Confessions of a Catholic Democrat:

“Not everyone is called to invest himself intimately in politics, and for some it would be dangerous to do so. Great discernment is needed to work in non-ideal circumstances, finding politically effective messages without sacrificing personal integrity. Those of us who involve ourselves in political struggles ought to pray fervently that God preserve us, lest we betray the faith. I would be humbly grateful if readers would also make it a point, when reading a helpful or enlightening column from any (living) Catholic writer, to say a quick prayer for us that we might have that discernment. Politics is a dirty business.” (Mark Stricherz/Crisis Magazine)

This “discernment” is difficult and personal.  What I propose is that if you read this “confession” you recognize that I hold that we are all collectively responsible for immense failures as a society, as democrats, as republicans, as individual human beings on social justice and dignity of life issues.  I further will challenge you to accept that given we are living in “non-ideal” circumstances as Catholics, where we represent only 16% of the global population, where we are sharply divided within our own ranks, that our beliefs would wisely be presented humbly.    Our great experiment of Democracy is only 239 years old and our faith is 2000 years young.  Our country and our faith have made grave mistakes in our history.  While we have also made immense contributions, we are called by our faith to constantly be self-examining, as individuals and as a collective.

I will make my case here for why my conscience allows me to vote democratic.  At the same time, I want to disavow you of any claim to my ownership of moral authority, superiority, or knowledge.  I could easily argue the other side.  I also have failed personally with indulgences on more than one occasion (mainly inebriation) of which I confess personal failure.  I am sure I have fallen short on countless other yardsticks of morality and am confident that any vote will have strings attached to unholy alliances.  So, do not be angered by positions and recognize I value yours.  I put myself above no one.  I have regrets and successes in life that run deep and expect to have more of both, God willing, may the Holy Spirit be guiding my every action.

I am in good company, at least with people that have strove for knowledge and education.  “Democrats lead by 22 points (57%-35%) in leaned party identification among adults with post-graduate degrees. The Democrats’ edge is narrower among those with college degrees or some post-graduate experience (49%-42%), and those with less education (47%-39%).  Across all educational categories, women are more likely than men to affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic. The Democrats’ advantage is 35 points (64%-29%) among women with post-graduate degrees, but only eight points (50%-42%) among post-grad men.”

And “party affiliation among all Catholics is similar to that of the public: 37% describe themselves as independents, 33% as Democrats and 24% as Republicans. About half of Catholics (48%) affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic while 40% identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP.”

How can Catholics of that magnitude be Democrats given Pro-Choice policies, Women Reproductive rights, and LGBTQ issues (mainly definition of marriage)?   I cannot answer for this large number, but will point out how I have found myself in this camp.  Twenty years of social work services in homelessness and mental health services has taught that fighting poverty and helping the poor is not profitable and our unchecked free market system does not have the answers.  I am not alone in this belief. Mark Stricherz puts it this way:  “As someone who has grown to appreciate Catholic social teaching, I believe that the basic test of any civilization is how it treats its least citizens. In my personal and professional experience, I have concluded that the federal government is a better vehicle than business or the free market to meet that test. That’s why I am a Democrat. As Pope John Paul II wrote in Centesimus Annus (1991),”The more that individuals are defenseless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others, and in particular the intervention of governmental authority.”

The history of the national Democratic Party lifted most elderly people out of poverty, gave health insurance to the aged and infirmed, and gave health care to 11.5 million people thru the affordable care act without the doomsday predictions of the opposing party.  My academic studies (master’s in social work, bachelors in philosophy and psychology) has taught me the in-depth the history of social justice issues on our country and the democratic party has had alliance with our catholic foundational beliefs on many fronts.  My experience has demonstrated the same.

One political action group puts it this way:  “Democrats for Life of America exists to foster respect for life, from the beginning of life to natural death. This includes, but is not limited to, opposition to abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia. Democrats for Life of America is one of over 200 member organizations of Consistent Life: an international network for peace, justice and life.”   Notice that they are against consistent against a culture of death on all three social issues.   What separates catholic democrats from catholic republicans, in my view, is a belief that catholic republicans avoid social responsibility by riding on a pro-life platform that offers criminalization of women without having any investment at the myriad of social problems that foster unwanted pregnancies and other social problems.    And criminalization of abortion does not and has not been an effective policy.  While catholic democrats “believe that we can reduce the number of abortions because we are united in our support for policies that assist families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies.  We believe that women deserve to have a breadth of options available as they face pregnancy: including, among others, support and resources needed to handle the challenges of pregnancy, adoption, and parenthood; access to education, healthcare, childcare; and appropriate child support.  We envision a new day without financial or societal barriers to bringing a planned or unplanned pregnancy to term.”   This is huge task and requires democrat and republican support to realize.  It is proven that effective social policy, access to health care, and fighting poverty works.

Pope Francis understands the far reaching consequences of poverty and social justice issues.  A Washington Post article implies that if you read his encyclical you have to all but be a democrat.  I disagree.  Be a republican but foster your party to do better in areas of immigration, poverty, capital punishment, labor, environment, and global economic arbitrary disparities that foster terrorism and war.     (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-test-of-faith-pope-francis-puts-2016-gop-hopefuls-on-the-defensive/2015/06/18/bc3af116-15d2-11e5-9518-f9e0a8959f32_story.html)

The LGBTQ issue and civil unions I have less to address here.  We as Catholics know too little to address the incompatibility of recent science of biological determinants that indicate it is not a lifestyle choice versus the literal translation of the bible.  My take is the church should not be involved in legal marriage at all.  This is a U.S. issue that the church fulfills a civil union that implies civil rights.  Get out of that business and perform the catholic sacrament of marriage for the catholic faithful in line with our beliefs of procreation.   The vast numbers indicate we are missing something and we should not foster a climate of hatred or denying civil benefits based on our narrow understanding of this area of human genetics and human love.

Now, sometimes catholic democrat’s causes can be hijacked as well by the party and act in name sake only.   Promoting access to abortion services without serious commitment to promoting efforts that increase the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies and abortions is not acceptable as well.  Maintaining abortion is wrong for women and for the unborn while supporting greater access to ability to carry pregnancy full-term, access to prevention services, access to education, access to employment, access to housing, and access to other protective factors is what it means to be a catholic democrat.

Both the democrat party s and some federal policies have failed us here.   As Mark says these “problems merit our concern, not our scorn. What the Democratic Party needs, as the nation needs is a new leadership class that seeks to overcome those obstacles. This class would have the toughness and soulfulness of Bobby Kennedy, the prudential wisdom of David L. Lawrence, and the compassion and Christian conscience of Robert P. Casey. I don’t begrudge good Republican politicians. But at a time when America’s wealthy and middle classes are growing estranged from and sanction violence against the poor and vulnerable, I hope and pray that the great Democratic public servants of years past can inspire those of today and tomorrow.”   Mark has voted for republican nominees at times despite being a democrat.  I state this to make the point that no party owns the Catholic vote.   Only you own your vote.

My opinion is the democrat party does more for promoting my beliefs.  At the same time I respect those that feel the Republican Party does more to represent their beliefs.  A bumper sticker like Pro-Choice or Pro-Life is not a get out of jail free card from social responsibility.  I personally like “choose life.”   It goes much deeper.  And factually, we will do more good with how compassionate we are every day than with our single vote.    That is why I am a Catholic democrat.  I hope you will join me.  And if not, I hope you will bring Catholic ideals to all the other issues facing our nation other than myopia on one topic.

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