Some Catholics say politics were prevalent in parishes ahead of election

Voters wait outside a polling location for the presidential election Nov. 8 shortly after polls opened at Annunciation Church in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Tracie Van Auken, EPA)Voters wait outside a polling location for the presidential election Nov. 8 shortly after polls opened at Annunciation Church in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Tracie Van Auken, EPA)

The numbers are in and a majority of Catholic voters backed the winner of Tuesday’s election, Donald J. Trump. Helping drive up those numbers, some Catholics say, were clergy and parish leaders who spent the weeks running up to the election offering support for the Republican nominee.

Perhaps the most high-profile case came in mid-October from St. Kevin’s Church in Warwick, R.I., where local media reported that the Rev. Robert L. Marciano gave a homily in which he said Hillary Clinton and Democratic leaders “hate Catholics.”

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“They hate everything that we stand for and the virtues and values that we hold as sacred,” he preached, leading to an outcry from some parishioners in the Democratic-leaning state. He suggested that voting for Mrs. Clinton would put one’s soul in jeopardy “by cooperating in the destruction of innocent human life,” a reference to the candidate’s support for abortion rights.

The county where St. Kevin’s is located was the only one in Rhode Island, the most Catholic state in the nation, that voted for Mr. Trump.

While Father Marciano’s words may have been especially heated, he wasn’t alone when it came to introducing politics at the pulpit in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.

Don Powell, a Catholic in the Diocese of Orange, Calif., told America that he heard homilies on the two Sundays before the election that sounded to him like endorsements for Mr. Trump.

“The priest told us that the abortion issue superseded other issues like immigrants’ rights” and that Catholics “should never vote for a pro-choice candidate,” Mr. Powell wrote in an email.

“As a Catholic convert who came into the church because of people like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton I can’t tell you how discouraging I found these homilies,” he continued.

Mr. Powell’s experience isn’t unique.

A Catholic in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Stephen McKenney, said that a deacon at his church preached last Sunday that Catholics voting in the election should be concerned with only five issues, all related to life and marriage.

The deacon, Mr. McKenney recalled, said that just one candidate aligns with the church on those issues and that many of his priest friends were “voting for him”—a clear reference to Mr. Trump.

“I was pretty shocked by it,” Mr. McKenny said. He found the explanation of which issues should be of concern to Catholics incomplete and said he was “deeply troubled” with an endorsement from the pulpit.

Mr. Trump unexpectedly won the reliably blue state of Michigan.

RELATED: Republicans Push for Pulpit Politics

Elsewhere, letters and voting guides were published in church bulletins ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

For example, a letter written by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, which comprises Long Island, was published in bulletins and read at Mass.

Some believe that Bishop Murphy implied in the letter that Catholics could not vote for Mrs. Clinton or her running mate, Tim Kaine, a practicing Catholic who supports abortion rights but personally accepts church teaching on abortion.

“Support of abortion by a candidate for public office, some of whom are Catholics, even if they use the fallacious and deeply offensive ‘personally opposed but . . .’ line, is reason sufficient unto itself to disqualify any and every such candidate from receiving our vote,” the letter said.

One Catholic in the diocese, who asked that her name not be used, said she and other parishioners were “taken aback” when they heard the letter read at Mass.

“It doesn't specifically name Clinton or Trump, but clearly we were being told not to vote for Clinton because of the pro-life issue,” she told America.

“I was taken aback because there really were so many issues at stake in this election, not just pro-life [issues],” she continued. “Neither candidate is perfect as far as church doctrine on any of the issues.”

Mr. Trump, who lost the state of New York, won one of the two counties that comprise the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Karen Dombowsky, a Catholic who lives outside Denver, said her parish bulletin published a letter written by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, in which he was critical of both candidates, referring to Mr. Trump as a “disrespecter of women” and stating that the Clinton entourage is “riddled with anti-Catholic bigots.”

“The priests from our church have referenced political issues many times over the years,” she said in an email. “I have spoken to many of my Catholic friends who are very unhappy with the discussion of politics from the pulpit and have stopped going to church.”

