Two Catholic Voices Weigh In

It’s that time of the cycle where various people and institutions, for reasons ranging from simple partisanship to conscience to opportunism to irresponsible whim, officially weigh in on candidate preferences. Up until now the most striking phenomenon of the endorsement season has been the significant number of newspapers encouraging a vote for Mitt Romney on grounds that he has been systematically lying through his teeth from the moment he announced his first presidential campaign back in 2007 until the evening a few weeks ago in Denver when he revealed himself as Moderate Mitt, the man who awakes each morning full of joy at the prospect of productive and pragmatic compromise with Democrats. Today two prominent voices from self-consciously Catholic perspectives have something to say that reflects the deep divisions in that community despite its aura of monolithic solidarity.

The most predictable voice was that of the Most Reverend Daniel Jenky, Bishop of Peoria, Illinois, who issued an encyclical that he ordered to be read at every weekend Mass in his diocese more or less instructing the faithful to vote for Mitt Romney and Republican congressional candidates on pain of eternal damnation. Not a practitioner of nuance or of the sweet reasonableness of Jesus (he first achieved national notoriety earlier this year with a sermon that extensively compared Barack Obama to Hitler and Stalin), Jenky offered these sensitive pastoral observations in his pre-election letter:

Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present. Neither the president of the United States nor the current majority of the Federal Senate have been willing to even consider the Catholic community’s grave objections to those HHS mandates that would require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception. This assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system….

So much for the argument from the perspective of American history. Jenky then moves on to the argument from the perspective of God Almighty, for whom he confidently speaks:

Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin.

For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life. God is not mocked, and as the Bible clearly teaches, after this passing instant of life on earth, God’s great mercy in time will give way to God’s perfect judgment in eternity.

I therefore call upon every practicing Catholic in this Diocese to vote. Be faithful to Christ and to your Catholic Faith.

That’s about all Jenky could do without risking the tax-exempt status of his diocese.

But meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter‘s Michael Sean Winters, who has at times been as exercised in opposition to the contraception coverage mandate as Jenky, announced he could not in good conscience vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan:

Mr. Romney, the weathervane, with Mr. Ryan, the ideological warrior, at his side. This scares me. I think repealing the Affordable Care Act would be a tragedy of historic proportions. I think further tax cuts for the super-rich would be a scandal. I worry that, in an effort to appear moderate, a Romney-Ryan administration would stay far, far away from their commitment to the cause of the unborn, but make sure their radical economic agenda gets pushed through Congress. I worry that Medicaid and Medicare, two pillars of the common good in our otherwise hyper-individualistic culture, would not survive the changes Romney and Ryan propose. I worry that these two men, neither of whom have demonstrated much interest in foreign affairs, would listen too easily to the neo-con advisors who surround them, and not just the neo-cons who are at least principled, but the military-firsters, those who think the first course of action, provided there is a strategic or economic interest at stake, is to send in the Marines, but who also saw no value in coming to the aid of Bosnia and Kosovo as some neo-cons rightly supported. In short, I do not think that Mr. Romney’s resume, nor anything we have learned about his worldview, gives justification for voting him into such high office. And, more importantly, that same resume and his rhetoric and his party, suggest that he would govern in such a way that the rich would get much, much richer, the poor would have an even harder time of it, the middle class would continue to tread water at best, and and ideas about the common good would be set aside. That is not an America I can vote for.

Last January, in a long, long essay tellingly entitled “J’Accuse!”, Winters vowed he could never again vote for Barack Obama. Since he doesn’t strike me as anyone likely to support the Libertarians or the Greens, I guess he’s going to stay home, unless he’s issued (or is about to issue) a recantation of his earlier pledge. Lucky for him he doesn’t worship in Peoria.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.