(RNS) Since the Republicans and Democrats anointed their respective standard-bearers we’ve heard a lot from evangelical leaders about the election, but from the big dogs of Catholicism barely a peep.
It’s not as though they don’t have some guidance from the top.
Pope Francis has been pretty clear about his policy priorities. He cares a lot about the poor, about immigrants and refugees, about climate change. He fervently opposes the death penalty. He doesn’t think Catholics should make abortion their overriding public concern.
A few weeks ago, his new nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, gave an interview to Our Sunday Visitor which put the pope’s message in a nutshell.
“Certainly we have to witness to our values — for example, when it comes to the respect of life. This is a value that as Catholics, as disciples of Jesus, we have to defend,” he said. “But we are not just defending an idea or a value. We are disciples. As disciples, we should be missionary, and to be missionary is to be profoundly committed in all areas of the society to the values of the Gospel and to defend them.
“If you are a doctor in the hospital, you should defend life. If you are parents, you should have the courage to respect life,” he added. “But also all the values of the Gospel have to be defended: justice, the respect of people, the defense of refugees. When we speak about the Gospel, we must always address the poorest, the people who are the most without protection. This is also the duty of the Church and ourselves as Christians. So I would not separate issues because I don’t think it’s an occasion of perspective.”
In other words, Catholics should not focus on a single value but as missionaries must defend all the values of the Gospel.
With that in mind, I might suggest that a diligent bishop could help out his flock by characterizing the presidential race as follows:
On the one hand, you’ve got a candidate who pays occasional lip service to the church’s positions on abortion and marriage. At the same time, he has staked his political career on denouncing immigrants and keeping refugees out of the country, while showing no interest in helping the poor and denying the existence of climate change. He favors the death penalty and opposes gun control.
On the other hand, there’s a candidate who strongly opposes the church’s positions on abortion and marriage but who supports immigration reform, is committed to helping the poor, and considers climate change a major challenge of our time. She opposes the death penalty and favors gun control.
It is not the job of your bishop to tell you how to vote, and I am in no privileged position when it comes to evaluating the character or temperament of the two candidates. But in assessing the two candidates’ positions on the issues of importance in Catholic teaching, I’d note that there’s little that American presidents can do when it comes to abortion or same-sex marriage or the death penalty — although, to be sure, it’s conceivable that a seriously pro-life president could appoint Supreme Court judges who might overturn Roe v.Wade and give states the power to decide on the legality of the procedure.
By contrast, the president has a powerful role to play when it comes to setting policy on immigration, refugees, poverty, and climate change. Please choose wisely in deciding whom to vote for.
Compare that hypothetical with the only recent statement on the election from a Catholic hierarch I’ve seen — Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s column on CatholicPhilly.com a few days ago (deftly skewered today by Michael Sean Winters over at National Catholic Reporter).
“Both major candidates are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other,” writes Chaput.
On the issues, he pays the barest lip service to the Franciscan message, sticking instead to the position that abortion overrides all other.
For Catholics, no political or social issue stands in isolation. But neither are all pressing issues equal in foundational importance or gravity. The right to life undergirds all other rights and all genuine social progress. It cannot be set aside or contextualized in the name of other “rights” or priorities without prostituting the whole idea of human dignity.
There’s nothing whatsoever about any other political or social issue, not immigration or refugees or climate or, indeed, the poor. Here’s hoping that one of his peers does a better job.