(UPDATED with Bishop Zubik statement and a new column by Cardinal-designate Tobin.)
By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — In the weeks leading up the hotly contested Nov.8 election, many Catholic bishops have written columns, issued statements or preached homilies encouraging their people to weigh the issues carefully as they enter the voting booth.
Many of the statements draw on “Faithful Citizenship,” the quadrennial document issued by the bishops to help guide Catholics in weighing the issues deciding whom to support.
Some of the statements express dismay at the choices presented in the persons of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, put it bluntly: “The political climate in the United States is chaotic and dispiriting. The Presidential nominees of both major political parties seem scandal-plagued and corrupt. America deserves better but perhaps these two contenders for our nation’s highest political office are simply a reflection of the citizenry.”
As Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote in his column, “Both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.”
The archbishop went on to say: “This is depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.”
“The deepest issues we face as a church and a nation this year won’t be solved by an election,” he said in another column. That’s not an excuse to remove ourselves from the public square. We do need to think and vote this November guided by properly formed Catholic consciences. But as believers, our task now is much more difficult and long-term. We need to recover our Catholic faith as a unifying identity across party lines.”
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik issued a statement Oct. 27 urging all parishes in his diocese to keep their churches open for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament Nov. 7 so people could prayerfully prepare for Election Day Nov. 8. ““Encourage your people to come before the Lord present in the Eucharist and ask for God to guide our nation and shape the consciences of its citizens, he said. In his column in today’s issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic, he urges Catholics to “pray before you enter that voting booth.”
For Bishop Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud, Minnesota, it was important to encourage some of his flock: “’Do not be afraid,’ Jesus told his disciples. In this election year, as we prepare to vote for candidates who will make important decisions for our country and our state, I would add: ‘Do not be discouraged!’”
“We modern-day disciples face many challenges when it comes to voting and living out our civic responsibilities,” he wrote. Being a responsible voter isn’t easy, he acknowledged, but “Our Catholic voices are needed more than ever this election year.”
For Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Catholics must form their consciences rightly and seek the common good, not simply a partisan agenda. “The common good is not identifiable with any party platform or ideology. Catholics should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. Nor is the common good what the majority of people want. It is rather ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily.’”
For Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, it is important that the clergy not dictate who to vote for or to intervene directly into the political process. In a column in his archdiocesan newspaper, Cardinal Wuerl wrote: “Each year in which we move toward a national election, I remind my brother priests that we are in the pulpit as proclaimers of the Gospel, not as political leaders. No one elected us as their political representative and there might be serious reason to believe they probably would not.”
“This presidential election presents all Americans with a difficult choice. Both major political parties have nominated very flawed candidates,” wrote Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, in his column in The Leaven, the archdiocesan newspaper. “In making your decision as a voter, I encourage you to think not only of the candidate, but who they will appoint to key Cabinet and other powerful government positions if he or she becomes president. We are choosing not just a president, but an entire administration.” He joined other Kansas bishops in recording a video message about the elections.
Writing in “Angelus,” the online news outlet for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez noted that many issues facing the country have not really been discussed — from abortion and racial injustice to homelessness to the death penalty and growing support for euthanasia and assisted suicide. “At the heart of the discontent in American life, I see a confusion about the human person. … We don’t know what it means to be a human person. Democracy cannot stand without a proper understanding of the human person.”
Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis has addressed the U.S. election in now nine of his columns in The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper. His latest was published Nov. 4: “Despite the challenges we face, we should approach the coming election with gratitude to God for the freedom we have to exercise our right to select our public officials and participate in setting direction for our local, state and federal governments.”
“The bishops do not tell us whom to vote for, but they do advise us on the moral principles that must be applied to each major issue,” he wrote in an earlier column. “Then it’s up to us to study the positions of candidates and the platforms of political parties, and determine where they stand in relationship to fundamental moral values. … An informed conscience is one that looks beyond political correctness and the ideologies of the left and the right to find the truth.”
On behalf of Georgia’s bishops, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory recorded a video series on “Faithful Citizenship.” “The church does not support or oppose candidates or politicians for any public office. Indeed, it is clear that no political party reflects the fullness of Catholic social teaching in its entirety,” he said. “In the Catholic tradition, participation in the political process is a moral obligation, rooted in our baptismal commitment. It is a duty for us as both Americans and as Catholics.”
