(Novena reader Thomas Jones sends us the following submission – ed.)
In the 2020 US presidential election, Democrats and Republicans are appealing to Roman Catholics more than ever before. This election is pivotal for a country that has the prospect of four more years of President Donald Trump or a new Democratic president in Joe Biden.
As Michael Sean Winters titled in a National Catholic Reporter article, “The Catholic ‘votes’ will still pick the next president.”
In August 2020, Austin Ruse, the President of the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) which advocates for the Catholic Church’s teachings on family life (i.e. C-Fam is against LGBTQ policies), authored The Catholic Case for Trump.
As stated in its Amazon listing, “Catholics are under enormous pressure to denounce Donald Trump. The Catholic vote can decide an election, and liberals – including many high-ranking churchmen – are desperate to discourage the faithful from supporting the most pro-Catholic president in history.”
Mr. Ruse’s central thesis for favoring President Trump’s re-election is that Trump “has done more on the life issues than any president in our history. He more closely adheres to Catholic social teaching than Joe Biden.”
Firstly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that “the Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both a sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. ‘The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen’ (Gaudium et Spes 76, 3)” (2245).
While the Church has a right to pass moral judgment on political matters (2246), the actual choice is for the individual to make, not to have this dictated by the Church.
Therefore, to state one has “THE” Catholic case for any politician is con-artistry. Hence the title of my article, “‘A’ Catholic’s Case.”
Secondly, Catholic Social Teaching is a broad spectrum which includes ecological stewardship, solidarity and the pursuit of justice and peace (particularly with respect to racial equality), the dignity of work and the rights of workers (the economy must serve people, not the other way around), preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, the sacredness of marriage and family, and the dignity of a person’s life from conception to natural death (including but not limited to the lives of migrants and those on death row).
To grade Trump’s performance relative to Catholic Social Teaching would require its own article, but in lieu of that I will state that detaining migrant children at the US-Mexico border, focusing on the economy and not on people’s lives during COVID, doubting that climate change is real and pursuing a pro-fossil fuels agenda, and rising racial tensions over Trump’s presidency suggest that as president, Trump has failed more than he has succeeded in adhering to Catholic Social Teaching.
In the areas he has succeeded, President Trump has satisfied being anti-abortion (however based on the reasons stated, his policies have not supported the dignity of all life.) Not only has he supported policies that are anti-abortion, but he has appointed Supreme Court Justices who are also anti-abortion.
I would conjecture that as a dealmaker, Trump is using the anti-abortion card as a means of garnering voters. Whether he truly is against abortion is up for debate and can only be answered by the Omniscient God.
The other lone area of Trump’s success with Catholic Social Teaching is policies preserving marriage between a man and woman, i.e. anti-LGBTQ policies which Mr. Ruse also advocates for.
I would also conjecture that this is more of a bargaining chip than a deeply-held belief for Trump.
Therefore, even when considering Mr. Biden’s pro-choice and LGBTQ support, I find it difficult to substantiate Mr. Ruse’s claims that Mr. Trump more closely adheres to Catholic Social Teaching than Joe Biden and that Trump is the most pro-Catholic president in history.
I would like to present another Catholic’s case – Pope Francis’.
While Pope Francis cannot and would not endorse one candidate over another, during the 2016 US election the pontiff did state his concerns over the Trump¡s deportation of undocumented migrants and his promise to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the pope said.
The Supreme Pontiff’s words further discredit Ruse’s claim that Trump is the most pro-Catholic president in history.
Pope Francis exercised his right according to the Catechism to pass moral judgment on political matters. But the decision for who to vote for solely belongs to the individual.
If there is hesitancy to base one’s voting decision on the anti-abortion cause, I get it. To date, I have not voted for a pro-abortion presidential candidate in the general election (and no, I did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016).
However, in light of US politics having abortion legislation as a divisive issue, Archbishop Paglia, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, cautioned against the pro-life cause being weaponized for political purposes.
My case as a Catholic for dumping Trump is due to his glaring policy deviance from Catholic Social Teaching and my desire for a president who is a builder of bridges, not walls.
Nevertheless, to my fellow US Catholics, my case for you is, firstly, to vote.
Secondly, my case to you is to turn off the pundits from either ideological leaning, and listen to the Holy Spirit. Ask the Spirit to review with you how the past four years have transpired in the United States: what worked, what didn’t work and what you would like to see changed.
Next, consider both of the candidates and ask which one will work towards the vision of the US you would like to see in 2024. Research the issues thoroughly and independently, consider the Church’s Social Teaching juxtaposed with each candidate’s platform, weigh the pros and cons, and ask for continued guidance from the Spirit.
Using this suggested method, you can vote based on your conscious and conscience-driven efforts.
Following your vote, do not feel the need to justify your position to others, whether they be Catholics or not.
I believe these steps follow the Church’s guidance to not be tied to any political party but to embrace civility, discernment and adherence to the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-38) as the foundation for one’s voting decisions.