How Catholics should be prepping to vote in 2012

Are we really entering into election season 2012 already? It is still 534 days from this issue date, but already the media are hunting out presidential hopefuls and trying to determine what the dominant story lines will be. 

For Catholics, one story line is predictable: That Catholics (at a quarter of the U.S. population) are the big swing vote; that the candidate who gets the majority of Catholics will win; and, most predictably, that Catholics are split between those for the “social issues” (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) and those for “social justice” (poverty reduction, concern for the environment, etc.). 

My bet is there is a lot more overlap between those two groups — especially among OSV Newsweekly readers — than pundits would find convenient for their hypotheses. It is plain wrong to assert that pro-life Catholics are callous to the needs of the poor; and it is equally wrong to suggest that Catholics who recycle religiously are callous to innocent human life in the womb. 

Nevertheless, the “justice-vs.-life” divide story line is so persistent that there must be at least a kernel of truth to it (though the story line may actually influence Catholics into thinking in those categories if they’re not careful to test it against real-life experience in their own families and par-ishes). 

In his news analysis this week of the budget debate roiling Washington, D.C., OSV contributing editor Russell Shaw makes an audacious appeal to “Catholics on both sides of the argument [to join] forces in tapping the full resources of Church teaching on human development and [apply] them to the political and economic debate.” 

The point is that Catholic social teaching is a vast treasury, united in the goal of true human development of, as Pope Benedict XVI says, “the whole man and every man.” 

Not that every Catholic imbued with the fullness of Catholic social teaching would come to the same conclusion on the best policy decision to achieve its goals.  

But there’s a danger there, too, in reducing the application of Catholic social teaching simply to subjective prudential judgment. Taken to an extreme, it betrays a certain intellectual cowardice. 

Fortuitously, I read a column by Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington about a retreat he is preparing for priests. His focus is on the need to preach the entire Gospel, or, in the words of St. Paul, “the whole counsel of God.” 

“It is true, we must exclude notions that stray from revealed doctrine, but within doctrine’s protective walls, it is necessary that we not shrink from proclaiming and appreciating the whole counsel of God,” Msgr. Pope said.