The role of the hierarchy in the 2016 election

This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

As a follow up to my blog post on the Donald Trump candidacy, I wanted to explore the role of the Catholic bishops in the upcoming U.S. election.

Patricia Miller has written a hard-hitting article on the role Catholic bishops play in the Republican Party and asks what their response will be to the candidacy of Donald Trump.

She relates some of the history of the bishop's political involvement going back especially to the candidacy of then Sen. John Kerry in 2004. She notes the bishop's total focus on the issue of abortion. Bishops, both individually and as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, discouraged any vote for a candidate who was pro-choice, and in the case of Kerry, some even asserted that they would not permit him to take Communion. Any discussion of one's position on the death penalty or economic issues simply did not matter.

Miller goes on to take a look at the bishops' use of the religious liberty issue. They created an expanded notion of religious liberty, which to my mind is unrecognizable as an American concept contained in the Constitution. In deciding to go in this direction, the bishops have set themselves against the Obama Administration and health care for U.S. citizens. They have contributed dramatically to the polarization that besets our nation by latching on to a technical and arcane issue. They are not truly looking for a reasonable accommodation, but are seeking to deny contraceptive coverage to thousands of workers.

In short, Miller notes that while Catholic bishops may not have been at the heart of the religious right movement they have certainly been the head. They were responsible for demanding that access to abortion be cut off for poor women via Medicaid. Additionally, they used health insurance as leverage to create faith-based carve -outs that have lead to their expanded definition of religious liberty.

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Miller makes a strong case for demonstrating that the Catholic bishops have become an important part of the Republican Party as well as the religious right. The question now is whether anything will change with Donald Trump as the party's standard bearer.

As Miller remarks, Trump's immigration policy runs directly counter to what the position has been on this issue. Trump's positions on economic issues also run in sharp contrast to where Pope Francis has stood on capitalism and the poor. Trump even insulted Pope Francis while Francis was in Mexico, while the bishops in the United States remained silent. Certainly Trump's comments on foreign policy questions should give many bishops pause. One could also mention his treatment of women and his insults toward anyone who challenges him.

Miller suspects that the bishops will likely not change their approach to politics. She believes they have become so accustomed to the influence they currently wield that they will be reluctant to give it up. She doubts they will be heading in Francis' direction of moving away from politics and back to the Gospel.

So far we have seen Republican office holders fall in line behind Trump. We know many voters are angry about what they feel has been a failure of government. With that in mind, what choice are voters prepared to make in November? Are they angry enough to hand over the government of the United States to someone with zero credentials to take over such a position? Are they willing to entrust their freedoms, their economy, and their security to one whose operational mantra is to bully and insult anyone who disagrees with him, including the prime minister of Great Britain, our closest ally?

We are not talking here about policy differences. I disagree with just about every policy position of Ted Cruz, and I believe he would be a terrible president, but you can agree or disagree with what he stands for, and that's what elections are about. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a person who has demonstrated over the past several months that he is not qualified and should not be entrusted with the office of president of the United States.

So we are all waiting to see where our bishops will stand and what kind of guidance they will be providing in the coming months.


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