A Catholic in the Diocese of Trenton said that a deacon at her parish posted messages on his social media account supporting Mr. Trump and preached homilies that sounded to her like a thinly veiled endorsement of the Republican candidate.

“In the homily I heard, the deacon preached about abortion, same-sex marriage, assaults on religious liberty and pornography and reminded parishioners of our obligations as Catholics to vote for pro-life candidates,” Mary Vanderhoof wrote in an email.

She said another deacon told her daughter not to vote for Mrs. Clinton.

Politicking wasn’t exclusively in favor of Mr. Trump, according to a Catholic in the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C.

According to Angela Flynn, a priest at her parish said Catholics should consider a number of issues when voting and he offered some implicit criticism of Mr. Trump’s positions.

Political speech from religious leaders is tricky business, at least as far as the government is concerned.

The Johnson Amendment is an I.R.S. rule that states that most nonprofit organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” It also prohibits contributions to political campaigns and public statements “in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”

Mr. Trump has promised to fight to repeal the amendment.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops regularly reminds Catholic parishes, dioceses and nonprofits that they are barred from endorsing candidates or engaging in overt political activity, including earlier this month, when it published the 44-page document, “Political Activity and Lobbying Guidelines for Catholic Organizations.”

While the document is driven primarily by concerns about the I.R.S., canon law forbids priests from holding public office, a rule dating back to a time when a Catholic priest served as a U.S. representative from Massachusetts. Some canon lawyers interpret church law to be even broader, preventing clergy from engaging in politics altogether.

Then there are voting guides, which are not prohibited by I.R.S. or church regulation as long as they are part of “voter education or registration activities” and don’t endorse specific candidates.

But how the candidate’s views are presented can send not-so-subtle signals, scenarios cutting across party lines.

For example, a voting guide created earlier this year by 10 Catholic organizations highlighted issues such as poverty, the environment and immigration. While the topics were presented within a Catholic framework and included quotes from Pope Francis, pro-life critics said it did not give enough attention to church teaching on abortion or marriage.

Other Catholic voting guides have been criticized for reducing the church’s vast social teaching down to just a few issues.

The Catholic from Trenton, Ms. Vanderhoof, said one such guide was distributed at her parish. Created by the group Catholic Answers, the guide contained paragraphs on what it called “five non–negotiable issues.” They were abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning and same-sex marriage.

According to a 2014 poll, 63 percent of Americans say churches should not come out in support of a particular candidate. But the country is roughly split when it comes to houses of worship expressing views on political issues, with 49 percent of Americans agreeing they should.

In the end, some of the pro-Trump politicking may have worked. Mr. Trump did well Tuesday with Catholics overall, winning the backing of 52 percent of Catholic voters, a group President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. Among white voters, support was even greater for the president-elect. Six in 10 white Catholics supported him, while just 26 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for him.

Now that the election is over, some bishops, like such as Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, are calling for unity,.

“Some may wonder whether the country can reconcile, work together and fulfill the promise of a more perfect union,” he said in a statement following the election. “Through the hope Christ offers, I believe God will give us the strength to heal and unite.”

Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

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Roy Van Brunt
2 years 8 months ago
It really amazes - and bothers me - that the clergy of OUR church (i.e., it's not "their church"; the people are "the Church") thinks it's fine for them to tell people how to vote. It also troubles me that they are dense enough, or not honest enough to differentiate between a view that says God gives us free will, and wants and expects us to use it, and a view that says Catholics (or anyone else) should stand for a law that prevents the use of that free will. Democratic candidates are not "pro-abortion". And they are not "anti-life." And it is senseless, ignorant, uninformed and uncharitable name-calling to label them as such, or to say that to vote for one having that view is somehow morally derelict. These politicians are Pro Choice, meaning that they favor there be no law restricting a person from exercising that free will that they were given by God. This simply means that they want women to have the ability to exercise their conscience. No more, and no less. If the clergy who want to tell people, from the pulpit or privately, what law or politician "demands" their vote, I'd suggest instead, that they spend their letter-writing and homilizing time on helping people facing this decision to form a right conscience about whether to have an abortion or not. The priests and bishops are here to save souls, and that is far better done one-on-one than it is by their suggesting or instructing that a vote for a womanizing sex pervert is a better choice for public office than a vote for a person suggesting allowing freedom of conscience.
Henry George
2 years 8 months ago
Roy, Would it amaze and bother you if your Pastor in Nazi Germany told you that you cannot support/serve the Nazi Government and in no way can you participate in the extermination of peoples ? Yes, God gave us Free Will, but you are not free to use it without moral consequences. Pro-Choice means you allow women to have abortions, abortions are the killing of innocent babes. We have laws against Murder, Drunk Driving, Kidnapping - all those acts are carried out with a free will - does that excuse them because the person was exercising their conscience ?
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
Roy - to use your word, dense, your idea that Catholics should not stand for a law against criminally immoral acts because they infringe on one's God-given free will is truly bizarre. You would have to oppose all laws against murder of any kind. As Pope Francis just reiterated on this Sunday, abortion is a "horrendous crime" AND a "very grave sin." Here is his full quote:“I was thinking on the attitude of sending the kids back before they’re born, this horrendous crime, they send them back because it’s better like that, because it’s more comfortable, it’s a great responsibility- a very grave sin,” https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2016/11/20/pope-francis-calls-abortion-horrendous-crime-grave-sin/
John Hess
2 years 8 months ago
I have respect for clergy who incidentally just happen to be political partisans, but I have only distain for political partisans who just happen to be clergy. Our priests and bishops have to remember the difference.
Jim McCrea
2 years 8 months ago
Pastors and other clergy who use the pulpit for partisan politics ... of any kind .... should suffer the financial consequences of a loss of the tax deductibility of contributions to their churches.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 8 months ago
That's it. Go after the poor box. That will teach 'em how to be Christian.
Dena Sonneborn
2 years 8 months ago
Nearly all of the money raised in the Sunday collections goes to fund the activities of the parish. I go to a fairly large church and of our 2.5 million annual budget, only 500,000 goes to "ministries". And the primary "ministry" is the religious education program. Our parish does have a small emergency fund that is maintained for people who need emergency assistance, but the primary job of the social justice director is simply to provide those people with contacts at other local charities including catholic charities. There is very little "helping the poor" that comes from any Sunday collection in any Parish (or any other church regardless of the denomination). Most of the helping of the poor comes from direct contributions to Catholic Charities. So taxing churches as institutions might lower the amount collected to maintain buildings and pay salaries, but won't impact the poor at all since none of that money actually goes to the poor.
L J
2 years 7 months ago
The US Catholic Church provides more charitable support than any other nongovernmental organization. "OF ALL the organisations that serve America’s poor, few do more good work than the Catholic church" http://www.economist.com/node/21560536 Defund the Church and then you and your online friends will have to care for the sick, the poor, prisoners, immigrants, homeless, orphans, abused, et al. So be honest: you know very well that you and your friends wont pony up the cash to do that. Stop the animus against the Church
Mary Emmick
2 years 7 months ago
I think the USCCB wanted to woo the wealthier Repubican vote this election and of course used the tried and true abortion issue and it worked. We got the monster Trump.
Sue Hayes
2 years 8 months ago
I am still baffled at how many Catholics will put up with all sorts of ugliness (xenophobia, misogyny, bigotry, racism, conspicuous consumption and down right greed, arrogance, war-mongering, hate, shredding of our social safety net, never get that life issues form a single piece, a garment if you will...and abortion, ugly and horrid as it is, goes hand in hand with other hideous violations of the life ethic. No sincere Catholic could possibly think that it was ok to vote for Donald Trump, and if your priest or bishop told you to, he should be ashamed of himself.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
I was shocked too. But, then again, I was amazed at how many feminists looked the other way after it was proven that Bill Clinton was a sex predator. And he is now even more popular and his victims are ridiculed and shunned.
Ray Porter
2 years 8 months ago
“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38 New American Standard Bible “Separation of Church and State” is nowhere found in the Constitution or any other founding legislation. The founding fathers never envisioned the bizarre restrictions on religion exacted today. Any approach that essentially tolerates abortion and euthanasia or puts these issues on a par with others, not only betrays the beautiful vision of the Church’s social teaching, but also weakens the credibility of the Church’s witness in our society,” Archbishop Gomez wrote. There is “no solid foundation to defend anyone’s rights” if the unborn, sick, and elderly have no right to live." “How can we claim to speak for the marginalized and disenfranchised, if we are allowing millions of innocent children to be killed each year in the womb?” “If we cannot justify caring for the weakest and most innocent of God’s creatures, how can we call our society to resist the excesses of nationalism and militarism or confront global poverty or protect our common home in creation. The archbishop says it's "a mistaken idea that all issues are morally equivalent". The taking of innocent life rises above the "seamless garment".
DANIEL VANBELLEGHEM
2 years 8 months ago
we need more comments/reporting like this. thanks Michael!
Jim McCrea
2 years 7 months ago
What I read hear is that, if I can't get a tax deduction for my contribution to "the church," then I won't make it. Great Churchianity, this attitude!
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
The money only goes half as far if it is post tax. Like Catholic schools. One can only support them after 1) paying for the secular (often alt-left) schools through property taxes 2) then for the Catholic schools. Amazingly, paying twice is still a better ROI. Better to have all religions free to promote their beliefs, even when they encroach on political events. Free speech without a tax penalty is the better way.
Mary Emmick
2 years 7 months ago
We ignore Pope Francis' words and go our own way in the U.S. Church....at our own peril. If indeed we strive to be more of an inclusive Church we certainly would not have voted for Trump. At the root of the USCCB's messages to vote against Clinton I think was the fact that there was a real fear to the bishops that an intelli- gent competent woman could be president of the United States.
Joan Hill
2 years 7 months ago
It is now 10 days since the last comment. In the meantime Trump has hired a KKK supporter to be a close aide, and a white supremacist (Nazi) rally (which Trump disavowed) has hailed him. Have heard little from the bishops denouncing this. Meanwhile -- I cannot find the source -- I remember seeing a quote from Cardinal Ratzinger saying that Catholics were allowed to vote for a pro-choice candidate if they were notthrough voting for him/her because of the pro-choice stance, and if there were compelling reasons to do so. I also saw a number of thoughtful articles in Catholic periodicals walking Catholics through a varirty of "they're both bad" decisions. Hate hierarchy (with a few exceptions), but love Francis.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
While I'm not a Trump supporter, this comment is mostly false. He hasn't hired any KKK supporters (They have condemned both the KKK and repudiated David Duke and white supremacists, and AG candidate Sessions facilitated the prosecution of the KKK and the desegregation of Alabama schools) & has repudiated white supremacists. Meanwhile, there has been no repudiation by Obama or Clinton of the thousands of anti-Trump rioters in Portland and elsewhere. Also, 3 women have been appointed to top administrative positions (Haley, McFarland & DeVos). So, it would be very odd for any bishops to comment on any of this, except to ask for peace and throw their support behind immigrants, which they have. Here is Archbishop Chaput on this - probably the most comprehensive response to date. http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20161120_Commentary__After_election__decency_is_the_right_place_to_start.html.
Egberto Bermudez
2 years 7 months ago
The article mentions the USCCB concerns about maintaining the tax-exempt status of churches and nonprofit organizations as well what cannon law forbids, nevertheless, the most important reason is omitted, that is, fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel. Things that Belong to Caesar and Those that Belong to God Matthew 22: 19-22 Show me the money you pay the tax with.' They handed him a denarius, 20 and he said, 'Whose portrait is this? Whose title?' 21 They replied, 'Caesar's.' Then he said to them, 'Very well, pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and God what belongs to God.' 22 When they heard this they were amazed; they left him alone and went away. It is clear that for Jesus, there are things that belong to Caesar, about which Catholics could very well disagree and have different opinions and support different programs. This is the reason why the Catholic Church forbids the clergy to be involved in party politics because this would be clericalism pure and simple; because Jesus is not proposing a theocracy. But there are also things that belong to God that "should not be subject to human government." This is what Pope Francis states about clericalism: “We cannot reflect on the theme of the laity while ignoring one of the greatest distortions […] — clericalism. This approach not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people. Clericalism leads to homologization of the laity; treating the laity as “representative” limits the diverse initiatives and efforts and, dare I say, the necessary boldness to enable the Good News of the Gospel to be brought to all areas of the social and above all political sphere. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160319_pont-comm-america-latina.html Yes, Pope Francis, as teacher of faith and morals, has discussed many issues: defense of the unborn life, religious liberty, poverty, immigration, health care, the environment, the importance of building bridges and not walls, etc. Nevertheless, his most direct and relevant advice for the US election was: “The people are sovereign. I will only say: Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pope-francis-election-advice_us_57f1... However, now it is time to move on and come together to support anything that enhances human dignity and progress and fiercely oppose anything that diminishes and destroys it. Perhaps, an excellent starting point could be to persuade the newly elected Administration and Congress to pass Comprehensive and Humane Immigration Reform.
Mauricio Cortes
2 years 7 months ago

