Carter says:

    The fifth commandment is thou shall not kill and to do so I was taught in CTholic school that is a mortal sin. Abortion is murder and against the fifth commandment. Jesus said render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. When the choice is between civil law and God’s law, God’s law rules. Clinton intends to force same sex marriage and abortion to include partial birth abortion,acceptance by laws. I have heard her wonderful VP choice, a Catholic, talk of his open marriage and heard him say the Catholic Church will have to change and accept same sex marriage or be in trouble. If Clinton wins, you can guarantee religious persecution in America, the once land of the free. People, we are not canonizing a Saint, neither of them are one and neither are we. But you know what you will get with Clinton, more of the last 8 years only worse. A pathological liar, responsible for murders at Benghazi, 6 billion dollars missing while Secretary of State, misuse of classified information, 47, or more, suspicious murders linked to Clinton. Why has our church been preaching like this priest a year ago and keeping it up each week, but instead 2 days before the election and after many have early voted, we get to read what we should have heard a year ago. Has our church gotten wrapped up in greed that if they say something about a mortal sin to vote for someone who plans to even increase funding with our tax dollars for easier access to abortion will quit coming to church or quit contributing to church? I will take my chances with Trump who at least loves America and has spent millions of his own money to try and save this country from Muslim takeover, to make America like it used to be minus the bad parts, and make America a good place for our children and grandchildren. I fear for what will happen with a Clinton win. All those against Trump like the Bush family and others are that way as they fear the end of the corrupt Clinton Cartel and the derailment of the gravy train for people in high places. Jail time for treason for some people. My motto/prayer has been what it says on the cover of October’s The Word Among Us: Pray And Never Give Up. Trump had a great life, he didn’t have to take on all the trash thrown at him and spend millions of his own money. But he did to save the country, to save our military, our education system, healthcare, our everyday life, our religious values, respect and adherence to our Constitution, and enforce our immigration laws.

  11. John Murray says:

    So, my comment was submitted on November 5, 2016, at 8:17 a.m. and is “awaiting moderation.” Another comment, however, from Thomas Richard, dated November 5, 2016, at 11:06 a.m., has been posted already. So, apparently, you are refusing to post my comment. Rather discouraging that a respected journal would stoop to censorship of even mildly different opinions.

  12. Pater, with all love and respect, I have to say that this was a bit of a disappointment. Everything you wrote above is true–but it is only half of the warning and advice a Catholic voter needs in this election. You chastise the support of one unsuitable major party candidate. However, the other is just as dangerous and unacceptable to a well-formed Catholic conscience, and you neglect to mention this. Both major candidates are deplorable and unworthy of leading this country. Fr. Lankeit’s homily makes the same error. What about a third party vote? What about following the example of Dorothy Day and her faithful and courageous voice in the American public and civil square? What if there can–should–be more than this corrupt two party oligarchy, which has pitted brother against sister even in the pews? What you have written here is good and true, but it is only part of the good and true that must be considered in this election, and so it is not enough: this column, I think, fails to accomplish your good intention in writing it.

    • Mary Bast says:

      Agreed! :)

    • Deborah McVey Richard says:

      To Kopfweh,

      I hope you don’t mind my replying to your comment. (Fr. Meconi may not have as much time as I do to respond). You may have missed an important point in writing these words:
      “You chastise the support of one unsuitable major party candidate. However, the other is just as dangerous and unacceptable to a well-formed Catholic conscience, and you neglect to mention this.”

      It seems to me Father pointed to the most important issue of Life in his article and also in providing the video. The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is an intrinsic evil, and one candidate has promised to defend abortion up to and including the 9th month of pregnancy, is an aggressive promoter of abortion on demand, and promoter of Planned Parenthood. There is no third party candidate who can match the amount of money or number of supportive voters to defeat that candidate except the one currently in close competition for election to be president. To choose not to vote in this election is to forfeit one’s vote to the defender of abortion and continue the atrocity.

      Dorothy Day’s choice was in an entirely different election cycle. The choice before us is so serious that it will have consequences in the Supreme Court for generations of unborn babies and is far more dangerous than war. If you consider the statistics on the number of children murdered in abortions they surpass those killed in war. One site gave estimated numbers thus : “We have lost more Americans through abortions (64 times more) than we did in all of our wars (12 wars) combined.
      Dorothy Day regretted her own abortion, and I believe she would vote for the candidate who promised to appoint Pro-Life judges to protect them, and who promised to negotiate for peace through strength.

  13. John Murray says:

    O.K., you did finally post mine. You need not post this one or mine from earlier today that was critical of you.

  14. It’s true that there is no perfect alignment of politics with faith. It’s also equally true that there is NO one single political issue that defines our moral choice. I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for abortion, even in the name of woman’s “choice.” Neither do I want my tax dollars to pay for my government to kill innocent civilians as “collateral casualties” in wars of “national interest.” I’ve read studies that shows poverty causing more unwanted pregnancies and abortions than Roe vs Wade. I worry about wars and nuclear threats in the hand of an unstable leader. I worry about his push for greater income inequality to benefit the rich over the poor. I worry about his blatant denial of climate change… Why do you make this election a single-issue choice? The world is gray — not black and white. And Christ knows it.

  15. Donald J. Toohill says:

    With pro choice, who makes the decision to abort, or for that matter, to use artificial birth control? Certainly not the Government in these United States. Well educated in the Roman Catholic College and University system, I challenge all who cannot understand the simple fact that one can be both pro choice and pro life at the same time, to study well the basic principle of our Constitutional system as one dedicated to enforce freedom from as opposed to freedom to. The Donald J. T. Of Peoria

    • Ted Heywood says:

      Donald – You have clearly stated your problem – …”Well educated in the Roman Catholic College and University system, I challenge all who cannot understand the simple fact that one can be both pro choice and pro life at the same time.”
      Undoubtedly Jesuit.