It may come as a surprise to some that the result of the Presidential election showed that the Catholic vote was almost evenly divided between Donald Trump and Joseph Biden. You may wonder why there is such a divide in the Catholic vote, particularly since Joseph Biden sees himself as a practicing Catholic. In fact, therein lies the problem.
The US Catholic bishops came out of their November meeting with a letter, appended to their “Faithful Citizenship” document on discerning how to vote. In that letter the bishops stated that they considered abortion their preeminent issue leading up to the presidential election. Unfortunately, Joseph Biden’s Democratic Party platform supports the right to an abortion. This position has led many to declare that Joseph Biden supports abortion; in fact, some even call Biden a “baby killer.”
As a result of the statement of the US bishops and the Democratic Party’s platform position on abortion, pro-life Catholics, including some bishops and priests, declared that Catholics ought not to vote for Joseph Biden because he is neither pro-life nor truly a Catholic. Many Catholics followed that way of thinking and chose to vote for Trump.
Why, then, we may wonder, did Biden get such a significant share of the Catholic vote as he did? The explanation is that many Catholics see the pro-life issue in a much broader context within Catholic social teaching. To be truly pro-life, one must also support the opposition to the death penalty, healthcare as a human right, immigration reform, and the preservation of our planet through care of creation. There is more to being pro-life than being against abortion.
When many Catholics reflected on the broad spectrum of issues comprising Catholic social teaching and how the candidates support those issues, they concluded that Joseph Biden is more truly pro-life than Donald Trump. Even though the Democratic party platform supports the right to abortion, a vast majority of Catholic Democrats are opposed to abortion and do whatever they can to reduce if not eliminate the desire of anyone for an abortion.
Personally, as a Catholic priest and one who is committed to promoting peace and justice, I think we need to do all we can to broaden the understanding of what it means to be pro-life within our church and our general society. We need to do what we can to work with our local and national government officials, particularly with a new administration coming into office. There are many issues that we Catholics share with the new administration regarding immigration reform, healthcare for all, and the end of the death penalty. While working on these issues, we can also use our influence to find ways to reduce if not eliminate even the desire for abortions, particularly through help to those who are impoverished.
Fr. Louis Arceneaux has been a priest in the Congregation of the Mission since 1966. After studying and later gaining a doctorate in theology at San Anselmo in Rome, he taught theology and served in seminary formation for 15 years before moving on to other pastoral ministry, including parish ministry, retreats, and promotion of peace and justice. He is presently on the leadership team of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and helped develop their proposal for renewal of seminary formation.