Editorial: Post-election 2016, a call to action for Catholics

When Donald Trump gave his victory speech Wednesday morning after being elected president of the United States, he stated: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

It’s a sentiment that clearly resonated with many who rallied behind Trump and his promise to “make America great again.” These “forgotten” went to the polls determined to make their voices heard, including those hit hard by the economic recession and who were left out of the recovery; those, particularly in the Rust Belt, affected by jobs moving abroad; those who have faced years of stagnant wages; those who have seen drug addiction ravage their communities and curtail the future of their young people; those who, during the last administration, found themselves swept along in a sea of social decisions that they believed to be morally objectionable; and those who found themselves marginalized or discredited because of their religious beliefs or values. These are the people who propelled Donald Trump to the presidency, and many Catholics were among them.

But any call to lift up the forgotten must be applied consistently across our society and world. Pope Francis has called on the world to encounter and integrate the excluded and forgotten; he decries a “throwaway culture.” This culture, Francis says, is a culture of the ignored, the wounded and the weak. It is a culture that discards and discredits the unborn, the elderly, the immigrant, the sick, the poor, the underpaid, the undereducated and the refugee. It is a culture that pays little heed to caring for our planet, our common home.

It is the Church’s duty not only to care for, but to prioritize those forgotten and discarded ones on the margins. In an impassioned homily during a Mass with new cardinals at the Vatican in February 2015, Pope Francis urged the newly elevated Church leaders:

“…to serve the Church in such a way that Christians — edified by our witness — will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper — whether in body or soul — who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! … Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!”

This is not just a call for Church leaders but for each of us determined to live the Church’s mission in the world today. It also calls on our next president to realize that care of the “forgotten man” extends to many of the very people his campaign rhetoric scorned.

No political party will ever prioritize the fullness of our faith. But, by living out our faith in the public square and by addressing the needs of the forgotten and the discarded, Catholics can. Our hope is founded on human dignity and respect for all life.

This fall, Trump made a push for the Catholic vote. He assembled a team of Catholic advisers, and he issued multiple memos meant to woo Catholics into trusting him with their vote. In a letter sent to Gail Buckley, president of the Catholic Leadership Conference, in early October, Trump said that should he be elected president, he looks forward to working with Catholics and the Church on essential issues. In reference to matters such as religious liberty and the right to life, he said: “On the issues and policies of greatest concern to Catholics, the difference between myself and Hillary Clinton are stark. I will stand with Catholics and fight for you.” Trump also pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices “who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench.”

Catholics listened. According to early reporting by the Pew Research Center, Trump won the Catholic vote 52 percent to 45 percent. Now, it’s time for those who are trusting him to make sure he keeps those promises. Where Trump pledged to support issues that are important to Catholics, we must insist that he does so. Where his policies differ from the beliefs of the Church, such as on welcoming the stranger, we must challenge him to grow. Ours is a Church with a diverse range of beliefs that are not encapsulated only in the platform of either party.

This week, both Hillary Clinton and President Obama gave speeches appealing to Americans to remember that winning and losing are all parts of this great democratic experiment and, as Obama said, “we’re actually all on one team.”

Church leaders, too, have emphasized this as a time of coming together.

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In a statement, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said: “Now is the moment to move toward the responsibility of governing for the common good of all citizens. Let us not see each other in the divisive light of Democrat or Republican or any other political party, but rather, let us see the face of Christ in our neighbors, especially the suffering or those with whom we may disagree.”

Catholics have an important role to play in building this unity and in soothing the country’s discord. Those who are at peace with the results of this election are challenged to share that peace with others in a thoughtful, respectful and charitable way. Those who are upset by or uneasy with America’s decision are challenged to trust that God is in control and are reminded to cherish the opportunity each of us has to participate in the democratic process.

When a change in power comes along, one rarely knows what to expect. But, as people of faith, we Catholics can expect this: We can, and should, set the tone — a tone of magnanimity, charity, integrity and kindness, regardless of how we voted.

First things first, however, it’s time to take a deep breath and offer a short prayer of gratitude that the 2016 presidential campaign is actually over. But after the “Amen,” it’s time to get to work.

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor