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For many Catholics, endorsements from the pulpit don’t work

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila (left) joked with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at a press conference in Denver. An opinion piece by Aquila appeared in The Pilot. RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post/AP/file

I have a habit when I walk into church for the 7 o’clock Mass on Sunday morning of grabbing the weekly parish bulletin that, really, you’re supposed to take on your way out.

But if the homily is dull, I read the thing to keep track of babies being baptized, couples preparing for marriage, the sick who need prayers, and the upcoming spaghetti fund-raiser.

On Sunday, there was this startling message: I don’t like either presidential candidate. But vote for Trump!

You had to read between the lines, but, believe me, the message was unmistakable. The candidates were identified only by their party affiliation. The opinion piece by Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, reprinted from the archdiocesan newspaper The Pilot, was blunt.


Hillary Clinton supports abortion rights. Donald Trump opposes abortion. And that is that.

“The right to life is the most important fundamental right, since life is necessary for any of the other rights to matter,’’ Aquila wrote, words some local pastors helpfully reprinted, making it the centerpiece of their weekly message to parishioners. “There are some issues that can legitimately be debated by Christians, such as which policies are more effective in caring for the poor, but the direct killing of innocent human life must be opposed at all times by every follower of Jesus Christ. There are no legitimate exceptions to this teaching.’’

Can it possibly be my church’s position that a candidate who talks glibly about sexually assaulting women, who makes fun of the disabled, who belittles the parents of a soldier who died fighting for our country should be our president solely because he now opposes abortion?

Trump, who has repeatedly contradicted himself on the abortion issue, is a xenophobe — a thrice-married man who wants to close our borders to Muslims, deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, and encourages Russia to mess with our elections. He’s our man?


No. He isn’t. Look, I plead guilty to being a cafeteria Catholic. I am the product of a parochial school, once served on my parish council, and have a 97-year-old aunt who lives in a convent in Leominster. I grew up in a home in which a framed photo of John F. Kennedy shared space on the living room wall with the crucifix.

But my adherence to church orthodoxy is spotty. I’m in good company.

American Catholics have abandoned church teachings on a broad swath of social issues. A Pew Research Center survey this year found 54 percent of US Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Other surveys show most Catholics support gay marriage. Contraception? Premarital sex? Please.

“The bishops are simply not being listened to on these issues,’’ the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, told me.

Reese noted that policies embraced by American bishops say Catholics cannot support a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, “if the voter’s intent is to support that position.’’ However, the bishops also say a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position “may reasonably decide to vote for the candidate for other morally grave reasons.’’

In other words, if you believe in a candidate who will embrace robust social programs, back an increase in the minimum wage, and provide money for health care that will help reduce abortion you can — in good conscience — support that candidate over an odious choice like Trump.


“Even though Republicans claim to be the pro-life party,” Reese said, “you can argue that the Democrats with their programs will actually reduce the number of abortions.’’

Surveys show a solid majority of Catholics don’t want political endorsements from the pulpit.

They want a church that helps the poor, visits the sick, and works for social justice — positions that Pope Francis and Cardinal Sean O’Malley have embraced.

They should spread that message to the people who work for them.

Trump for president? Holy Mother of God.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FarragherTom.