Although I was raised Catholic and attend Sunday Mass regularly, in recent years I am finding the Church’s position, or perhaps its silence, on many political issues disturbing. I understand pro-life concerns, but I don’t understand why the only pro-life issue the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) really seems to care about is abortion.
I have heard various priests and bishops claim that certain politicians (almost always Democrats) should be denied Communion because of their position on abortion. When an elected Republican leader favors destroying all safety nets for the poor and disadvantaged, the criticism—if any—is very muted. Does the Republican Party better reflect Catholic social teaching?
The short answer to your question is that no political party in the United States totally reflects Catholic social teaching. The US bishops have reaffirmed that in their official, quadrennial pre-election statements. Since 1976, these have been issued 12 months before a presidential election, well before the candidates have been chosen. The 2016 USCCB text can be found through the “Issues and Action” link at usccb.org.
It is a fact, however, that on the issue of respecting the life of unborn humans, the official platforms of the Democratic Party have been more pro-abortion since 1976 than the platforms of the Republican Party. It also cannot be denied that on many other social justice issues, such as immigration and health care, the Democratic platforms have been closer to Catholic social teaching than Republican platforms.
What’s a Catholic to do? The USCCB statements have consistently urged Catholic voters not to cast their ballots based on a single issue. The bishops have also acknowledged that not all politically debated issues are equally important morally. Some Catholics and others have said that the right to life is the basis for all other rights. In doing so, they suggest that only one political issue counts.
Prior to the 2016 presidential election, the major candidates accepted the platform adopted at their party’s convention, but neither candidate made respect for the unborn a major part of his or her campaign. Catholics with well-formed consciences do not necessarily come to the same practical judgment about which political candidate to support. Your letter arrived before the US House of Representatives narrowly supported the Republican-sponsored “repeal and replace” health care bill.
On May 4, Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on the US Senate to strip out harmful provisions in the bill passed by the House of Representatives. That statement is available through the “News” link at usccb.org. The bishops had issued several statements about protecting vulnerable people when the health care legislation was rewritten.
No one should ever vote against his or her conscience, but identifying what that voter’s well-formed conscience requires is rarely a quick and easy matter.