My Catholic Problem — and Ours

I am grateful for the Patheos political question of the week this time out. A bunch of us have been asked to answer the question, “What are the key issues at stake in this election for people of your tradition?”

My religious tradition is Catholicism, full stop. There are two issues that should be of paramount importance to Catholics, and they make a choice at the presidential level very difficult.

One of those issues is abortion. The other one is not “social justice.” As I wrote in the Guardian last time out:

The Church believes in a hierarchy of evil, which has stark political implications. It means that certain issues are intrinsically more important than others. So long as it’s legal and widely available in the US, abortion will always trump social justice issues, even if the other issues might be worthy causes.

The problem, as I spelled out in that piece, is that there is one issue that ought to be on equal footing with abortion, and Republicans are about as bad on it as Democrats are on abortion. The issue is war and the necessity that nations attempt to conform their actions to the Just War Theory. Republicans just do not believe in this. Take Iraq:

The Pope and his predecessor warned against this. John Paul II sent Cardinal Pio Laghi as an emissary to the White House who explained that the US invasion of Iraq would be “illegal” and “unjust”. Benedict XVI, then head of the teaching office of the Church, said that the “concept of a ‘preventive war’ does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” with good reason.

Last time, Barack Obama was awful on abortion and he hasn’t gotten any better. Obamacare could seriously impede the operation of Catholic institutions, medical and otherwise, with its mandates to finance things the church — and millions of Catholics right along with it — considers deeply immoral.

Obama was a little bit better on war, though he’s proved extremely disappointing on that front as well — committing the country to war with Libya without so much as a by-your-leave to Congress, for one. Obama hasn’t committed ground troops to any new theaters. Other than that, he’s been a disaster.

Mitt Romney professes to be better than Obama on abortion these days. Indeed it would be hard to be any worse. Unlike many pols who profess to be “personally opposed, but” on the issue, we know that Romney actually was personally opposed even when he didn’t want to change the law, because as a Mormon bishop he urged several women not to have abortions.

Yet his political record is not encouraging. In Massachusetts, he took the path of least resistance, calling himself pro-choice and loudly defending that assertion. He has recently said that he would not advance legislation in Congress. The legislative point is a defensible one. From a pro-life point of view, all he has to do is sign legislation and appoint good judges, but it’s still discouraging for pro-lifers who signed onto his campaign thinking they’d found a genuine ally.

And war. Don’t get me started on Romney. The only hope is that Romney actually does not believe a lot of the crazy things he’s said on the campaign trail.

That’s possible. Romney’s father missed out on the Republican nomination in 1968 in part because he came out against Vietnam. The son may have taken from that defeat the importance of sounding hawkish. I know a lot of people think he’s too risk averse to get us into another Iraq, Afghanistan or even a Libya, but I’m not convinced.

Last time, faced with the choice between Obama and John McCain, I voted for Bob Lott, my dad. I just filled out my ballot last night and again voted for Bob Lott.

If Romney can get elected, unravel the worst parts of Obamacare and not get the nation into any more quagmires, he’ll have earned my vote in 2016 — and my respect. Regardless of how they vote in this election, I suspect many Catholics feel roughly the same way.

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

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