The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than 50 days before the Presidential election makes the Catholic vote more critical than ever. In a 2006 interview, Justice Ginsburg spoke of skipping the annual Red Mass because she did not want to subject herself to lectures by the bishops on abortion. One Catholic group has launched a nearly $10 million dollar campaign against Biden largely around this single issue. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has frequently lent the stamp of its approval to Trump. Cardinal Timothy Dolan praised Trump’s leadership on COVID 19 earlier this year, acknowledging the President, reliably accused of sexual assaults he himself brags about, as “a great gentleman.” But as Fr. David Gierlach, Rector of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, who was schooled in Catholic theology, points out, “Faith dies when it cozies up to the status quo; and because of decades of such cozying, faith these days is gasping for air.”
In our current climate of anxiety and division, with more than 200,000 dead from COVID 19, all Christians should feel more acutely than ever the calling “to plant the seeds of compassion, financial equity, racial justice and recompense, truth, kindness and hope,” added Fr. David. Because once again, those who have already been struggling with poverty and discrimination are feeling the worst impact of COVID19. St. Elizabeth’s is situated smack in the middle of hard-hit Kailihi. It hosts the Catholic Worker House—Wallyhouse—and has seen the numbers who turn up daily for food assistance quadruple.
Catholics played a significant role in ensuring the election of Donald Trump. But after nearly four years there is no denying that he has undermined many key institutions. Trump himself offers conspiracy theories about a “Deep State,” as justification and dismisses both investigative journalism and simple reporting of his own words and actions as “fake news.” It’s a term parroted by others. It is the antithesis of ideas America has previously worked hard to export: the value of a robust press, and checks and balances in government. Trump has peddled his often conflicting narratives to a base that is only too willing to buy the version of reality dispensed by a TV star turned President of the United States.
Catholics should take their cue from Pope Francis
But if celebrity is what makes us attentive to the world we live in, Catholics can take their cue from their own “star”: Pope Francis. “A good Catholic,” says Pope Francis, “meddles in politics.” Pope Francis urges us to look at the world through a lens that lets us see the sacredness of life in everyone: citizen and refugee, old and young, rich and poor, the incarcerated, the oppressed, those who look different from us, and the desperate who cannot advocate for themselves. Pope Francis calls for political leaders who are “outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.” He has been clear that we “cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
Forty percent of US households are at or near poverty level. Meanwhile the top one percent will reap the biggest benefit from Trump’s tax cuts, with the top .01 percent now taking in nearly 200 times as much as the bottom 90 percent. That level of grotesque inequality should make us all recoil. The epidemic of homelessness makes it clear that the so-called “minimum wage,” once conceived to ensure that everyone would be able to enjoy “a decent living” is insufficient for survival. No wonder Pope Francis asks us to elect leaders who will address the needs of the most vulnerable, not just the most powerful or the well-connected.
The Pope Francis Voter quiz is a helpful tool that invites Catholics –and all who admire Pope Francis–to consider where they stand on some core issues. Take it. Share it.
It’s a simple, short quiz.
Wally Inglis, a local Catholic peace activist, was surprised on taking the quiz, to find no reference to Pope Francis’ advocacy for nonviolence and opposition to war and nuclear weapons. Inglis points out that in his 2019 visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Pope condemned the very possession of nuclear arms as “immoral.” He went on to say: “In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance, and sale of ever more destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven.”
The Vatican was the first of 84 nations to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons–a treaty the United States refuses to acknowledge. Locally, Catholic activists have taken to the courts to hold the U.S. Navy accountable for its handling and storage of nuclear ordnance in Hawaii. That struggle continues to this day.
Clearly there is more to being pro-life than simply being against abortion. Stephen Schneck, a retired professor at the Catholic University of America said this to an online audience of Catholics for Biden: “In his four harrowing years, President Trump has proven himself to be, in my estimation, the least pro-life president in history.” He was alluding to Trump’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and his mis-handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Timothy Shriver, the former head of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, asked Catholics to concern themselves with the rights of workers, environmental stewardship and access to health and childcare because these are all pro-life issues as well.
John Carr, who has long helped the US bishops write their guidance on voting said recently that “describing abortion as the pre-eminent priority is an incomplete and overly narrow moral criterion.” He declares that I will vote for Mr. Biden for what he can do to help us recover and heal, lift up those left behind, ensure health care for all and treat immigrants and refugees with respect. I will not vote for him to support his position on abortion, but in spite of it.”
The votes of Hawaii’s Catholics—and all the people of Hawaii –truly matter this year. Let’s listen to Sr. Simone Campbell , Executive Director of the Network Lobby led by Catholic sisters, who invites us to honor the values we share and remove the blinders that single-issue politics places on our vision of the world.
NOTE: Hawaii is an all Vote By Mail state now. Go to https://olvr.hawaii.gov/ to be sure the Office of Elections has your correct address so you too can “meddle in politics” as every citizen should.
This commentary was first published on Civil Beat 9/24/2020. It is reproduced here with permission.