Catholics Before and After the Election

We find ourselves only weeks away from November the 8th which, if recent trends are indicative, will simultaneously be the end of the 2016 Presidential Election as well as the beginning of the 2020 Presidential Election.

Yes, these days the American Republic is held hostage by what has become a non-stop campaign cycle, and it is unlikely that this will change anytime soon for reasons that I will elaborate below.

For the next several weeks anyway, 2020 talk aside, everyone’s attention is focused on the two major candidates for United States President that our party system and electoral apparatus has selected for us all to choose from.  It is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Choosing to Support a Candidate

How is a faithful Catholic to deal with this situation?  Very carefully.

From the standpoint of their platform alignment with the teachings of the Catholic Church about any manner of topics, but most especially about those involving human acts that are never allowed, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are seriously inadequate in their own ways.

From the standpoint of their suitability for the office of President based on character and credibility, each are also seriously deficient.

It is remarkable that after such a long election cycle, and so much money spent, and out of so many eligible United States citizens to become president, we have raised up for our selection two very poor candidates.

Our teachings state that a Catholic can vote for either one of these two, but to do so there must be a very strong moral reason, and they must do so with a sense of heartfelt reluctance, or in spite of, the evils that the candidates support.

One such argument that is certainly a mitigating factor is the future of the Supreme Court. However, it is important to remember that the cause and effect relationship between who gets elected president, and who winds up on the Court, and how that person will issue judicial decisions for potentially years to come is an unpredictable and weak relationship at best.

In the meantime, there is still EVERY OTHER day-to-day decision that the next president will be making, and a vote for them is a vote with much closer causality to those decisions that impact the lives of everyone around the world.

Choosing Not To Support A Candidate

A Catholic can always choose to write in another name on the ballot for the President and cast votes for other positions on the ballot.

Our teachings also state that if all the candidates hold positions that promote evil, a voter may take the unusual step of not voting at all in order not to cooperate in any way with the advancement to public office of someone who is manifestly unfit.

It is also important to remember that, contrary to what has been drilled into our heads for many years as loyal Americans, voting is not the only way to try and shape public good.  Certainly elections matter, and every vote counts, but it would actually be a much more powerful statement if, in situations like these, the Catholics of America decided as a group that we were not going to support either major candidate.

Such a move would force a party realignment, or force a platform change, or bring forth a different set of candidates.  More often then not, though, ordinary Catholics either agree with candidates and platforms that are morally problematic, or, they simply settle for a choice between what is set in front of them because they feel like they have to do so.

How the Church Has Failed the Republic

But we do not have to settle.  The uncomfortable reality for Catholics is that the difficulties of this election cycle once again bring us face to face with our own divisions as a Church community over even the most basic aspects of our moral teachings.

Which is another way of saying that we, the Church, who should be bright lights for those around us, continue to let this nation down, and we do so by continuing to settle for a political style and a set of candidates that are devastatingly bad.

Therefore, heading into November 8th, Catholics should be doing some real soul searching.  And not so much about which of the two presidential candidates to vote for, (because on one level that is simply a lost cause), but rather about how we as Catholics have allowed our situation to get into this condition in the first place, why we keep settling for it, and how we can begin to shape the public discourse so that we start to walk a different pathway forward as a nation.

How the Church Can Save the Republic

However, our duty and opportunities for witnessing and re-shaping the society do not end on November the 8th.   The next day, November the 9th, a new problem will be upon us all.

While one could debate many points about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to this election, there is one fact that is beyond debate unless something changes drastically in the next few weeks.

The country will wake up, on November the 9th, having elected a new president that probably at least half the population deeply, deeply loathes.  The unfavorable and unpopularity ratings and numbers of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are unusually high for such major candidates and for what is supposed to be a unifying national office.

One instant result of electing a person that is so widely and deeply disliked, which at this point is inevitable, is that it will engender a sentiment of strong dissatisfaction with the election itself, as though it did not really resolve anything.  Which will push us almost immediately into the question about the search for the NEXT president.  The 2020 Election will begin in earnest in only a matter of weeks.

What does a Catholic do beginning on November the 9th?  What is our obligation then?

I would say it is two-fold and on the surface, seemingly contradictory.  For one, our process of soul searching and working for substantial systemic changes must continue in earnest.  And that should be true of any Catholic, even if “their person” wins.

I hope that we feel profoundly discontent with the entire situation on November the 9th.  So much so that we resolve to push for a Catholic renewal of the culture in ways that we have only read about in history books.

And that means we need to keep arguing  as Catholics with each other, frankly, about what our doctrines really mean.  The issues are serious, and we should not be afraid of arguments to find the truth.

It means we should actively resist, and in a public manner, any laws or executive orders, or decisions that are in clear contradiction to the Faith.  Secularism must be fought at every turn or we will be exterminated by it.  Civil disobedience is more and more in order these days.

Our Methods Must Differ from Those Around Us

At the same time, the other obligation we have is to do all of the above with total joy, and total peace of heart, and total surrender to God’s holy will, and total trust.  We cannot employ weapons of anger, vengeance, or elevated emotions.  We must not use force.

The culture around us will continue the downward spiral of emotionally driven, irrational, reflexive reactions that have no grounding in truth or in hope.  But our means of fighting must be very different. If we can adopt the heart of Christ, we will be the needed calm in the storm, and the critical center, that will be needed more than ever to keep the Republic from flying apart.   Paradoxically, we will do that while pushing very hard to fix the broken system.

The question of how compatible Catholicism is with the American system and way of life has been in many ways continually unresolved since our nation was founded.  This whole election cycle, and the next one, are yet another round in this same debate.

We would be wise to recognize this moment for what it really is.  It is indeed a referendum on our future: on the future of Catholicism in America.  And as Catholicism here goes, so goes the Republic.






About Father Nathan Reesman

On Twitter: @FatherReesman Father Nathan Reesman is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, ordained in 2006. He is the Shared Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, and also of Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, both in West Bend, Wisconsin. Father Reesman is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, obtaining his Bachelors of Arts in Political Science in the year 2000. He completed his seminary studies at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 2006, obtaining a Masters of Divinity. Father Reesman completed post-graduate studies at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, obtaining a Doctor of Ministry in 2019.
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