The Catholic Democrat Dilemma
Its unabashed stance on abortion anytime, anywhere, and for any reason is not the only problem real Catholics (should) have with the Democrat Party of 2020.
By Tom Klocek
Catholic Democrats (a description I consider an oxymoron) are in a real quandary this election cycle, especially if they are real Catholics. After years of enabling evil through support for abortion contrary to Catholic teaching and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voting guidelines, their party has swung so far to the left that even their supposed centrist candidate outright supports a socialist agenda. Their next most popular candidate, who lost the primary, is a self-declared socialist who regularly praises communist China, the Soviet Union, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
Typically, Catholics have supported Democrat politicians more than Republicans. However, according to Pew Research, more Catholics voted for Trump in the 2016 election than for Hillary Clinton (52-44%). This is the first time that I can remember in my lifetime since Ronald Reagan when more Catholics voted for a Republican than for the Democrat candidate. Cardinal Timothy Dolan recently explained why, historically, Catholics mostly voted for Democrats in an op-ed in March 2018, stating that the Democrat Party used to stand for the right to life and for support for Catholic schools. He lamented that, sadly, this is no longer the case. In 2008, Cardinal Burke noted: “The Democrats were … the party that helped our immigrant parents and grandparents better integrate and prosper in American society. But it is not the same anymore.” He also said at the time, “At this point the Democratic Party risks transforming itself definitely into a ‘party of death’ because of its choices on bioethical questions.”
In a recent article in a diocesan newspaper, a college professor lamented that he had to finally leave the Democrat Party because of its extreme pro-abortion stance. But its unabashed stance on abortion anytime, anywhere, and for any reason is not the only problem real Catholics (should) have with the Democrat Party of 2020.
In the 1980s, the Catholic Bishops often openly supported Democrat politicians while espousing the “consistent life ethic” that Cardinal Bernadin mentioned in a statement using the term “seamless garment.” The “seamless garment” was a term used by Joseph Cardinal Bernadin to describe what is also known as the Consistent Life Ethic (CLE). The CLE encompasses Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person and relates to having a consistent attitude toward life at all stages, not just as a baby in the womb. During his lecture in March 1984 on the subject, Cardinal Bernadin made the following statement: “A consistent life ethic does not equate the problem of taking life (e.g., through abortion and in war) with the problem of promoting human dignity (through humane programs of nutrition, health care and housing.”
Unfortunately, as noted by Archbishop Gerhard Muller, then prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this was often not the case. Archbishop Muller noted, “The ‘seamless garment’ image was used to great effect to root the Church’s response to various moral issues — from nuclear proliferation to poverty — within the overarching teaching on the sanctity of human life, from natural conception to natural death. Unfortunately, however, it is also true that the image of the ‘seamless garment’ has been used by some theologians and Catholic politicians, in an intellectually dishonest manner to allow or at least justify turning a blind eye to instances of abortion, contraception, or public funding for embryonic stem cell research, as long as these were simultaneously accompanied by opposition to the death penalty or promotion of economic development for the poor.”
Todd Aglialoro of Catholic Answers explained the impact this way: “Other critiques … [of the seamless garment] have highlighted the additional problem of conflating non-negotiable moral doctrines (for example, that abortion is a grave, intrinsic evil) with life principles that invariably have negotiable pragmatic applications (for example, how best to direct public policy to facilitate our duty to help the poor, or what role the state should play in ensuring the adequate health care that human dignity demands).”
Some will cite the Republican support for capital punishment as reason to vote Democrat, yet the church has accepted this as a reasonable tool for nations to enforce laws prohibiting capital offenses for nearly two thousand years. Furthermore, its use in the past 50 years has been severely curtailed. Many states that still have capital punishment on the books have not executed anyone in decades. Even so, Article 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Given certain requirements have been met, “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty.” Still, the execution of a duly convicted adult does not compare to the taking of the innocent life a baby (without due process of law).
The current positions the Democrat Party takes on abortion and other issues that run contrary to Catholic social doctrine make it harder for people to even try to hide behind the fallacious seamless-garment arguments.
Why is this a dilemma? Well, as I have said, there is the obvious support of abortion. Many so-called Catholic politicians in that party support abortion throughout pregnancy and, of late, given the opportunity to support saving the life of a child who survives abortion, they voted for infanticide. The party leadership and several prominent party members have declared that there is no room for pro-lifers in their party.
To compound the matter, Democrats like to proclaim that they believe in science yet completely deny the fact the child in the mother’s womb is a separate and distinct human person. As their current vice presidential candidate recently stated during the VP debate, she is unequivocally and proudly pro-abortion, claiming that a woman has a “right to make a decision over her own body.” However, the scientific fact is that the child in the womb is a human person with its own DNA, its own characteristics, and its own fingerprints, and the child often differs from the mother in terms of its sex, its hair and eye color, its musculature, and so on.
