Theology, November 24,
"The 2008 Presidential Election"
By Rev. Richard
Regardless of how individual Catholics voted in this years
historic presidential election, there are at least three important lessons for
their pastoral leadership to absorb.
First, Catholic voters are
paying less and less attention to the urgings of some of the Conferences
most theologically rigid and politically partisan bishops. Catholics this year
returned to their traditional allegiance to the Democratic Party by a margin of
53-45%. And Hispanic voters, most of whom are Catholics, supported the Democratic
ticket by an astonishing margin of 66-31%.
This was in spite of
the efforts of a vocal handful of bishops, including Archbishop Charles Chaput
of Denver and Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, to try to persuade Catholics
that a vote for the Democratic ticket was tantamount to a vote for abortion and,
therefore, gravely sinful.
Some Catholics evidently accepted this
line of argument, but one can at least ask how many of them would have voted Republican
for other reasons, even if the abortion issue had not been a factor.
an overwhelming margin of some 60%, voters this year identified the economy as
their number one concern. The issues which right-wing pressure groups tried to
use on fellow Catholics with voter-guidesabortion, gay marriage, homosexuality,
embryonic stem-cell researchgained little or no traction this time around.
This vocal minority of bishops have to ask themselves whether their one-issue
approach is actually counter-productive, not only in terms of its effectiveness
with Catholic voters but also in its effectiveness in actually reducing the number
of abortions in the United States.
This year, in any case, their
narrow approach to life issues has stirred other pro-life Catholics to fight back
and to reject the focus on the abortion issue to the practical exclusion of all
Second, there is also a question to be put to the all-too-silent
majority of bishops who have failed to remind Catholic voters that the Bishops
Conference supports a consistent-ethic-of-life approach to moral issues,
that it has gone on record as neither endorsing nor opposing candidates for public
office, and that it insists that the Catholic Church is not a one-issue Church,
notwithstanding the moral urgency of the abortion issue.
it is true that bishops do not wish to interfere in their fellow bishops
governing of their own dioceses, the vocal minority of bishops who have spoken
out in politically partisan fashion have a national impact beyond the confines
of Denver, Scranton, or wherever else.
The media and many in the
general public do not usually make a distinction between the personal views of
a few outspoken bishops and the official teachings and policies of the entire
In the future, Conference leaders must
make it unmistakably clear that, while individual bishops are free to issue statements
and take stands within and for their own dioceses, such bishops have no personal
authority beyond their dioceses, and indeed that their views are contrary to the
stated teachings and policies of the Conference itself.
the concern for political and moral credibility and effectiveness, there are other,
equally significant statistics to be drawn from the recent presidential election.
The Democratic ticket won the support of 66% of voters between the ages of 18
and 29, and 57% between the ages of 30 and 44.
These voters are
not only the future of the country; many of them are also the future of the Catholic
Church. Do our pastoral leaders really want to be so far out of step with this
crucially important constituency?
Can our leadership not make a
more concerted effort to understand the thinking of under-45 Catholics, as well
as of many older Catholics who are aware of, and in full agreement with, the official
teachings and policies of the Conference but who disagree strongly with the views
of the Conferences aggressively conservative minority?
what, again, of the 66% of Hispanic voters, many of whom are Catholics? The same
questions should be applied to the bishops pastoral responsibility toward
Hispanic Catholics, young and old alike.
Ninety-five percent of
African Americans voted for Senator Barack Obama. Relatively few are Catholic,
but should the entire black community be written off?
also need to recognize that women voted for the Democratic ticket by a margin
of 56-43%. The same concerns that apply to Catholics in general and to younger
and Hispanic Catholics in particular apply also to the leaderships pastoral
challenge of addressing the alienation of many Catholic women.
sexual-abuse scandal in the priesthood has had a devastating effect on the credibility
of our bishops. They must take care not to worsen the problem.
2008 Richard P. McBrien. All rights reserved. Fr. McBrien is the Crowley-OBrien
Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
this page to a friend!