Can a good Catholic vote for Joe Biden?
Among Catholics, there is almost no question asked more often as we head toward Election Day. And of course, the answer is Yes! Good Catholics also can vote for Donald Trump. There is no “good Catholic” way to vote. There are good Catholic reasons for choosing how we vote, though. That’s what Catholic voters need to pay attention to.
Take just a few words from the official teaching of the Catholic Church as a place to start. St. John Paul II told us that, “Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation.” That includes both unborn children and George Floyd or it is not “consistent.”
John Paul also called division based on rigid party loyalty a sin in a 1987 encyclical letter. He told us we have a duty to look past ideology and party to pursue what Catholicism always describes as the real purpose of politics — the “universal common good,” what is best for everyone together.
We know that the Democrats and the Republicans are in different places about unborn children and Black Lives Matter. So the challenge to be consistent and to look past party is a real problem. Being Catholic must mean not being a comfortable Republican or Democrat.
We have been hearing that abortion is more important than other threats against human persons for a long time. It is easy to get the idea that abortion is the only issue that Catholics should think about. But that’s not really so.
Abortion is a grave threat. In moral terms, abortion represents intrinsic evil, something that never can be justified because (again, John Paul), such an act is “incapable of being ordered” to God. But there are other intrinsic evils, too. Racism is an intrinsic evil. So is calumny — making false statements that damage someone’s reputation. There can be no justifying such things.
The Catechism also tells us about other evils, too. Grave moral evil includes fraud (1858), abusive language (2073), failing to love (1033), using media to manipulate public opinion (2499), pride (1866), torture (2148), slander (1853), and many other things. Abortion is one intrinsic, grave evil in the world. It is not the only one.
This is a lot for us to navigate in our divided American politics. It is natural to want to find an easy solution that tells us what to do. We can sense that frustration in a recent statement of the U.S. bishops who told us that, even with so many evils all around us, abortion is a “preeminent priority.” That was the same message Sister Deidre Byrne offered at the Republican convention. But we should think carefully about that.
Sister Deidre called attention to “infanticide,” or abortions after the 21st week. This is a gruesome proposition. But they amount to only 1% of abortions. Abortion has changed a lot since the issue came to prominence, and rhetoric like Sister Deidre’s has not caught up with the reality. Almost half of abortions result from taking a pill: clinics and procedures quickly are receding from central importance.
For many years activists and Catholic bishops have focused on putting judges in place to rule against abortion rights. But during the last four years, Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have done that. The judiciary has been transformed because Mitch McConnell and the president collaborated to transform it. The work is done.
So we come back to reasons for choosing how Catholics vote. How many other evils would Catholics overlook if they vote for Donald Trump only because of abortion, even now as there is little left to be gained by that choice? What suffering do we permit with a rigid commitment to remain loyal to one party? How much does our political system have to suffer from the evil of ongoing, partisan division?
I would not tell anyone how to vote. I agree with the Catholic Church that voting is a deeply personal matter of conscience, and we each can assess our choices differently. We all make the best judgment about how our participation can do the most effective good.
But, can a good Catholic vote for Joe Biden? Definitely.