Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) will be forever remembered for casting the lone Republican vote to convict President Donald Trump on the charge of abuse of power. Romney said that he wrestled with his conscience before coming to his painful decision. While I applaud those who follow their conscience, Mr. Romney may need to work on his wrestling skills. Mr. Trump may have significant character flaws but abuse of power was never proved at his impeachment trial.
How much weight should a candidate’s perceived character be given? What if you believe that both nominees are seriously flawed in that respect as I believed to be the case in 2016? Do voters have an obligation as citizens to choose between the lesser of two evils? I couldn’t make that choice, which is why I wrote in a vote for Mr. Romney. I’m not likely to do that again.
In a recent speech at the University of San Diego where I earned my doctorate, Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego attempted to provide guidance to Catholic voters, always a delicate mission. Catholics cannot be single-issue voters, he said, and focus exclusively on issues like, say, abortion, climate change, poverty, immigration or religious liberty. With all due respect to my bishop, I ask why not?
Abortion results in the killing of human life. The church used to be quite clear on this. Abortion is not just another “issue” like poverty, immigration or even climate change, although activists tend to treat the latter by proposing draconian measures, which would surely harm people, with what is often described as a religious zeal. Bishop McElroy was quoted as saying that while abortion “results in the deaths of more than 750,000 unborn children, the long term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity.” But that is more of a prediction than an inevitable occurrence whereas death from abortion is pretty much certain. The bishop is further quoted as saying that while contraception is “intrinsically evil…it is a far greater moral evil for our country to abandon the Paris Climate Accord than to provide contraceptives in federal health centers.” But since the U.S. withdrew from that flawed accord, the U.S. has led the world for the largest decline in energy-related CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). China continues to maintain its global lead in such harmful emissions.
Bishop McElroy insisted that the personalities of candidates are important and urged voters to examine traits such as character, intelligence and even political ability. I have a hunch, then, that the bishop will not be voting for Donald Trump, who is not widely considered to be well-endowed with any of those characteristics, even though he is likely to be the only pro-life candidate. While it is virtually impossible under our two-party system to find a candidate whose views on all the issues coincide with ours, that shouldn’t mean that we must violate a deeply-held position such as the right to life of the unborn just to exercise our voting privilege by making a choice between the lesser of two evils.
In the end, the bishop said, people of faith must vote their consciences, “the voice of God which lies deep within each of us.” I wonder if God has the same recommendations for each of us regarding how to vote? The bishop did not provide any clue to that answer nor did he, of course, endorse any candidate or party. Neither did he provide much clear guidance on the church’s social teachings that are likely to influence many Catholic voters who will probably remain just as divided on the issues and the candidates as the rest of the population.
Some in the audience reportedly viewed Bishop McElroy’s speech as a message of support for Pope Francis who is said to be trying to make the church more inclusive by not focusing excessively on abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, homosexual behavior and other hot-button issues which surveys show divide even church-going Catholics as well as the rest of the population. A Guttmacher Institute survey in 2011 reported that about 98 percent of sexually-active Catholics have used contraceptives. A Pew Research Center poll released in 2016 found that 89 percent of Catholics said that contraception was morally acceptable or not a moral issue at all. Among church-going Catholics, about half did not regard homosexual behavior as being morally wrong or a moral issue at all. Even on abortion, only 83 percent of church-going Catholics responded that abortion was morally wrong.
Pope Francis famously asked regarding same-sex marriage, “who am I to judge?” Well, one answer might be that he’s the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Who better to clarify the church’s position on these matters regarding which the flock seems to be receiving some mixed messages.