Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Kevin Christopher RoblesOctober 11, 2020
A young voter in Louisville, Ky., casts her ballot during the Kentucky primary election June 23, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Bryan Woolston, Reuters)

In November 2019, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a document meant to help American Catholics discern how to vote responsibly. It addressed a range of topics, among them immigration, racism and care for creation. It also included the following statement: “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”

When the bishops were drafting the document, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego made a pointed appeal to his fellow bishops to qualify the phrasing of that statement.

“In my own view, abortion is a preeminent issue for Catholics,” Bishop McElroy told Sebastian Gomes, an executive editor at America and host of its new podcast Voting Catholic. But, he was quick to add, it is “one of several.”

“My concern was that when you say abortion is the preeminent issue we face as a nation, you are setting up an election choice,” he said. According to Bishop McElroy, discerning whom to vote for as a faithful Catholic cannot be boiled down to a single issue and must instead focus on establishing and maintaining the common good.

“The common good is, in Catholic theology, the advancement of the whole series of issues in society which allow the fullest expression and enhancement and achievement of human life and dignity for all people in our society and in the world,” he explained. “To say that abortion is the preeminent issue in a particular political season is to reduce the common good, in effect, to one issue.”

“That’s a distortion of Catholic teaching,” he said. “In fact, the assertion that abortion is the preeminent issue in this political campaign for Catholics is itself a political statement, not a doctrinal one, because it is inevitably rooted in a political analysis of the situation.”

Instead, Bishop McElroy said, U.S. Catholics must assess the entire range of issues.

“To say that abortion is the preeminent issue in a particular political season is to reduce the common good, in effect, to one issue.”

“The analogy is because the issue of life is foundational,” he said, and because life is foundational, then the defense of innocent, unborn lives must be paramount.

“But,” he challenged, “the house itself and the foundation rest on the earth, and the earth is at stake in climate change and in the care of creation. And so you don’t have a house and you don’t have a foundation if you don’t have the earth. If you don’t attend to the coming catastrophes we are beginning to witness now in the winds and the fires and the hurricanes...there will be no Earth in terms of a habitable place for our humanity.”

Bishop McElroy implored voters to be “attentive to a comprehensive understanding of what our faith teaches us and what Catholic social teaching teaches us. It’s a bad thing to reduce that to any one issue or any small set of issues.”

Ultimately, the role of the church is to “bring us the proclamations of the Gospel,” he said, and not to make political determinations for the faithful. That responsibility, he explained, rests on a well-formed conscience.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “Catholic teaching is always that in your core of your heart, when you are just there with God, after you’ve listened to the teachings of the church, after you’ve listened to other issues.... You sit down and you pray and ask what is God calling you to do?

“If you’re doing that authentically, then your highest authority is conscience,” he said. “In Catholic teaching, not only can you follow your conscience, you must. It is sinful not to follow a well-formed conscience.”

To hear more from Bishop McElroy, including his discussion on political polarization and what he considers the preeminent issues U.S. Catholics face, be sure to listen to the final episode of Voting Catholic, a new podcast by America Media that helps Catholics discern how to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Google Podcasts

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

“Can we laugh at God?’ Pope Francis asked a group of comedians invited for an audience at the Vatican. “Of course, we can, just as we play and joke with the people we love.“
Pope FrancisJune 14, 2024
I am always going to be let down by humans, but never by the One who is fully human and fully divine.
Joe Hoover, S.J.June 13, 2024
Sea-Watch crew members help a migrant boarding a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea on July 23, 2022. African bishops are expressing pain at seeing young people migrate to lives of uncertainty. (CNS photo/Nora Bording, Sea-Watch handout via Reuters)
Both the United States and the European Union are experiencing a period when double-digit percentages of foreign-born people have been able to achieve legal residency.
Kevin ClarkeJune 13, 2024
The Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity released a study document on the role of the bishop of Rome and how that role is viewed by other Christian churches.
Gerard O’ConnellJune 13, 2024