It’s not surprising that President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are both pursuing Catholic voters in earnest in the hopes of getting their votes. The nation’s roughly 51 million Catholic adults (1) constitute the largest single religious institution in the United States and the parties have equal shares of Catholic registered voters (2) in recent years – 47% vs. 46%, respectively.
The work before all voters should be picking candidates in the light of a “fully formed conscience,” a task that has always been a challenge. For Catholics, the Church’s guidance is principled, not partisan, and rightly understands various political opinions can be compatible with faith and the natural law.
Catholics must weigh prudential judgments when applying moral principles to specific policy issues in areas such as war, housing, health care, immigration, and others. It is not uncommon for two people of faith to agree on principles while disagreeing on policy. But with certain issues, there is far less room for disagreement. For Catholics, these foundational issues encompass policy pertaining to what is described as “intrinsic evils.” Among these are “issues that always involve doing evil, such as legalized abortion, the promotion of same-sex unions and ‘marriages,’ repression of religious liberty, as well as public policies permitting euthanasia, racial discrimination or destructive human embryonic stem cell research.” (3)
Among these all-important issues, Trump and Biden differ on greatly on life and religious liberty. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. (CCC 2270)”
Biden has said he is personally prepared to accept that life begins at conception;(4) however, he “tolerates” abortion out of “respect” for the consciences of others. It could be this “tolerance” which Biden displayed when he defended China’s horrific one child policy. This policy, which involves mass sterilization and forced abortion, was something Biden said he “understood” and does not “second guess.” (5) It is currently being used to exterminate China’s Uighur Muslim population. (6)
Even before he decided to support forcing taxpayers to pay for abortions,(7) Biden was no moderate. While in the Senate, he voted against numerous pieces of pro-life legislation including protecting unborn children who are harmed or killed during the commission of a violent crime, (8) parental notification of minors who get out-of-state abortions(9), and defining the unborn child as eligible for federal healthcare.(10) During that time he voted for taxpayer funding of abortions on military bases (11)as well as for significantly increasing the funding to abortion-giant Planned Parenthood. (12)
Regarding destructive embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (13) says, “direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. (p.23)”
Biden was one of 58 senators who insisted President George W. Bush expand federal funding of human embryonic stem cell experimentation.(14) When the president refused, Biden voted (15) to support funding for additional lines, which would have meant the destruction of more human embryos. On what has been a bipartisan issue – human cloning – Biden actually voted against banning the artificial creation of human life. (16)
But Biden has been the most duplicitous on the issue of religious liberty. The USCCB document, Faithful Citizenship, (17)makes it clear that “Government bodies should not require Catholic institutions to compromise their moral convictions to participate in government health or human service programs. (p.78)”
As vice president, Biden repeatedly and publicly (18) defended the Obamacare mandate that required Catholic institutions – most famously the Little Sisters of the Poor (as well as non-secular organizations like the March for Life) – to violate their consciences. Following the Little Sisters’ victory at the Supreme Court this year, Biden said given the chance he would reinstate the policy that forced the sisters to defend their religious liberty in the first place. This came after he claimed that nuns inspired him to run (19) in a campaign ad.
And Biden’s running mate hasn’t hidden her disdain for Catholics and Catholic organizations. As a senator, Kamala Harris made it clear she thinks there should be a litmus test to serve in our democracy – and that faithful Catholics need not apply. In 2017, Harris aggressively questioned a nominee to a federal judgeship about his association with “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men.” (20) Harris made clear her position that the nominee’s membership in the Knights of Columbus, a charitable organization serving the most vulnerable among us – including the unborn – was incompatible with holding public office.
The Catholic Church teaches that all Catholics should participate in civic life as “faithful citizens.” This applies especially when it comes to voting, a right we must exercise with the teachings of the Church foremost in our minds. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained that, “Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society.” (21)
As Catholics, we know the foundational importance of life and religious liberty – which is why we ought to think twice before pulling the lever for a ticket so hostile to Catholics and what we hold dear.