The second major misconception is that, while life issues such as abortion may be important, they can be outweighed by other concerns, such as government programs for the poor.
The Church specifically denounces this moral equivalency. Intrinsic evils such as legalized abortion are categorically forbidden by Catholic doctrine, while questions of how best to care for the poor are left to human judgment. Again, the American bishops have been clear: “The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.”
The third and perhaps most widely held misconception is that, abortion issue aside, Mr. Obama and the Democrats are indeed closer to Catholic Social Teaching regarding the poor than Mr. Romney and the Republicans. Quite the contrary is true: while the Church does not take official positions on how governments should go about helping the poor, it does teach that governments should perform only those tasks that cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level.
Catholic Social Teaching is built upon two core principles. The first is Solidarity, which holds that it is essential to act in favor of the well-being of all, particularly those who are most poor and marginalized from political influence. It recognizes that humans are created to live in community, and as such have affirmative duties to one another.
The second principle, which the left conveniently forgets, is Subsidiarity. This provides that social tasks ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized competent authority.
The reasoning behind this principle is twofold. As a practical matter, the needs of the poor are better served by those closer to them than by a national government — especially in a nation like ours that spans an entire continent. Often, top-down approaches to poverty only serve to perpetuate the problem. We see this today, with growing numbers of Americans on food stamps and record numbers living in poverty.
Subsidiarity is also essential to protecting liberty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative.” There is no better example of this than the Obama administration’s “contraception” mandate. The enactment of a top-down government approach to health care enabled this infringement on the religious liberty of Catholic individuals and institutions, many of which have played a far more integral role in caring for the poor than the federal government ever will.
This presidential election is a moment of truth for American Catholics. When they go to the polls, they will decide what truly lays claim to their hearts and minds: Catholic Christianity, or modern liberalism.
The crossroads is real. But only one of those roads is the Catholic road.
Joseph Petros is an associate at the law firm of Warren and Young PLL in Ashtabula, Ohio. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Notre Dame Law School, where he served as executive editor of the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy.