The following reflection in light of the upcoming US elections was presented by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. It was published on September 20, 2020, in “Catholic Times,” the publication of the diocese.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As election day in our country approaches in less than two months, people have been asking me if I will provide some guidance as they consider the candidates and ponder their votes. While I cannot endorse candidates for office, I and other church officials can provide voter education and pertinent information to help inform one’s choices.
In this regard, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a comprehensive voter education guide entitled, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Originally adopted in 2007 by an overwhelming majority of bishops, it is updated with a new introductory letter as each national election approaches to highlight contemporary issues that warrant special attention.
In the new introductory letter that was approved by the full body of bishops at our November 2019 General Meeting, there is this key statement: “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.” The full text of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, including the new introductory letter, is available online at usccb.org.
The emphasis on abortion as our “preeminent priority” is timely, not only as we approach the 2020 election, but also because October is designated by the U.S. Catholic Bishops as Respect Life Month. This year’s Respect Life theme is, “Live the Gospel of Life.” The reference to the “Gospel of Life” recalls the prophetic papal encyclical Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life), written by Pope St. John Paul II in 1995 to reaffirm the value and inviolability of every human life and to appeal to all people to respect, protect, love, and serve every human life.
With specific reference to abortion laws and voting, Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.”
Pope Francis has called abortion a “very grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.” He indicated that he agreed with the U.S. bishops “identifying the protection of the unborn as a preeminent priority,” according to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who is also chairman of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) Committee for Pro-Life Activities. Commenting on his region’s ad limina visit with the Holy Father last January, Archbishop Naumann also told Catholic News Service that Pope Francis was “stunned” when Archbishop Naumann told him that an estimated 61 million abortions have taken place in the United States since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made the procedure legal.
To say that an issue is “preeminent” does not mean that it is the only issue, but that it surpasses all others in importance. It is preeminent in that it is the basic human right on which all other rights depend. After all, if a baby is killed before birth, that person will never be able to exercise any other human rights.
The church since the first century has affirmed the moral evil of abortion, declaring, “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish” (Didaché, 2:2). The Second Vatican Council affirmed that direct abortion, willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law, saying, “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 51);
Over the years, I have also called abortion a defining issue, very much as slavery was the defining issue during the time of Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century. Indeed, in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and in the speeches of other politicians, slavery was the issue that consumed their attention and defined their political priorities in the minds of voters.
So where do the political parties and the major candidates stand on abortion, the preeminent issue of our time?
The 2020 Democratic Party Platform states that Democrats believe unequivocally that every woman should be able to “access safe and legal abortion.” They also pledge to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” the largest single provider of abortions in the U.S., and repeal the Hyde Amendment, which since 1976 has prohibited federal funds to pay for abortions except in rare cases to save the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape. The platform also pledges that Democrats will appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges who will uphold Roe v. Wade.
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Dick Durbin, the Democratic Party candidates for president, vice-president, and U.S. Senate (Illinois), respectively, all support the Democratic Party Platform promoting abortion and calling for the use of federal taxpayer funding of abortion and the appointment of pro-abortion judges. Biden also pledged to restore the Obama-Biden policy that mandates churches, businesses, colleges, and religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide coverage for abortion pills in their employees’ health insurance plans.
The Republican National Committee issued a resolution stating that, due to constraints on the size of this year’s Republican National Convention as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, they would not issue a new party platform. Instead, the 2016 Republican Party Platform would remain intact. In it, Republicans “assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.” They “oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare.” They also “support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.”
Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Mark Curran, the Republican Party candidates for president, vice-president, and U.S. Senate (Illinois), respectively, all promote laws that restrict abortion, oppose federal funding for abortions, and support the appointment of judges who respect the life of unborn babies.
Space does not permit me to address the policy positions of all the candidates for office, and not all candidates always follow their respective party’s platform. So, before you cast your ballot, find out where each candidate stands on critical life-related issues such as abortion; using taxpayer money to fund or promote abortion; respecting that churches, businesses, colleges, hospitals, and religious orders do not have to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their employees’ health insurance plans; appointing judges who respect the life of unborn babies; and physician-assisted suicide.
In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, it says: “The political realities of our nation present us with opportunities and challenges. We are a nation founded on ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ but the right to life itself is not fully protected, especially for unborn children, the terminally ill, and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of the American family.”
Please keep this preeminent issue in mind as you form your conscience before casting your ballot and pray for our country that we may all live the Gospel of life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.