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US presidential election: What’s the Catholic way to vote?

Options: President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president. Photo: CNS

WELCOME to the strange world of US politics – and especially so for Catholic voters – as we head towards a presidential election in November.

In President Donald Trump, Americans have a leader seeking re-election who was once pro-choice and has transformed into an anti-abortion warrior.

And in Democratic candidate Joe Biden, voters see a contender who calls himself a Catholic, and yet proudly supports abortion.

So how does a Catholic voter deal with this?

Last week, Providence Bishop Joseph Tobin tweeted that 2020 was the “first time in a while that the Democratic ticket hasn’t had a Catholic on it”.

It was a hard dig at Mr Biden, who counts himself a Catholic, and after all, has the baptismal certificate and background to prove it.

He has made much of his Catholic schooling, his fondness for nuns, and the comfort his faith has given him in personal tragedy.

Mr Biden credits those Catholic roots with teaching him the importance of the human dignity of all people, a core principle of Catholic social teaching.

They also shaped his understanding of solidarity, especially with the poor and the working class, which he regularly cites when talking about job security and economic policy.

“I grew up with Catholic social doctrine, which taught me that faith without works is dead, and you will know us by what we do,” Mr Biden said in early June as US street uprisings erupted after the death of George Floyd.

Mr Biden lamented that there was still much work to be done “to ensure that all men and women are not only created equal, but are treated equally.”

But in the wink of an eye there’s an apparent deal breaker for many faith observant Americans – Mr Biden proudly supports abortion – just as the past couple of Catholic Democrat presidential candidates did – John Kerry and Tim Kaine.

The best Mr Biden has come up with is that he dislikes abortion, but doesn’t want to make it illegal.

That for many Catholics is the ballgame right there.

According to United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voter guidelines “a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide…”

The Trump campaign certainly hopes all this will stick – a singular focus on abortion would serve the president well, taking the heat off his performance during COVID-19, his handling of race riots, and of course the faltering economy and unemployment.

Even though Mr Trump in 1999 described himself as “very pro-choice”, somewhere along the way he has apparently crossed to the other side of the lake, winning the support of some powerful Catholic groups that once condemned him.

Even CatholicVote.org that in 2016 criticised Mr Trump after the release of footage in which he boasted of groping women, is now mobilising Catholics to vote for him.

In America, it seems, Church politics is a moveable feast.

At last November’s USCCB conference a row broke out about whether abortion is the “pre-eminent” Church issue.

A powerful liberal group of bishops put up a stern fight, arguing that abortion should be scraped from its voter guidelines.

Using Pope Francis as their beacon their priorities are social justice issues, like the plight of immigrants and the poor, and addressing climate change.

However a majority of bishops defending from the corner of personal morality, flexed their muscle (and won the vote) with their opposition to abortion based on the Church teaching that the right to life is paramount.

With all this said, many Americans, like Australians, who call themselves Catholic no longer practice the faith and are therefore less likely to consider Church teaching when they cast their vote.

According to the non-profit Public Religion Research Institute less than one-quarter of white Catholics or Hispanic/Latino Catholics say they vote according to their views on abortion.

Mr Biden leads President Trump in the polls, but there is still a long way to run until November.

Could Mr Biden’s new running mate Kamala Harris, be the X factor?

Executive director of Priests for Life Fr Frank Pavone describes Harris as having the most “extreme of position on abortion you can take”.

And yet, the Washington Post opines that Ms Harris embodies a powerful new religious ingredient, bringing “an ethnically and racially diverse version of Christianity” to the Democrat ticket.

“In a time of expanding religious pluralism, the country’s younger generation, many of them children and grandchildren of immigrants, will recognise in Harris a kind of multi-faith and spiritual belonging unfamiliar to the mostly White Christian majority of past decades,” the Post said.

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