Distinctions and Differences: The Myth of the “Catholic Vote”

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

Thank You, Governor and Mrs. Romney

As you might imagine, gentle reader, the avalanche of news of late has kept me away from blogging as often as I would have liked.  It is sometimes difficult to focus on interesting buildings, or discoveries in the art world, or considerations of trends in our culture, when there is so much information and opinion to sift through.  Now that the U.S. elections are over, it is time to get back to work.

However before I do so, I want to express my thanks to Governor and Mrs. Romney for all of the hard work they did to try to put this country back on the right track.  Of course no Presidential campaign goes it alone.  There are many hundreds and thousands of people who did their best, and they deserve many thanks also.

In this particular election, which was not the case for me in the previous one, I am genuinely sorry both for our country and for the Romneys personally that we will not have the chance to have them as President and First Lady.  We will not get to experience their devoted service to others, in response to how they themselves have been blessed – a fact which is well-known to those whom they have helped, and which sense of duty they have embraced all of their lives.  From the time I first got to know about the Romneys, way back in the previous Presidential primary cycle in 2007, I have been struck by what genuinely good people they are, models of both responsible citizenship and human decency.  By now all know how both of them have not only reached out to support those in need, but also to support each other through some very painful times.

Please do not mistake my reading, gentle reader, for I am not suggesting that the Romneys are saints, or some sort of embodiment of human perfection.  They are flawed and imperfect as we all are, because they are real people rather than celebrities created out of whole cloth.  Yet as models of marital/familial devotion, and of the active practice of the tenets of one’s faith, many of us could well do to take a lesson from them both.

The thought occurred to me this morning, as the impact of the election began to sink in more fully, that the example of St. Peter in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of St. John is particularly instructive in this regard, with respect to how one deals with disappointment, adversity, and loss.  This is a section of the Gospels which is often ignored or overlooked by many non-Catholics.  It particularly addresses how we Catholics understand the Eucharist, but it also tells us something about how we are to accept things which seem incredibly difficult or impossible for us.

After Christ tells His disciples that unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood, they will not have eternal life, many of them began to leave Him.  “This teaching is hard,” Jesus’ audience says, and they cannot accept what He has told them.  Jesus then asks the Twelve, those closest to Him, whether they are preparing to leave Him, also.  In response to this question St. Peter – in his inimitably Petrine way – makes a profound statement of  faith.  “Lord, to whom shall we go? For You alone have the words of eternal life.”

And that is really THE answer, in the end, for there is no other option.  Whatever comes, for those of us who practice the Catholic faith which comes to us from the Apostles (including St. Peter, the first Pope), whatever Providence brings or permits, we must hold fast to Him no matter how harshly the winds blow and the seas foam. And they most assuredly will, as our country appears convinced more than ever to embrace the culture of death.  Yet to do other than cling to Christ is to tie our colors to something floundering in the rocks, and which in the fullness of time is ultimately doomed to failure.

Whatever life holds next for Governor and Mrs. Romney, the last several years have undoubtedly been a tremendous burden and strain for both them and their family, and yet they have handled it all with grace, with hard work, and with love.  I thank them deeply for their service, and I hope that they will continue to work together to do good for their community and their country, as they are able.  May God bless them both.