Summer-’16: Catholic Trends


THE CATHOLIC VOTE. The old adage goes “one should not talk about politics or religion in polite company.” Well, I’m going to do both!

To begin with, Catholics shouldn’t be too comfortable laying their head on either the Democratic or Republican pillow as neither one fully conveys our Catholic Social Justice tradition. The Magisterium’s stances on poverty, immigration, the death penalty, torture, and climate change are more consistent with the Democratic Party platform.   At the same time, our Church leaders stances on abortion, marriage, euthanasia, and religious freedom are more consistent with the Republican Party platform.

So, how should a Catholic vote? To begin with, one should know our Tradition. A great start would be familiarity with The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, our best kept secret! This very rich and accessible tome gives us the principles to navigate through this very unique election cycle. What are the touchstone core beliefs that we always have to adhere as we prudently apply them to our concrete situations.

  • The dignity of human life is an absolute core principle of Catholic life. We have an unalienable dignity, not by merit, but as a child of God. We use it to appeal to abortion, but we should also apply it to such issues as torture, nuclear warfare, and capital punishment, Some would argue, regarding the latter that murders have lost their dignity—theirs is not an inalienable dignity, but one you have only by merit. If we embrace this notion, then we have distanced ourselves from a fundamental position of the Catholic Tradition. To be sure, people may debase, soil this dignity, but they don’t lose it.
  • Concern for the common good. This notion is first based on the biblical revelation that each one of us is an imago Dei. No group of people, no nation is “exceptional” in the sense that they have more dignity than others. Given that, the Common Good is based on the Great Commandment—that we are fundamentally social and relational creatures who are made for communion and fellowship. The communion that matters is not just my interests, my family, my friends, my political party, and my nation. But, I have a fundamental obligation to all of humanity in some way. I am never permitted to act solely on the basis of my private self interest or those of my political party or country. As a member of the universal Church, I have responsibilities towards all of my brothers and sisters.

Given these principles, what are the most pressing issues facing the United States at this time that touch upon the dignity of human life and the Common Good.   Bishop Robert W. McElroy, writing in America magazine (February 15, 2016) has identified four pre-eminent political issues.

Abortion. The direct destruction of 1 million human lives every year and over 40 M since Roe v. Wade, constitutes a “grievous wound our national soul and the common good.” If personal and social sensitivity towards new life is lost, then, as Pope Francis noted in Laudato Si’, we will have less concern for those who are vulnerable, troublesome, or inconvenient. Recently deceased Cardinal George of Chicago, said that one reason the U.S. careened towards the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is that we have become anesthetized to the killing of innocent human beings.

Poverty. In a world of incredible wealth, though increasingly concentrated in the pockets of a few, more than 5 million children die every year from hunger, poor sanitation, and the lack of potable water. Millions more die from a lack of the most elementary health care. In the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis wrote: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” The United States is the wealthiest country on the planet and the world’s only true superpower. The most basic sense of solidarity would demand that we take steps to reform the international systems of trade, finance, and development assistance in order to save lives in the poorest sections of the world.

Care of the earth. As Pope Francis noted in his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, the earth is our common home. The progressive degradation of the global environment is a social sin of immense magnitude and has increased poverty and death among many of the poorest peoples on earth. Each year thousands of species are lost and, most chillingly, if current trends continue science has clearly established that human life as we know it would be seriously compromised. Pope Francis underscored the urgency of global action saying: “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word, I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”

Assisted suicide. Euthanasia is the bridgehead of a secular view of humanity that rejects the foundational understanding of life as a gift from God and the responsibilities we have towards God and each other when confronting end-of-life issues. In 2015 the state legislature of California passed a bill legalizing assisted suicide but would not fund palliative care for the state’s suffering poor at the end of their lives. Such is the “false sense of compassion” that Pope Francis has described as lying at the heart of a movement to spread assisted suicide.

Bishop McElroy concluded his essay by challenging Catholic voters to reclaim our national politics for the protection of the human person: “Fifty years ago this past December, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council declared that the church embraces her role in the modern age of being “at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.” It is essential that every member of the church at all levels of leadership take up this responsibility to reclaim our national politics for the protection of the dignity of the human person and the advancement of the common good.”


THE CATHOLIC VOTE COULD SWING THE ELECTION. Mark M. Gray’s article “Election 2016: The Catholic Factor” (The Sunday Visitor; January 5, 2016) believes that Catholic voters are a key constituency for this year’s national election. He crunches the numbers to justify his view.

In 2012, 29% of voters who had no religious affiliation or identified themselves as something other than religious (the so-called ‘nones’), collectively swung 70% to the Democratic Party.

Catholics, on the other hand, are the most split of any demographic. Over the last seven national elections (2002-2014) Catholics have voted for a Democratic president or House of Representative 50% of the time. In the same elections, Protestants have chosen Republican candidates 59% of the time. All other demographics by religion leaned strongly Democratic: namely, Jewish, those of other faiths, and the ‘nones.’

If recent trends continue in 2016, Democrats can expect at least 70% of the non-Christian vote. And, Hillary Clinton can expect to receive about 40% of the Protestant vote, which includes the vast majority of black voters who are predominantly religiously affiliated.

So, if Clinton receives 70% of the non-Christian vote (26% of all voters), 40% of the Protestant vote (49% of potential voters) she would need 50% of the Catholic vote to win about 50.3 of the popular vote nationally.

The Catholic Voter, of course, is not part of a monolithic bloc. In 2014, 38% of adult Catholics were Hispanic or Latino and of them, 75% are eligible to vote in a federal election. A slight majority of Hispanic Catholics were registered as Democrat (53%) in 2012, but, 76% of them voted for Barak Obama over Mitt Romney, who advocated that illegal immigrants “self deport”.   In light of the Republican Party’s immigration policies and the heated rhetoric of its standard bearer, Donald Trump, that 76% figure could be expanded even further.

White Catholics voters who are loosely tethered to their religion by irregularly attending Sunday Mass tend to vote Democrat. 25% of Catholic voters lean Republican or strongly identify with the Republican Party; these are regular Mass attendees, 60% of whom vote for Republican candidates in a very predictable fashion.

Since 2000, the United States has had close or unpredictable elections. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, but lost the Electoral College vote. Often polls and pundits can be wrong. Who, for example, would have predicted that Donald Trump would be the Republican Party’s nominee two years ago? While most demographic voting patterns are constant, the one that fluctuates is the Catholic vote, which depends upon the degree of Hispanic participation. Once again, it looks that winning the Catholic vote will be essential in being the winning candidate in 2016.


(The above was cleaned from the CARA report (Spring 2016).

Deacon Jim McFadden



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