Getting ready to vote — as a Catholic

With the primary elections coming next Tuesday in Massachusetts, our attention turns to the responsibility Catholics have as citizens of this country. Our primary responsibility is to God, not to anyone else, be they an individual politician or a political party or an ideology. Pope Francis, this past Sunday after giving his Angelus message, addressed some Catholic legislators who were in the crowd in St. Peter’s Square and said (according to the Vatican Radio translation), “I encourage you to live the delicate role of representatives of the people in conformity with Gospel values.” This brief “shout-out” to them (as he was reading off a list of groups to whom he was sending greetings) points out the essential responsibility of Catholics active in the world — we are to live “in conformity with Gospel values,” not the values which happen to be popular at a given moment.

Extrapolating from what the Holy Father said to the legislators, as we prepare to vote in the primaries for candidates to our legislatures (state and federal) and to other government positions, we need to remember “Gospel values” when we select our candidates. 

Many people try to take what the pope said last year in an interview with a Jesuit publication and twist it into saying that he does not want us voting according to the U.S. Bishops Conference list of “non-negotiable” issues regarding human life, Marriage and religious freedom. This is a misreading of what the pontiff meant when he said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

The context of that comment was in a discussion the pope was having with the interviewer about the Church being a “field hospital” for people’s souls and about how the Church offers a “proclamation of Salvation.” He was arguing that if we cannot move people to see the great gift God is giving them in offering them pardon for their sins and the strength to leave them behind, they are not going to listen to us in speaking about other things, such as these social issues. This is not to say that we Catholics, who are already evangelized (although always in need of further evangelization and continuing conversion until the time of our deaths), should ignore these important issues. Pope Francis himself, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, had a very difficult relationship with the Argentine government, because he publicly opposed its policies on same-sex marriage and contraception and urged his fellow Catholics to join him in this political battle.

Voters in Massachusetts often have few choices, sometimes due to the lack of candidates (many incumbents can coast to re-election since no one at all is running against them), sometimes due to the fact when there is a contested race, the candidates have nearly identical positions. When faced with the choice of one candidate who stands with us on the “non-negotiable” issues versus another candidate who does not, the choice should be clear. Gospel values demand that the right to life be respected from conception until natural death. Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told the Knights of Columbus convention in 2012: “The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.” We need to do research before voting and then vote accordingly, not supporting candidates who promote an anti-life agenda or who are threatening our religious freedom (a freedom which even the liberal members of the U.S. Supreme Court wish to protect, but the vast majority of Massachusetts Legislature want to restrict — see the new, worse buffer zone law that it passed in near-record time).

Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM, Cap., of Philadelphia passed on a funny, but disturbing story last week in his newspaper column. “A doctor friend quipped recently that America is becoming a country where it’s easier to opt out of the Pledge of Allegiance than to avoid the HHS mandate. Expressions of national loyalty may be optional, she said. Paying for everybody’s birth control is not.” We are in this situation because we (including the majority of Catholic voters) have elected politicians (many of whom are Catholic, too) who are hostile to Gospel values.

The Philly archbishop then drew a connection between what is going on inside the U.S. with the persecution of the Church around the world. “Our current leadership is, however, consistent. Its disinterest in religious liberty concerns here at home seems replicated in its foreign policy. [I]n recent years, Washington’s interest in protecting and expanding the rights of religious minorities abroad has been tepid — or worse. How should we as Catholics respond? We can start by realizing that a discomfort about dealing with religious liberty issues abroad has been part of the culture of America’s foreign policy bureaucracy for a long time. Our current national leadership has simply made it worse. As much as we love our country — and Catholics have proven that love again and again in public service and in combat — our primary loyalty as Catholics is to Jesus Christ, to the Church as our community of faith and to our fellow Christians. They come first; and if in our hearts we don’t place them first, then we need to take a hard look at what we mean when we say we’re ‘Catholic.’” 

Archbishop Chaput then mentioned a silver lining in the HHS mandate controversy. “It helps us see just how eager some of us are to find a way to avoid conflict, to get along, to compromise our convictions. Few of us want to think too deeply about how and why the mandate fight happened in the first place, or where it’s likely to lead. It’s easier to blame the Church for being stubborn or conducting a phony ‘war on women.’
Meanwhile, fellow believers are being murdered overseas simply for being Christian. There’s something wrong with us — not just wrong with our Catholic faith, but wrong with our humanity — if that doesn’t leave us appalled and also more alert to the changing climate of our own country.
Here at home, the HHS mandate fight will now be decided in the courts. But in the long run, as a nation, we’ll get the measure of religious liberty we deserve based on the kind of people we elect to federal office — something we need to remember in an election year.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts