Special Election Edition: The Frustration of Being Catholic and a Democrat

Francis Migliore

Like a new hairstyle or look, lately I’ve started using a new description for my political and religious affiliation. If I ever get to that point in a conversation, I tell people I’m a Pope Francis Catholic and a Joe Biden Democrat. I was so excited to vote for President Obama in my first election four years ago and I’ve been politically minded since the 2008 election.

Like millions of other Americans, this election has been a slow, frustrating slog for me. I like Hillary Clinton, but my first choice nominee didn’t enter the race. She is highly intelligent, infinitely qualified to hold the presidency and superior in every respect to Mr. Trump. And yet, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with the way that the party is going and will likely continue to go under a Clinton presidency.

I’m of the opinion that religion should never dictate one’s politics, only inform the reasoning that one uses to evaluate right and wrong, good and bad. Unsurprisingly, many other Catholics I know either have a different viewpoint on what issues are most important, or whom they should vote for based on their values. That’s fine. How your religion interacts with your politics is a complicated, multifaceted issue, and Catholicism doesn’t fit into the box of “liberal” or “conservative.” As it stands, Catholics haven’t voted as a bloc since the 60’s, when they were all Democrats. Suffice it to say, for several reasons, Catholics are all over the map politically.

As for my party, the Democrats tend to represent the causes I care deeply about: maintaining the social safety net, helping people in poverty, reforming immigration, preserving the environment and countering income inequality. I support my party on these issues and I used the lens of my faith to decide that it was right to do so.

But I don’t agree with my party on everything; who does? Without naming every such issue, I’ll just use an example: abortion. In practice I’m pro-choice, but in principle I’m pro-life; that also includes being anti-death penalty and helping people have a better quality of life, but I digress. I respect Roe v. Wade as the law of the land, even though I personally consider abortion to be intrinsically morally wrong. I don’t seek to impose my beliefs on anybody, but like Mario Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, Tim Kaine and Joe Biden, I make no apologies for criticizing what I see as wrong.

This brings me back to the current election. This year the DNC platform included a provision for repealing the Hyde Amendment, which was enacted in 1976 and prevents the use of federal funds to pay for abortion. Is there no more room in the Democratic Party for someone to object on grounds of conscience? Must I no longer simply tolerate, but accept this action against the sanctity of life? Do I go the way of Tim Kaine and backtrack when it becomes necessary to toe the party line? Do I maintain my position as the party establishment and base increasingly look at me askance?

This is what I have to look forward to as a Democrat in the coming years.

Make no mistake, I’m not completely satisfied with the way the Church has involved itself in politics either. Pope Francis has been an excellent leader of our Church and is just the man we need for our time. However, many of the American bishops have been too willing to engage in the culture wars, and worse, don’t realize they needed to withdraw several years ago. Their willingness to advocate against individual candidates based on one or two political issues is, I think, harmful to American political discourse and to the Church as a whole.

Nevertheless, I still find myself in an awkward position. The Republicans have done little to convince me that their vision for America is really any better or any less at odds with the beliefs I hold now. However, I know that voting for the Democrats will mean trying to reconcile some of my most dearly held beliefs — not just policy points, but ideals and beliefs — with a party that is slowly moving away from me. I don’t doubt that this reconciliation will become increasingly difficult down the road. I’m not sure how I’ll handle it.

It was a lot to keep in mind as I marked my ballot for Clinton and mailed it back home.