Bishop Strickland of Texas points out the problem for Catholics who think this is not a problem or is one on a par with other social justice issues. “Catholic social teaching offers us principles for our action. It is meant to be received with a mature faith, one which embraces the call to form our consciences and then act. Nowhere is the disconnect between a formed conscience and proper Christian political participation more obvious than in protecting children in the womb from the intrinsic evil of procured abortion [emphasis added].”
But abortion is not the only reason Catholic Democrats are in a quandary. There is an extensive list of other social justice issues that the Democrats favor but run contrary to Catholic teaching. Furthermore, their opposition to and attempts to restrict many of our God-given rights as enumerated in our Constitution pose another potential difficulty to the support of this party by true Catholics.
Many want to point to Democrat social welfare programs, as they see those as more in tune to a consistent life ethic. Again, Catholic social teaching, going back to Pope Leo XIII, points to the dignity of work (e.g., having a job) as a major point of human dignity, much more so than just providing welfare for people who are not working. The Democrats are vehemently opposed to President Trump’s policies that resulted in record-low unemployment, violent crime falling every year he’s been in office (after rising during the two years before he was elected), the 25% lowest-paid Americans enjoying a 4.5% income boost in November 2019, which outpaced a 2.9% gain in earnings for the country’s highest-paid workers, and many other accomplishments that all benefit the common good.
Again, many who favor the Democrats want to point to the issue of immigration, failing to recognize that the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that controlling immigration is a legitimate endeavor of any country. Article 2241 states: “Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions.” This paragraph goes on to say that the immigrants are obliged to obey the laws of the country that receives them.
Then there is the unabashed Democrat support for socialism. Again, Pope Leo XIII’s comprehensive encyclical in the late 1800’s, Rerum Novarum, dealt at length with the evils of socialism and how it was contrary to Catholic teaching. Every pope since, up until Francis, has written encyclicals that further reinforce Pope Leo’s explanation. Pope Pius XI’s Encyclical on Reconstruction of the Social Order (Quadragesimo Anno, May 15, 1931) states:
- If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.
Pope St. John XXIII reinforced Pope Pius XI’s statement as follows: “Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism.”
While claiming to be the party of tolerance and inclusiveness, the Democrats have engaged in radical support of divisiveness, envy, and hatred, engaging in violence and intolerance against any who support a contrary view to their accepted “rightness.” The adage “Actions speak louder than words” applies. One look at the many Democrat-controlled cities that have erupted in violence under the guise of “peaceful protest” and condoned by their leaders tells the truth of their own hatred and predisposition to actions harmful to the general public. And, as an example, it was a Democrat supporter who targeted Republicans at a baseball practice, nearly killing one of them. Such support of violence is not an isolated incident.
As for “climate change,” which Democrats claim is destroying the planet, Trump is criticized for pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord. Yet, without participating in it and without engaging in its economy-destroying policies (which would be more devastating for the poor and underprivileged), the U.S. has reduced its carbon emissions more than any other nation. Furthermore, that accord did nothing to force the major polluters of the planet (e.g., China and India) to reduce their carbon loading of the atmosphere. Capitalism thrives on efficiency, and carbon reduction can be more efficiently achieved through free markets than by large socialist policies.
Free will is a gift of God, and included in it is our rights for freedom of speech and freedom to worship. The “thought police” of the Democrat Party and its proponents in the mainstream media and social media outlets would deny us of those rights. Democrat senators have criticized Catholics for their religion, including criticizing a judicial candidate for his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization that specializes in reaching out to the needy in our society. Additionally, school choice is another policy that would significantly help Catholic families and Catholic schools as well as many underprivileged families. It is opposed by most Democrats but supported by President Trump and most Republicans. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to claim that religious teachings need to change and conform to secular society, as if secular society knows more than God. As it says in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
In short, the total stance of the Democrat Party runs contrary to all Catholic social teaching. Its presidential candidate claims to be a devout, practicing Catholic while his actions deny any semblance of knowledge of Catholic doctrine or of Catholic goals of advancing the common good. His running mate has, on several occasions, been critical of Catholics for their faith.
It is imperative that faithful Catholics understand and spread the word about Catholic social teaching and how it impacts not only this election but all elections. As Bishop Strickland says, “To be a ‘faithful’ citizen, for a Catholic, indeed for every faithful Christian, means to be filled with an understanding of what is taught by our faith and to live out a commitment to that faith in every area of our lives.” Unfortunately, too many Bishops and other Christian leaders either do not understand this or are afraid to take a stand and set an example for the faithful.