CHICAGO - Almost 24 percent of America's 301 million identify themselves as part of the Catholic Church. How that voting bloc votes in 2012 could very well determine the outcome of the Presidential race if Catholics are motivated to go to the polls.
According to a poll released Thursday, Catholic voters are siding with re-electing President Obama. In June, Obama held a slight edge over Mitt Romney among Catholics (49-47 percent), but since then, Obama is surging ahead, and now leads 54-39 percent, according to a Pew Research poll conducted on Sept. 16.
Those numbers clash with political expectations with Romney's vice-presidential pick Congressman Paul Ryan being a devoted Catholic and the national Catholic hierarchy's outcry against the Obama social policies. The Administration's Health and Human Services mandate requiring all Americans to subsidize government-funded contraception, sterilization and abortion has been at the heart of an ongoing heated discussion as Catholic and Protestant pastors have re-asserted First Amendment rights to exercise religious beliefs.
As a result, the Church has invested time and resources into developing a voters' guide with an emphasis on challenging traditional voting habits. Building on its religious background emphasizing traditional family settings, the Church is encouraging its Faithful to 1. read party platforms before making choices at the polls, and 2. evaluate the candidates' positions with the Church teachings in mind.
The 24-page Catholic Hispanic Leadership Guide for the 2012 election (Download Catholic-Voter's Guide-2012) includes a section entitled "Political Parties and Catholic Social Teaching: The Need to Read the Party 'Platform'":
Most American Catholics were raised in households where our parents and grandparents belonged to a particular political party. We became Democrats or Republicans simply by watching our elders participate in political activities, by listening to family members talk about politics at family events, or by accompanying them when they went to vote. Today, it is not unusual to hear someone say they voted for a political party because that is the way that they and their family have always voted.
Catholic social teaching on faithful citizenship says that we must ask the political parties to answer the same questions we pose to the candidates. As faithful citizens and followers of Christ, we have a duty to learn what the parties’ say about the issues and about our civic obligations. No matter which party we choose to belong to or support, our obligation is to advance the moral values and principles of our Catholic faith, and to use our vote to shape and preserve the moral character of our society.
Party “platforms” are important documents because they describe that party’s vision of the common good. Because they are written by people who have been active in the party for years, they also tell us about the types of people the President will appoint as judges and administrators. These are the people whose day-to-day decisions will shape the moral character of our political parties, and of the new administration.
• don’t vote from habit or tradition;
• don’t vote for a political party without knowing its positions on the issues;
• do read the party platform and statements of party leaders about the issues;
• do vote with an informed conscience, formed by the Gospel;
• do vote for an individual.
The Republican platform lines up the Catholics' view on major social issues, including the right to life, definition of marriage, religious freedoms and school choice.
Catholics to weigh candidates' views on life
Several topics Catholic voters are encouraged to ask candidates are addressed in the 2012 voter's guide, including questions concerning religious freedom, the definition of marriage, school choice, poverty, employment and the right to life. Specific instructions on the life topic Catholics should ask are:
• What is the candidate’s position on “the right” to an abortion? CHLA encourages you to phrase the question in this manner because some candidates have been known to say that they are “pro-life” yet still support “the right” to an abortion. Our Church teaching is that the deliberate killing of a human being before birth is always wrong and must always be opposed. If the candidate states that he/she supports getting rid of poverty first because that will reduce the number of abortions, then that candidate is undermining the Church’s efforts to protect each and every human life.
• Has the candidate taken a public position on assisted suicide and “the right” to die? As Catholics, we believe that life is the most basic gift of a loving God--a gift over which we have stewardship but not dominion. Our tradition clearly and strongly affirms that as a responsible steward of life one must never directly intend to cause one’s own death, or the death of an innocent victim, by action or omission. As the Second Vatican Council declared, “euthanasia and willful suicide” are “offenses against life itself” which “poison civilization”; they “debase the perpetrators more than the victims and militate against the honor of the Creator” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, N. 27).
• What is the candidate’s position on stem cell research? Stem cells are the building blocks of every type of human tissue. From our earliest days as an embryo to the day we die, stem cells are working to create and repair our skin, bones, nerves and internal organs. The Church supports research on all forms of adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, but it forbids embryonic stem cell research. Why? Because embryonic stem cell research requires the direct destruction of innocent human life. We must, therefore, oppose such research. We should, however, support adult and umbilical cord stem cell research because of its potential to provide real and lasting benefits to individuals and to the common good.
• What is the candidate’s position on human cloning? Cloning is the laboratory process in which human beings are manufactured to preset specifications or are grown for experimental or industrial testing purposes. Human beings are not objects, who can be created and destroyed to serve the needs of others. When done for stem cell research, cloning involves the moral wrong of all embryonic stem cell research (destroying an innocent human life for possible benefit to others) plus an additional wrong: It creates human beings solely in order to kill them for their cells. When done for industrial purposes, such as tissue or vaccine production, it is a form of slavery -- the ultimate reduction of a fellow human being to a mere means, to an instrument of other people’s wishes.
Romney stronger than Obama on Catholic positions
The guide devotes five pages to a matrix comparing the two major presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Romney outranks Obama - a clear indication the Catholic faithful are being encouraged to reject President Obama in 2012.
Barack Obama – Score: 17.4%. Four out of twenty-three positions are known to be aligned with Catholic social teaching.
Mitt Romney – Score: 52.2%. Twelve out of twenty-three positions are known to bealigned with Catholic social teaching.
A Prayer of Faithfulness
The guide ends with this prayer:
Heavenly Father, grant me the insight to know your holy will as I prepare my mind and my heart to cast my vote. Through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, help me to discern the moral and ethical implications of my decisions and to exercise my civic right and duty for the common good of our country and the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.