In this first presidential election to feature a Catholic candidate on each major party’s ticket, the media have been abuzz depicting the American Catholic voter at a very difficult crossroads. The image is one of two competing, yet equally legitimate, versions of Catholicism, differing in the aspects of Catholic doctrine they emphasize in the public square. Each tugs at the voter’s conscience: on one side are the Church’s teachings on abortion and social issues; on the other is the Church’s mission to care for the poor. The delicate task of the Catholic voter, so the narrative goes, is to weigh the interests represented by these two camps and select the presidential candidate who better reflects the nuances of the voter’s own faith.
This narrative is nothing new, and it has always been wrong. It has been recited in every presidential election since abortion became a prominent national issue in 1973, when the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade forbade the states from democratically legislating on the issue. Based on this narrative, pro-abortion Democrats have garnered roughly half of the Catholic vote in every presidential election over the past three-plus decades, despite the Catholic Church’s clear opposition to legalized abortion.
Yet in this election, this narrative is more clearly wrong than ever before. Not only is the incumbent the most pro-abortion president ever to occupy the office, but he has also deliberately picked a fight with the Catholic Church by requiring Catholic employers to participate in the provision of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization to their employees — all things the Church teaches are intrinsically evil. This divisive and unnecessary infringement on religious liberty by President Obama drew criticism from conservatives and liberals alike, and it prompted bishops, priests, and deacons in nearly every Catholic church in America to take to the pulpit in protest — an unprecedented event in American history.
And all this while the ranks of America’s poor have increased to record levels on Mr. Obama’s watch.
Mitt Romney is the only presidential candidate in this election whom Catholic voters can support while remaining true to their faith. All allegedly Catholic arguments in favor of Mr. Obama rely on gross misconceptions of Catholic doctrine. Given the magnitude of this election, it is worth addressing three of the most common misconceptions.
The first was on display in this year’s vice-presidential debate. When asked about his Catholic faith and the role it plays in his position on abortion, Vice President Biden responded that he accepts in his “personal life” the Church’s teaching that “life begins at conception,” but that he refuses to “impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”
Contrary to Mr. Biden’s characterization, Catholic doctrine on abortion is not limited to the simple premise that “life begins at conception.” Nor is it directed only at the individual actor to accept in his or her “personal life.” Rather, the Church teaches that citizens and their representatives must, by force of law, forbid the intentional taking of any human life, born or unborn. In the words of the American bishops: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil.”
If Mr. Biden’s explanation were sound, then one could also say: “While I accept in my personal life the Church’s teaching that disabled persons are human beings having a right to life, I refuse to impose it on others,” or “While I accept in my personal life the Church’s teaching that persons of different ethnic backgrounds are all deserving of equal human dignity, I refuse to impose it on others.”
The Church’s teaching on abortion is clear. Pro-choice Catholics like Mr. Biden simply choose not to follow it.