The bishops of Minnesota likewise recorded a video message on the elections released by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, their public policy arm. “Stop complaining and start praying. Use our Election Day novena to prayerfully prepare yourself for faithful citizenship on Nov. 8 and beyond,” says the conference website.
Writing in America magazine back in February, San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy examined “four central pillars of life” he said are “at stake in the political common good” of the country this election year: abortion, poverty, care of the earth and assisted suicide. “Each of them reflects the ‘throwaway culture’ that Pope Francis has identified as a central cancer of our modern world,” he said.
“Allow your ongoing personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the church to guide your political decisions,” Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila wrote in his column on the archdiocese’s Denver Catholic news website. “I say this because we believe that the truth about ourselves and the world we live in is revealed in and through him. Our society suffers and has suffered for quite some time because too few people live an integrated life — one that does not divide ‘the personal’ from ‘the public.'”
In Vermont, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington told Catholics in the statewide diocese: “My first encouragement is that each of us who can vote in this November’s election do so. Do not abdicate your right to vote. It is a privilege and a duty. … We must exercise that right to vote and have our voices heard. Secondly, I ask that as people of faith we not leave that faith in Jesus Christ and in his church at the door of the voting booth but allow that faith to inform the choices we make in that booth. I encourage you to spend some time in prayer prior to voting, asking the Holy Spirit to infuse you with her guidance in making choices that are in keeping with our faith and the common good of all.”
“Like many of you, I lament the current climate of division, and the mean-spiritedness and intolerance of some toward those who do not agree with candidates and positions that do not fit their worldview,” wrote Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, in a letter to Catholics posted on the diocesan website.
“If you think you are confused and slightly battered by the noise, public protests and private misgivings,” Bishop Murphy said, “you have every reason to be so. But as responsible citizens and faithful men and women of God, we have to exercise our right to vote in a way that is serious, well-informed and reflective of who we are as Americans and Catholics.” He also talked about voting in the October issue of The Long Island Catholic diocesan magazine.
Voters this election year “need a great deal of ambiguity tolerance,” said Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, in a message on the diocese’s website. “You and I have a lot to pray for between now and Election Day — especially for a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak and the pursuit of the common good. And of course we must also consider each candidate’s integrity, philosophy and performance. We don’t just need ambiguity tolerance this election cycle, we need the wisdom of Solomon and the guidance of the Holy Spirit!”
After such a “contentious and unsettling presidential race,” Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of San Jose, California, asked in a blog post that Catholics and all people of goodwill “come together on Nov. 8th and 9th and on all of the days that follow to continue to forge one nation, subject to the rule of law and to unite as one American people, committed to the common good.”
In urging Catholics in his archdiocese to look to “Faithful Citizenship” for guidance for the elections, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, said that by offering that guidance, “some accuse the bishops of trying to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote, thus embroiling the church in partisan politics. Others think that the bishops are timid, and that they should be more pointed in telling Catholics exactly how to vote in light of the gravity of the moral issues.”
But in the document, he said, “the bishops state flatly: ‘The church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The church cannot champion any candidate or party.’ What the church is calling for is ‘a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.’”
In New Mexico, Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, too, reminded Catholics of the bishops’ document. “As we near the finish line of this election cycle” Nov. 8, it is understandable that emotions are running high,” he said. “This is certainly true for those of us who care deeply about the sanctity of human life, particularly vulnerable human life in the womb. Yet these emotions do not give us license to espouse positions that do not embrace the full moral teaching of our Catholic tradition. Nor do they allow leaders in the church to endorse or denounce a candidate because of his or her position on a given issue.”
In the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, Bishop Mark J. Seitz in a blog post likewise pointed to “Faithful Citizenship.” He acknowledged the dilemma facing Catholic voters this year, but he also said that beyond Election Day, “we desperately need citizens of character, committed to the common good and guided by revealed wisdom, to step up and be involved if our democratic republic is to continue to be a place of well-being for its people and a source of hope for the world.”