St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski made the right call for declining to follow the lead of some fellow church leaders who have essentially instructed American Catholics to vote Republican this year based solely on the abortion issue. In a more nuanced statement than other archbishops have offered, Rozanski backed the church’s position that abortion is “the preeminent moral issue of our time” but specified that it’s not the only one worthy of consideration.
“If you think that other serious issues like race, immigration and the environment can be dismissed or ignored … then you probably aren’t forming a Catholic conscience in preparation to vote,” he wrote.
Rozanski’s statement highlights the complexity of these issues and why voters of any faith should be reluctant to vote based on one issue alone. In a political landscape thick with life-and-death moral dilemmas, focusing on one as a stand-alone litmus test to the exclusion of all the others isn’t likely to yield the most moral decision.
Rozanski’s message, in an Oct. 1 letter in the archdiocesan newspaper St. Louis Review, encourages Catholics to vote in accordance with church teachings. He doesn’t mince words about where those teachings come down on abortion rights, suggesting that for any Catholic, it should be “a struggle to justify voting for a candidate whose record or policy would favor or even expand abortion.”
Had he left it at that, it would have stood as little more than a thinly cloaked endorsement of Republican policy of the kind some of his church colleagues have issued. But Rozanski went on to lay out, in identical language, the importance of the additional issues facing Catholic voters: race, immigration, the environment and “plenty of others.”
“I will steadfastly refuse to tell anyone what conclusion they should reach,” he wrote. “No one who works or teaches for the Church should presume to do so, either.”
How refreshing. Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. was criticized last month for statements that some allege were veiled instructions to parishioners to vote only for candidates opposed to abortion rights — which in today’s political environment means only Republicans. Others have been more blunt. Wisconsin Rev. James Altman last month declared in a YouTube video that “you cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat.”
Such statements from church officials likely violate their tax-exempt status, which organizations don’t get to claim if they’re engaged in partisan campaigning. Perhaps more urgently, it obfuscates the other moral issues in this election.
If the church is concerned with its real-world relevance to Americans today (as it should be), it should follow Rozanski’s example and refrain from telling Catholics their only vote in alignment with their religious belief is for a president who has caged migrant children, promoted violent racism and bragged of sexually assaulting women — to name just a few of his more blatant sins.
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