Politics & Policy

Real Change

Catholics don't stop being Catholic at the voting booth.

In eight of the last nine presidential elections, the crucial “Catholic vote” has picked the winner. And in what is shaping up to be another close election, America’s 69 million Catholics are again likely to hold the key not only to the White House, but to a great number of other races as well.

However, before we can settle the question “How did Catholics vote in November?” Catholics must decide “How should we vote in November?”

The bishops of the United States recently stated, “The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith.”

“As Catholics,” they said, “we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group.” And at the top of the list of Catholic moral convictions, the bishops put “defending the inviolable sanctity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death.”

Once again the bishops of the United States have provided important guidance through their statement on Faithful Citizenship. This is especially important since Catholics often confront a dilemma in deciding how to vote: Can we support a candidate who may be attractive for many reasons but who supports abortion rights? Some partisan advocates have sought to excuse support for pro-abortion rights candidates through a complex balancing act. They claim other issues are important enough to offset a candidate’s support for abortion rights.

But the right to abortion mandated in the United States by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is not just another political issue; it is in reality a legal regime that has resulted in more than 40 million deaths.

Imagine for a moment the largest 25 cities in the United States and Canada including New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Vancouver suddenly empty of people. This is what the loss of 40 million human beings would look like. In fact, 40 million is greater than the entire population of Canada.

What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation? The answer, of course, is that there is none.

Some will argue that faith has no place in politics. But the notion that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause somehow forbids either a public official or a voter from taking into account personal religious values when deciding matters of public policy is absurd.

After all, some of the most important movements in our history — the abolitionist movement which ended slavery, the civil-rights movement, which finally made racism morally unacceptable in America — were born as religious movements.

It is significant that both of these movements sought to end what were rightly regarded as fundamental violations of the dignity possessed by every human person. Legal respect for, and protection of, human dignity lie at the heart of our Constitution, as well as at the core of religious faith.

We should not forget that it was religious leadership that led the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, and today no one seems to find it problematic that those fighting for civil rights moved a nation away from racism and bigotry with religious principles like the fact that “all are created equal.” The truth is that the doctrine of “separate but equal” allowed by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson was bad law, and that, in reality, separate was not equal. It is the same with Roe v. Wade: it is bad law, and its premise that an unborn child is not a human being is as wrong-headed as the notion that separate would ever be equal.

It is time to put away the arguments of political spin masters that only serve to justify abortion rights. We have all heard a great deal this year about the need for change. But we are told that one thing cannot change — namely, the abortion rights regime of Roe v. Wade.

“How should Catholics exercise their responsibilities as citizens?” The most important way is to build a culture of life. And to do this requires a new politics.

Building a culture of life and a civilization of love means truly transforming our politics. In this process, dealing with the abortion rights issue is fundamental. While there are certainly many issues that are important to Catholic voters, none has caused more damage to our society than this taking of innocent human life.

It is time that Catholics demand real change — and real change means the end of Roe v. Wade. Real change is possible, but it is difficult. First, the political manipulation of Catholic voters by abortion-rights advocates needs to end. It is time to stop creating excuses for voting for pro-abortion-rights politicians. It is time that Catholics shine a bright line of separation between themselves and all those politicians who defend the abortion-rights regime of Roe v. Wade.

During the Pope’s visit to the United States in April, he urged those gathered at Yankee Stadium to protect “the unborn child in the mother’s womb.” That statement drew the loudest, longest applause of his trip. In this election year, when the Catholic vote is crucial, politicians who choose to ignore that thunderous response do so at their peril.

Imagine the effect if this year millions of Catholic voters simply say “no” — no to every candidate for every office of every political party who supports abortion rights.

It’s time Catholics stop accommodating pro-abortion-rights politicians and it’s time to start demanding that they accommodate us. This is the only decision that offers the real chance for real change, because no candidate or political party can withstand the loss of millions of Catholic voters in this — or any other — election. In this election, if a Catholic cannot vote for the pro-life candidate, then not voting for that office may be the sincerest expression of faithful citizenship.

This year, Catholic voters have the power to transform politics. As faithful citizens, Catholics can build a new politics — a politics that is not satisfied with the status quo, but one that is dedicated to building up a culture of life. If they stand together and demand better from politicians, Catholics can transform politics, and that would be real change.

Carl Anderson is the head of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization and author of the New York Times bestseller A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World.

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