Religion

Cardinal Tobin Doesn’t Help When He Criticizes Voting for Donald Trump

Cardinal Tobin is greeted by Italian Cardinal Bertone at the Vatican, November 19, 2016. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)
A plea for something better from people of faith.

Newark’s Cardinal Tobin has said that it is more problematic to vote for Donald Trump than for Joe Biden. With all due respect, I don’t know that he should be making that call in either direction. The bishops’ role is to inform consciences. He seems to think we are beyond “single issue” voting. Unfortunately, I think he buys into some cultural lies in his implication. By single issue, we, of course, know he means abortion. But here’s the thing: Abortion has never been a single issue. The riots in the streets? They are about a lot more than racism. I’d never do it, but I’ve lately had the urge to run through the streets screaming, “We’re still killing babies.” The primal screams we see and hear and read about in all sorts of manifestations have to do with the grave poison in our cultural, legal, and political bloodstreams. Abortion kills. And more than the baby. It harms the woman. It wrecks families. It always changes things. Think about little things in your life that have had enduring impacts. Sometimes unintentional things, sometimes evil. Abortion is evil. It pits a mother against her child. We pretend it is health care. We pretend it’s necessary. We don’t even say necessary evil. We celebrate it (Andrew Cuomo’s lighting up the Freedom Tower and the bridge he named after his father always seems to be a most perverse example) and literally have women shouting their abortions.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump last time. I did something I never thought I would do. As a child, maybe in the third or fourth grade, I was asked to write about my favorite day of the year. It was Election Day! I was an early C-SPAN addict. But in the last presidential election, I wrote in a name. Voting in New York, I thought I could in good conscience do that. I voted for Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights of Columbus, because in the years before he had fought genocide in Iraq and Syria. He — and my friend Andrew Walther, now at EWTN — made the John Kerry State Department pay attention to the plight of the Christians and other religious minorities there. Anderson and Walther were helping them like no one else was, doing things the U.S. government wouldn’t and couldn’t do. Anderson has executive and even White House experience. If I thought I could have convinced him to run for real, I would have. He’s a good man. I have had sitting at my right hand while working for a few weeks Peggy Noonan’s When Character Was King. I don’t want to be nostalgic about that. I want to fight for that. Instead of telling Catholics whom they can vote for by name, I’d like to see bishops talk about virtue and how we are going to get beyond this culture of death we are living in. And like Tobin, I don’t just mean abortion. But, dear heavens, abortion is a scourge we are all poisoned by.

I don’t know what I’m doing this November, but I can’t vote for Joe Biden. First of all, it’s an insult to the intelligence of Americans to say Joe Biden is the candidate. He obviously is not quite up to the task. And Kamala Harris thinks that the man I voted for in 2016 is part of the problem in America. The largest fraternal organization in America, and one that constantly comes with aid when disaster strikes. That they oppose abortion — i.e., that they follow Catholic Church teaching — is beyond the pale for her. And Joe Biden is a professed Catholic who will selectively quote Pope John Paul II. The more he plays this up, the more likely I might actually consider voting for Donald Trump, who is, of course, deeply problematic. If Joe Biden were who he sometimes says he is, he could have changed not only the Democratic Party, but the United States. He could have created competition for the pro-life vote. He could have really applied Catholic social teaching to Democratic politics and public policy in transformative ways. But he didn’t.

I’m a big believer in respecting people’s freedom; I believed this in 2016 and I believe it now. These are not the two candidates I want to be choosing between. Still, I don’t think it’s helpful for a bishop to say what Tobin has said. Catholics and other religious believers need to be praying more. The fact of the matter is Donald Trump didn’t start the fires of anger and contempt in America. It was there. That’s why this all happened. America is ailing and we need people of faith to step up to the plate like perhaps never before in our lifetimes. Certainly not in the ways we are accustomed to. This is not a time for casual Christianity. Christianity is a radical, all-encompassing call. And our nation is suffering when we are not appreciating this and living it.

That’s the kind of thing I think would be more helpful than Cardinal Tobin’s saying it’s more problematic to vote for Trump than Biden. This is the pits, and it’s a symptom of a much bigger problem. Catholics need to start again in many ways, in how we live and participate in civil society. It’s not enough to cast a vote in good conscience. We have to be involved. Part of our civic responsibility is living the Beatitudes. What does that look like in the public square? Wouldn’t it be awesome to hear someone like Cardinal Tobin talk about that?

One of my pet peeves, though, is people sitting around complaining about bishops and what they should or shouldn’t do. So, I’m done now, and will try to keep doing some of that work we often seem to assume is the purview of the bishops in the public square myself, for what it’s worth. Because we are all part of the Church, so we need more Catholic leaders, not fewer. Step up to the plate with God as your witness, fueled by His love for us. Imagine how that could change so much. Pray for it, rigorously and overflowing with hope and a desire to preserve and protect life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and freedom. Including the freedom to operate in good conscience going forward. We owe it to those who have given their live for the same. We owe it to the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have gone to the Supreme Court twice to protect our first freedom. Joe Biden promises to force them back. Joe Biden makes it impossible for me to vote for him. That saddens — and angers — me, frankly. Because if he were who he sometimes claims to be, we could be a much healthier country.

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