Friday, November 14, 2008

Losing the Catholic Vote

The Catholic vote this election went to Obama by 54-45%, a huge shift from the 2004 Bush-Kerry contest where Bush won the Catholic vote by 52-46%, despite the president's unpopular war. This came after a very vocal effort on the part of the hierarchy and the local churches to put the life of the unborn first among moral issues.

The reason for Catholics abandoning the pro-life ticket is generally attributed to the economic crisis, and polls that distinguish between church-going vs. cultural Catholics show more voting on the advice of their bishops. However, there may have been a perceptual and educational gap which didn't translate the urgency of this election to many Catholic voters.

Even if voters don't know the term "proportionality", they are well aware that Republican administrations have barely stanched the wound of abortion. Some certainly feel that the party has used their vote in the past and betrayed the culture of life ideal, particularly in the present administration in regard to war, torture, and the immigration crackdown. The Hispanic Catholic vote was handed to the Democrats when, for example, roadblocks were put up in their neighborhoods to catch illegal residents on their way to Sunday Mass. The issue of a candidate's support of or opposition to abortion became an abstract and uncompelling argument. If the election actually had hinged on abortion continuing or not, one would hope the tide would have turned the other direction.

In fact, the real risk to the Catholic ideals in this election is something larger than abortion, as impossible as that might seem given the enormity of death in the womb. This risk was not understood and perceived generally by Catholic voters, although the U.S. Bishops themselves are well aware of it. This threat ultimately looms over every charitable and educational Catholic institution in the country. Every Catholic hospital, school, and social agency could be shut down, voluntarily or otherwise, if certain legislation under an ideologically liberal administration were to be enacted.

The most immediate threat is that of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which president-elect Barack Obama has promised to sign into law. The Act makes it a crime for anyone to deny a woman an abortion and would remove conscience clauses for physicians and hospitals. This is huge, both for medical professionals individually and for the Catholic health facilities across the country. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago, a canon and civil lawyer, explained:
[FOCA] could mean discontinuing obstetrics in our hospitals, and we may need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our catholic hospitals entirely. It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to someone who would perform abortions. That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil. I do not think I'm being alarmist in suggesting the need to take such drastic steps. (Whispers).

It isn't hard to see that every other Catholic institution is threatened by the imposition of certain "rights". We have the example of the Boston Archdiocese closing its adoption agency in 2006 when mandated to adopt children to same-sex couples. If schools could not select their teachers with religious criteria, and were forced to "not discriminate", these would also be unable to continue their mission of educating in the faith.

The political education of Catholics must be refined beyond the usual ideological categories, especially when voters perceive no practical difference between one incumbent party and the other on life issues. What is at stake is even more than a grim tally of casualties. The fight is for the continuing presence of the Church in the realms of social life where Christians have served so many so well. Freedom has a higher value than even life, as we learn from our martyrs, who offered everything for the right to proclaim the destiny of human life in Christ.

No comments: