One of the more comment-worthy statistics to come out of Tuesday’s election results was that the majority of self-identified Catholics voted for Mr. Obama, despite the efforts of the bishops to point to the threat of this Administration’s HHS Mandate against Catholic institutions. In the aftermath, I made the point of responding to those posting about this statistic in my different social media timelines that polls tend to lump together all voters who self-identify as Catholics into a single bloc or category, referring to us collectively as the “Catholic vote”. And simply put, gentle reader, I would argue that for practical purposes the term “Catholic vote”, at the present time, is little more than a myth, unless we are willing to draw some clear distinctions and differences.
Thinking that the term “Catholic vote” describes some sort of electoral bloc is easier for many, since public understanding in this country of exactly what the Catholic Church is, what it teaches, and how it functions continues to be astonishingly poor. For example, many continue to believe that we worship statues, think of the Virgin Mary as a goddess, and do not want people to read the Bible – none of which, I emphatically assure you, is true. I was recently informed by an Evangelical Protestant, to my utter surprise, that I did not believe in the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Holy Trinity. This was news to me, and all I can say is, if Sister Barbara my 5th-grade religion teacher finds this out, then I am in serious trouble.
Yet this sort of thing not only happens to Catholics on a personal level, but we see and hear it in the media as well, and with particularly alarming frequency given that 1 out of every 4 Americans is, at least nominally, a Catholic. Unfortunately, sometimes the source of the confusion comes from Catholics themselves, who misrepresent the position of the Church, either maliciously or out of ignorance. Particularly when it comes to moral issues, there are many prominent Catholics who need to go back to Sister Barbara themselves for a refresher course on what being Catholic means.
For example, the Catholic Church has taught for two thousand years that elective abortion is evil, and a sin against the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a compendium of the thinking and teaching of the Church on the faith with extensive references to Scripture and the early Church Fathers from the first centuries of Catholicism, we can read the following:
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:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
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.
Putting aside whatever your personal opinion may be on abortion, gentle reader, look closely and dispassionately at this text and concentrate on the way it is written. There is simply no wiggle room here on this issue, is there? The meaning of this section of the Catechism is plain on its face.
However despite the absolute, crystalline clarity which is plain to anyone reading the above statement, there are millions of Catholics in the United States who flat-out reject this teaching. In fact, I have seen very prominent Catholics argue, bewilderingly, that the Church has not been clear on this subject, or who prognosticate that the Church will one day decide to throw this teaching out the window. Simply put, this is not going to happen.
Yet understanding the fact that there are millions of ordinary Catholics who think that the Church will change and, eventually, “come around” on this issue, is a good way to show why, at the present time, the “Catholic vote” is not really the most useful term, if one is trying to learn anything about politics by employing it. It tells us absolutely nothing about electoral trends, although unfortunately it tells us a great deal about the failure of efficacious Catholic religious instruction over the past forty years. It effectively puts someone like Mother Angelica of EWTN and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco in the same political category, and it would be difficult to imagine a more strange pairing.
Catholics are too culturally fractured today to all be stuffed into the same ballot box under the term, the “Catholic Vote”. This is as a result of a number of factors, including bad catechesis, a lack of courageous preaching from the pulpit, and the poor example of two generations of Catholics more concerned with making everyone feel good about themselves, rather than confronting the realities of sin and secularism. Seeing the number of Catholics who showed up to vote may tell us demographically whom the Catholics voted for, yes. However, we need to take the time to draw the distinctions necessary here, in order to understand the often profound differences of both opinion and practice, which exist among Catholics in America today if we are to learn anything from these figures.
Franciscan friar voting in Arizona in 1906