Last week at America, the editorial team was talking about how this year’s polarizing election has pushed many key issues to the sidelines. The disappointing presidential debates—which involved a lot more cross-talk, voice-raising and snide takedowns than actual debate—were a case in point. With the election coming to a close, we decided to see if our frustration was shared by America readers.
On social media, we posed a question to you: What is the most important issue for Catholics that neither major-party presidential candidate is talking about?
We received answers from coast to coast (and Hawaii). The most common response, from 28 percent of respondents (see chart below), was disappointment that the candidates have neglected to focus on impoverished Americans, especially in rural areas, preferring instead to concentrate on the challenges facing the middle class. Michael Morrone, from Mississippi, raised this point: “Not a single mention has been made of those millions who will still be at the bottom regardless of economic growth.”
A woman from Ohio named poverty as her foremost concern because of her experience as a pediatrician in a rural area. “I see children who fall through the cracks, and our current methods of addressing those issues (education reform, etc.) aren't addressing the core problems of the cycle of poverty,” she wrote. “These problems are worsening, and our ways of addressing them are inadequate. I desperately wish the church would focus more on this issue.”
Closely following poverty in our poll was the environment, highlighted in 24 percent of our readers’ votes. Neither candidate has spoken much on this topic, except to argue whether the environment is a significant concern at all. (In 2012 Donald J. Trump wrote
on Twitter that climate change was a hoax engineered by China; Hillary Clinton devoted a page on her campaign website
to the “threat” of climate change, calling it “a defining challenge of our time.”)
Most of our reader responses on this subject referred to Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato Si’,” including Alina Sierra-Sedlander of Louisiana. “Global warming and the environment are essential issues not only for our nation but for the entire world,” Ms. Sierra-Sedlander wrote. “The leader of the free world has to play a major role in averting the environmental disaster in our future. Our Holy Father has addressed the environment as a temporal and spiritual problem.”
Though poverty and the environment stood out as the leading topics of discussion, some of the answers were not confined to one or the other. Speaking about the environment, Marsha Speth, S.P., of Indiana highlighted the fact that “those most affected by environmental change already are the poor and marginalized.”
Several readers emphasized the environment as a key Catholic issue, but as part of right-to-life issues—a category that comprised about 13 percent of all answers. These readers mentioned the environment but also expressed a desire for more attention to abortion, poverty, euthanasia and the death penalty. “[Being] pro-life is so much more than [being] anti-abortion,” Susan Rogan from Michigan wrote.
The understanding that these concerns can be connected was characteristic of almost all of our readers’ answers, and indicative of their reflectiveness. As Anthony Giancatarino from Pennsylvania said, “The nexus of racial, social and climate justice issues receive far too little substantive focus.”
Since I edit “Reply All” for America, I read all the letters and social media comments each week, and so I would like to think I am well attuned to our readership’s concerns. But these hundreds of detailed answers to our poll question highlighted how thoughtful and socially concerned our community of readers is. Thank you for taking the time to write to us.