“Ask a Priest: Who Is the Church to Tell Me How to Vote?”

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Q: I’m 69 years old, was baptized Catholic and attended Catholic schools through the completion of a four-year degree. I am deeply distressed for a number of reasons. Tell me if I’m wrong — I’ve always considered priests and nuns as my primary role models. That notion has been shattered throughout my adult life, and yesterday a line was crossed. A parish pastor used the homily as a political directive to vote “pro-life.” I will NOT be told to vote on one issue when that candidate has so many evil attributes. I hate abortion and would never condone it. However, I believe in a woman’s right to make decisions (free will) for her body. I believe the Church is usurping its power by demeaning women’s rights but never, ever placing any responsibility on men. When God created man (and woman) did he not give us free will to follow the Ten Commandments or to follow Satan? Did God give the Church the right to judge or did God say all of us will be judged upon death? If a woman chooses to end the life of her fetus, that is between her and God. People of faith should provide counsel as to “right and wrong” but not to force her decision. The Church provides the safety and holiness of confession which is the appropriate role of the clergy. On the flip side, if a woman has an abortion, does the Church want to put her in prison? I’m still hoping to meet a priest who actually follows Christ’s footsteps as a compassionate, loving person who reaches out to his flock. Hasn’t happened yet. In 1982 I lost my oldest son (age 12) to cancer and reached out for help from the clergy — someone who would reassure my son that he should not fear dying. Guess what — nobody came. Yes, I was mad at God but eventually returned to my faith. Guess what — attending Mass yesterday just destroyed me again. I will still pray and believe in God as I know I have a saint in heaven. However, I’ve lost respect for priests and Catholicism. Telling me how to vote is the straw that’s broke my back! I will pray for God’s understanding. — M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear that you feel so alienated from the Church.

It is especially sad to hear that you didn’t sense the support you needed from the Church when your son was dying. Jesus loves your son and was ready to greet him in the next life. Jesus would have also wanted your family to feel his love through representatives of his Church.

The Church certainly has an all-too-human dimension. It comprises people who have limitations and weaknesses and lapses in judgment. This has been true since the beginning — Jesus’ first apostles displayed pride, pettiness, cowardice and betrayal. They were humans with lots of failings. But it was precisely humans whom Jesus came to save.

Yet, it is through faith we know that the Church is first and foremost the mystical body of Christ. It is God’s instrument to help us on the way toward eternity, an eternity that we hope to spend with our loved ones.

One way he helps us is through Church teachings. Now, I agree that the pulpit is not the place for political endorsements; perhaps the priest didn’t intend for it to be interpreted as such.

The pulpit, however, is a fitting venue where Christian principles can and must be taught. Among those principles is the value of human life and the need to protect innocent human life.

The Church knows that women who undergo abortion often do it under pressure from the men in their lives or even from their families. The Church also knows the agony that many women live with the rest of their days. It certainly isn’t infringing on anyone’s right to try to protect human life and to help keep a woman from making a decision that could haunt her the rest of her life. Also, it is notaccurate to say that Church teaching ignores men who contribute to abortions. A man who helps procure an abortion is subject to excommunication.

Perhaps it wasn’t that homily alone that is leaving you feeling alienated. Perhaps if you delved deeper into why the Church defends unborn human life, it would be more apparent that the Church has the best interest of women at heart. All too often it is women alone who carry the psychological scars of abortion. A society whose laws permit abortion is ignoring that horrible damage to women. It is also abandoning the members of that society who are the most defenseless, the least able to fend for themselves: children in the womb. In the same way that Church teaching points out the evils of slavery and sex-trafficking, it points out the evils of abortion.

I’d venture to say that it is the proliferation of abortion that has demeaned the meaning of sex and coarsened the culture (examples of which were rampant in a recent campaign).

Linked to a lot of problems is a mistaken idea of freedom. Freedom means we have the capacity to choose evil but not the right. If we had the right to do evil, there would be no prospect of punishment. And abortion is certainly not just between a woman and God – there is another life involved that has rights.

Moreover, as Catholics we can’t just sit by and do nothing in the face of gross injustice. To say that abortion is purely between a woman and God is like saying assault is purely between an attacker and God, or theft is purely between a thief and the Almighty. There is a social dimension to sin. We are our brother’s keepers. We are called to guard the rights of others – foremost among them the right to life. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Perhaps more than ever this is a moment to draw near to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She will intercede for you. She wants you to be reunited with your son someday in a far happier place.

I hope some of this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions.

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