Panelists Address Catholicism, Politics, and the 2020 Election

Panelists at a Zoom event on Sept. 24 addressed issues surrounding the intersection of Catholic identity and political affiliation in light of the upcoming presidential election. The event, “Faith and Citizenship: Catholic Perspectives on American Politics,” was sponsored by the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, and the Church in the 21st Century Center.

Cathleen Kaveny, professor of theology and law at BC and BC Law School, who moderated the discussion, opened the event by asking the panel about the source of increasing polarization within the American public.

“The answer is you and me, I mean we are the causes of polarizations,” said Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., president and editor-in-chief of America Media. “These are the forces that are not happening simply to us—they are forces that we are participating in.”

Malone said that politicians and parties are beneficiaries of polarization, not the creators of it, and that as Americans have become more unwilling to listen to perspectives and ideas of others, the country has grown more divisive. 

“How many of us have stopped listening to the views of others?” asked Malone.

Rev. Sam Sawyer, S.J., executive editor and director of digital strategy at America Media, shifted the discussion to abortion, which he said has historically been polarizing. 

According to Malone, even though there are abortion and reproductive rights issues that anti-abortion and abortion-rights advocates agree upon, including the accessibility of financial and adoptive resources for expecting mothers, they often fail to compromise because of their “my-way or the highway” mentalities. 

Sawyer said that Americans are unable to compromise because they become too fixated on the debate of the morality of abortion itself.

“This hyper focus on the nature of the moral act has hijacked our discussion about actual practical ways to work against the prevalence of abortion in society,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer paralleled the thought process surrounding abortion to wider American voting behavior, arguing that Americans think of their vote as a total, infallible endorsement of a political party or candidate. 

“Right now, it seems like everyone is playing an all-or-nothing game—you’re in it for all the marbles, and your side is going to win the entire battle,” he said. “And that’s simply not the way American politics work.”

Sawyer said that it’s normal for Catholic voters to not agree with all the outcomes of their vote. He said that because voters did not will those outcomes, they should not feel formally responsible. 

The panelists agreed that Catholicism and politics are not mutually exclusive. Weber emphasized that Catholic voters should still find refuge in the church, even if their votes may go against what is considered the “Catholic vote.” The common conception—that voting Democrat or Republican corresponds to how Catholic someone is—is erroneous, according to Weber. 

“Sometimes it feels like we’re allowing politics to dictate who feels welcome in the home of the church,” Weber said.  

Though Catholic politicians used to be attacked for being “too Catholic,” Weber said, Catholics now accuse Catholic politicians of “not being Catholic enough,” citing Joe Biden as an example.

“Much of the criticism of his Catholic faith seems to be coming from his fellow Catholics, all along the political spectrum, many of whom feel that maybe he isn’t taking enough direction from the pope on whatever issue it is they feel strongly about,” Weber said. 

As elections draw nearer and Catholics continue to grapple with the magnitude of their vote, the panelists reminded Catholic voters that party affiliation does not determine the bonds within the Catholic community nor will it ostracize them from the church. 

“The source of our unity as a church is not a party political platform. It’s not our assent to a set of propositions, per se,” Malone said. “The source of our unity as a church, which is a metaphysical reality, is [the] life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

September 28, 2020