A friend who I used to volunteer with posted a video from a priest that asserted the if you vote Democratic you aren’t really Catholic. I went through a wave of emotions when looking at this post. Mind you, I didn’t watch the video. I didn’t have to. I know exactly what the priest said. Essentially, it is the same thing that some Catholics have been saying for years. Democrats are pro-choice. Catholics cannot be pro-choice. Therefore, if you are pro-choice you are not really Catholic.
Our church even handed out pamphlets when I was a kid that told us who to vote for. I remember one of the volunteers accosting my mother after mass. My mother is not Catholic, but has graciously attended mass every Sunday with my father for over 50 years. She rarely ever says anything political to anyone. She told that person that as soon as they plan on caring for the children after they enter the world then she’ll donate to the cause. It was one of the few times I had ever seen her get angry with strangers.
I remember feeling a seething anger even back then when our church tried to tell us who to vote for. Even back then I remember questioning why they would boil everything down to a single issue. We care about so many things as Catholics. Yes, we care about life, but we care about life at every stage. We care about social justice. We care about the plight of the poor, healing the sick, and clothing the naked. We care about the natural environment. We care about immigrants and refugees. It is fair to have disagreements on all of these issues and to think one party represents the majority. Boiling it down to one single issue is short-sighted.
So yeah, the initial reaction was to be pissed off. How dare you tell me I’m not Catholic. I went through all of those years of CCE. I was baptised and confirmed in the church. Up until the pandemic, we attended weekly. I have volunteered with youth ministry for nearly thirty years, served on two different pastoral councils, and the rest of my family serves too. This doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else, but gosh darn it, nobody gets to tell me I’m not a Catholic.
Yet, the anger didn’t last long. The overwhelming emotion was one of sadness. This was a post from someone I have known for years. We volunteered together for years in youth ministry. We worked on retreats together. I felt like I knew him. I felt like we saw the world more or less the same way. I was certain he was compassionate and was teaching our teenagers to be compassionate. Either I was wrong or something had happened to change him.
He has had other posts that have been against black lives matter and against antifa. Some of the posts have been pro-police. Of course, that by itself is not alarming, but when you add it all up it just feeds into an incredible sadness. It adds up to a picture of a faith where our love and our charity is conditional. It is conditional on whether others believe as we do. We love you if you agree. You are only a good Catholic if you agree. Beyond that, our minds can only go to a very dark place.
Naturally, this brought me to my last emotional response: immense fear. Maybe he wasn’t the one who had changed. Maybe I’m the one who has changed. Maybe I’m the one who has gone astray. Seeing people who you respect go in such a different direction is an emotionally jarring experience. If one is to have any humility whatsoever they would have to admit that there is a seed of doubt in there somewhere. If I respected him and if they are so sure that they are right then am I? Could I be the one that’s wrong?
Mind you, my values have largely not changed going back to that story with my mother. I’m confident in those values. So, that’s not what I’m talking about. This is more about how we treat people. Being on the recieving end of something so judgmental and dismissive was an illuminating experience. Have I been doing that to others? It made me go back and re-read some of these posts to make sure.
Politics and religion are sometimes incompatible. In American politics, there are no political parties thet adopt an entirely Catholic perspective. So, every Catholic must decide which values they hold most dear. I don’t get to judge anyone on which values they choose. The flip side is that they don’t get to judge me. Judgment is not ours anyway. We do the best we can. We pray. We study. We reflect. We ask the opinion of others who we respect. Ultimately, that is all we can do. When we feel these feelings of rage, sadness, and fear it can be really unsettling. Maybe we can all grow from those feelings.