As Joe Biden arrived at his Wilmington, Del., church on Sunday, he was greeted by protesters holding signs and chanting, “Joe, you’re a disgrace to the Catholic faith.”
Also on Sunday morning, CatholicVote, a conservative lay Catholic organization backing President Donald Trump, took to Twitter to retweet photos of Trump rallies featuring miles-long car lines and giddy nuns.
According to Brian Burch, the president of CatholicVote, applying the principles of Catholic social teaching to the election can only yield one result.
“We do believe a Catholic ought to vote for Trump,” Burch told Sojourners. “In fact, there’s no choice but to vote for Trump.”
But while groups like CatholicVote and others have narrowed in on pro-life, pro-Trump messaging, many other Catholic groups are urging Catholics to think more holistically when they enter the voting booth. Being “pro-life,” they argue, extends to honoring the dignity all life from the “womb to the tomb” which behooves voters to consider issues like health care, housing, education, racism, climate justice, migration, and criminal justice reform.
In the 2016 election, this level of enthusiasm for Donald Trump among white Catholics manifested at the polls: 60 percent of white Catholics voted for Trump while 67 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for Clinton, according to Pew Research Center. But that seems to be shifting. The latest polling from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) indicates that support for Biden among white Catholics is at 51 percent while support for Trump sits at 41 percent.
The urge for Catholic voters to think more holistically is part of what Rev. Bryan Massingale calls “a robust effort among Catholics to call attention to the fact that Catholics are not mandated to be single-issue voters.”
“The unique depravity of the Trump administration is callousness for the lives of immigrants, the cruelty of separating families at the border, their inability to cope adequately with the COVID pandemic, the wanton lying that Trump has engaged in from day one,” Massingale told Sojourners. “It has galvanized many Catholics to get the word out that we cannot be concerned about only one issue.”
On Sunday morning, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, discussed Pope Francis’ idea of “ equally sacred” priorities via Facebook livestream.
“Pope Francis says ‘equally sacred’ to the defense of the unborn are: those already born, people and families on the economic margins, those who are sick, disabled, and older adults, victims of trafficking and economic slavery,” Campbell told viewers. “We cannot ignore economic inequality, the situation of migrants, or racism. We cannot ignore these equally sacred issues.”
Campbell’s livestream was one of NETWORK’s 63 virtual events throughout the election season. In an Oct. 23 town hall with NETWORK, Campbell, Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ; Daniel P. Horan, OFM; Melissa Cedillo; and Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, each commented on the incongruency of being pro-life without attending to the full spectrum of life issues.
“To say we’re pro-life and not to be engaged in every one of these issues, including the huge numbers of human beings that we have sent into exile and punishment in our prisons, is just to put our heads in the sand and be so myopic in our view of what pro-life means.” Prejean said.
Horan pointed to “intergenerational justice,” saying, “We need to consider how creation is essential to our political and social life in this country and across the world. Climate change is a life issue. It’s about life.”
In America magazine, Bishop Mark Seitz condemned the effect of the abortion debate on American society, writing, “For far too long, in pursuit of ‘single-issue’ strategies to end abortion, many Christians have scandalously turned a blind eye to real breakdowns in solidarity and dehumanizing policies … All of this has backfired and contributed to the issue’s intractability, widened the polarization in our society, harmed the credibility of the commitment of Christians to the common good and compromised the integrity of our Gospel witness.”
Various Catholic groups have published voter guides, including the Missionaries of the Precious Blood's Kansas City province and a group of Catholic theologians and lay ministers. In September, National Catholic social justice leaders, scholars from nearly two dozen Catholic universities, and several retired officials from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, endorsed an open letter to Catholic voters warning that President Trump "flouts core values at the heart of Catholic social teaching."
According to Catholic author and theology professor Dawn Eden Goldstein, Catholics are called to build a culture of truth and love in which all life is honored.
“The issue of the unborn is a big issue. You can’t build a culture of life while negating the life of the unborn,” Goldstein told Sojourners. “The question thus becomes which candidate is most likely to pursue policies that promote the common good. I think it’s important that Catholics take these various factors into their discernment.”
For Karen Summerson, a Catholic in Alexandria, Va. who already voted absentee, a wide range of issues were on the ballot. While abortion was widely talked about in her home parish when she was growing up, Summerson now sees climate justice, migration, and religious liberties as Catholic issues elevated by Pope Francis and the gospel itself.
“When someone says they’re pro-life, I see that as beyond someone’s stance on womens’ reproductive rights,” Summerson said. “If we look at the gospels and the way Jesus lived, that’s not something being emulated by the current administration.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Rev. Bryan Massingale with an SJ, as a member of the Society of Jesus order. We apologize for the error.