Just today, my fellow Patheos Catholic blogger, Fr. Dwight Longenecker published a piece entitled “Is Health Care a Pro Life Issue?,” which contains much good; it acknowledges that the death penalty, euthanasia, and unjust war are life issues. But it blurs distinctions between different types of “Liberals” in a problematic way, and that calls for a response.
Fr. Longenecker outlines his position in this way:
For this to be equivalent the Republican party should have as part of its platform, “Our open policy is to carpet bomb into extinction any city we deem to be an enemy.”
The bottom line is this: a Catholic cannot vote for a politician or a party that openly espouses and promotes abortion anymore than a Catholic could vote for a party or a politician that openly calls for extermination facilities for old people and the disabled.
Liberal Catholics think they can vote for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Would they vote for a party or a politician that openly supported the construction of concentrate [sic] camps for the extermination of immigrants, criminals, the disabled and the infirm? No matter what other good policies that party had would they vote for a party that openly called for the need for the identification of people who were deemed sub human, disposable and were ready to continue funding the extermination facilities for such people?
The problem here lies in the equation of voting for Hillary and Bernie. One can be a sincerely pro-life Catholic and consider Bernie (voting for him is a question I leave aside here); I do not think the same is true of Hillary. She, both in personal ethics and political positions, has little in common with our flock. The current senator has been consistent in his opposition to war (of almost all kinds, though particularly those of an unjust nature). He has always rejected the death penalty. He has, even merely rhetorically, always set himself on the side of the poor, oppressed, and marginalized (on this I would recommend watching his sincere and absolutely pomp-less presidential-bid announcement).
Fr. Longenecker mentions President Obama’s drone strikes, insinuating that his unjust war policies mean one cannot speak of Democrats as being pro-life on war, but the reality is that only Hillary supports the continuance of that policy. Bernie, though he does not, in my opinion, go far enough, does want to reduce our use of drones. On euthanasia, I have found a couple rather biased websites claiming Bernie supports such callous action; my research has shown the misuse of their sources. In other words, the senator has been silent on the issue of euthanasia. I can find one vote, in 1999, in which he opposes banning drugs used in physician-assisted suicide. But that is far from full-throated support for either euthanasia or medical killing.
None of this is to say a Catholic should or frankly even can vote Bernie. The problem here is the way in which many religious people make the “Left” into a monolith. Hillary is not Bernie. And, frankly, his stances on what Fr. Longenecker admits are life issues are mostly consistent with Catholic teaching. To be certain, his manifestly pro-choice position problematizes this (I leave aside the issue of same-sex marriage, since the post to which I am responding asks only about life issues and how they might disqualify a Catholic to vote for a candidate).
Many have produced articles about whether or not a Catholic can vote for Bernie (see here, here, and here). Whether one agrees with these takes or not, I find them refreshing. Why? Because a Catholic sincerely committed to the Church’s Social Teaching should be dissatisfied with the Republican Party. Making monoliths of “Leftist” politicians is not a productive way to reinvigorate our political presence or actions, nor is it the best way to accomplish a consistently pro-life agenda.
I have much more to say about Senator Sanders and his candidacy, but here I only hope to cite one example, from a respectable and often very insightful Catholic writer, in order to demonstrate the ways in which we Catholics are called to look beyond the paradigms of the American political spectrum. Let us never forget, with Gerard Manley Hopkins, that to live righteously means to wrestle, as Jacob, with the reified version of God our times produce; it means to look beyond our own moments and hearts to His timeless truth:
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.