With all due respect, it is appalling to see case after case of interference by the clergy with governmental issues (remember Jesus decree on God vs Caesar). The obsession of some clergy with abortion blinds them from other major God's decrees -- free will (Genesis). Even Mary had free will when she accepted being Jesus's mother. It is up to the mother (not because of her body as many point out), instead it is nobody's business (government, clergy, etc) should interfere with this decision and her own conscience (and free will). Thanks to Mr Kaine, I finally saw the light - clergy should not use their energy to change Caesar's law, but should focus on the women and their free will. Once the clergy understands this subtle point, it can work towards an abortion-free society. Changing Roe vs Wade is the simplistic approach, the hard work is to convince (not force),men and women that abortion is wrong. We should not be afraid of the hard work, but I am afraid of what is coming in these four years.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
Mauricio - what on earth are you arguing for? That all people who wish to do anything wrong should be allowed to because they must be able to act out their free wills? Does this go for murder, child abuse, theft, or any number of crimes, including crucifixion in your last example? Mr. Kaine never meant anything of the sort regarding free will. All laws constrain our choices and he is an exponent of many laws (as all rational people except absolute anarchists are). The key question is who should be protected by the law & does the unborn deserve protection? Before you suggest some hard work, you need to do some clear thinking?
Egberto Bermudez
2 years 7 months ago
Thank you Mr. O’Leary for clarifying things for Mauricio. Yes, there are “things that belong to Caesar” but there are also “things that belong to God,” that should be of concern to everybody: clergy and laity alike. These would be what our Founding Fathers called “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Or our “Unalienable” rights. In other words, our basic human rights do not come from the government but from God. The fact that the clergy should not hold political office nor get involved in party politics doesn’t forbid them to talk about issue of life, religious liberty, or any other issue that is related to the basic dignity of the human person. Also, we, the laity, have the obligation to form our consciences. In addition, I don’t think that Pope Francis is an obsessed cleric when he states:” “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”(“The Joy of the Gospel” 213)
Jim McCrea
2 years 7 months ago
"Sometimes a mother just has to die with her baby." The women of the world can be very thankful that THIS dreadful male decided to forego matrimony and has dedicated his life to preaching the gospel. He is one disgusting human being!
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
Jim - In war, is it a correct statement to say that "sometimes a father or mother has to die for his/her children"? Is there ever an obligation for self-sacrifice? Is it ever the only moral choice? In any case, I think you are basing your outrage on a hearsay comment claimed somewhere else. Do you have any idea who you are hating? Name, Parish, State? Context?
Tim O'Leary
2 years 7 months ago
Amusing to see the excuses and fawning over Fidel Castro (on another article on this site) juxtaposed with the outrage below for any priest who might have thought Trump the lesser of two evils.

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