The Catholic Church and the Political Arena

Thomas Griffin (9/8/20)

Since Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate, there have been Catholic responses that run the gamut. Some are more convinced than ever that Biden is ingenuine in his Catholic faith because of Harris’ previous attacks on major tenets of the faith. Some are excited about his choice because of her African American heritage. One priest stated that this “is something that’s pointing in the right direction, if I may use the word. The United States is an inclusive community.” 

The Church is also an inclusive community, so Catholics are told they should be excited about this pick by Joe Biden which appears to be all-inclusive like his Church is, and how his nation should be. Donna Grimes works in the African American Affairs office at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and was quoted as being “elated” over the possibility of Harris being the next vice president. Grimes noted that a Biden-Harris victory would be a win for African Americans and, therefore, all people who find themselves on the margins. 

The chief communications officer for the USCCB, James Rogers, was forced to release a statement the following day which clarified that Grimes was not speaking on behalf of the USCCB, and that her personal opinions are not statements made by the conference. Tracking the remarks made by Catholics, in and out of hierarchical power, is analogous to viewing a professional ping pong tournament. There seems to be no clarity and the only constant is a consistent and puzzling back and forth. 

A pivotal talking point for the duration of this election cycle will be concerned with Biden’s Catholic faith being a positive or negative along with Harris’ record which appears in opposition to it, and how Trump is either the automatic evangelical pick or the spawn of Satan. This timeframe will be inundated with Catholic voices giving their opinion on the matter. For Catholics in the pews and on their way to the polls (in some way, shape, or form), we must investigate thoroughly for a competent voice and objective guide. 

What does the Church have to offer in this arena? For Americans, it is unequivocally meant to be the USCCB. The USCCB is an assembly of bishops who “exercise pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of the United States.” Their main objective is “to unify, coordinate, encourage, promote and carry on Catholic activities in the United States.” They do so by conducting various meetings and synods while issuing documents which attempt to nourish the faith of the Catholics across the nation while occasionally clarifying issues which may be of concern to or confusion for the American Catholic. 

James Rogers did clarify the stance of the conference on Harris’, or anyone else’s, place in the election. In response to Grimes’ comments he said, “At no point are Conference staff authorized to speak on behalf of the bishops in support of, or in opposition to, candidates for elected office. Because the comments in question may have led to confusion among the faithful, let me be clear. As Catholics, we are each called to evaluate candidates for public office by how closely their policies align with Gospel principles, as expressed by the U.S. bishops in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” 

This practical document begins with these introductory lines: “As Catholics, we bring the richness of our faith to the public square. We draw from both faith and reason as we seek to affirm the dignity of the human person and the common good of all.” Catholic belief, the use of faith and reason, Gospel principles, and the dignity of the human person are neither arbitrary nor ambiguous. 

A key aspect of life for Catholics, and all human beings, is a responsibility to build up the common good of society through participation in the political process. Pope Francis notes that this responsibility is sacred and brings about a true holiness of life because of its neighbor-centered reality. The call to live out a holy existence is, according to the Church, an invitation to possess the passionate and firm defense for the unborn. 

The USCCB is not a political organization but a collection of bishops who serve the greater good by defending life no matter the circumstances. “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.” Christ always gave priority to the weakest, most vulnerable, and deepest outcasts in society. He drew close to the least and the lost; the stranger and sinner; the leper and outcast. 

As we draw closer to November, we are called to heed the mission of this document and this conference. Not because they are perfect; not because we need to be controlled by the clergy; not because we are not intelligent enough to make our own decisions. Simply because this instruction is rooted in the Gospel principles which are founded on the person of Jesus Christ and that perspective ought to feed everything we do and are. 

Anyone who is confused about the Catholic Church’s stance on a political candidate or a political issue needs not look any further. Let us never become swept up in political debates and aisle grand-standing; let us become caught up in a passionate fight for the least among us. Then, and only then, will the common good arise victorious.

Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.

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