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Bishop Johnston tells KC Catholics to vote for Trump, twisting Pope Francis’ intent

 Bishop Johnston tells KC Catholics to vote for Trump, twisting Pope Francis’ intent Last week, like thousands of other Roman Catholics in t...

 Bishop Johnston tells KC Catholics to vote for Trump, twisting Pope Francis’ intent

Last week, like thousands of other Roman Catholics in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, my wife and I received a how-to-vote letter from Bishop James Johnston. Without naming the presidential candidates — seemingly so as to avoid the appearance of engaging in prohibited political activity and thereby jeopardizing the diocese’s tax exempt status — Johnston makes it clear that as a moral imperative, we should all vote to reelect President Donald Trump. As a lifelong practicing Catholic with 19 years of education in Catholic schools and universities, and as someone who is familiar with Catholic social teachings, I am both disappointed and deeply offended.

After reminding us that voting is a moral act requiring a well-informed conscience, our bishop proceeds to dictate exactly where such conscience should lead. He instructs us that: “A Catholic voter would do well to weigh a candidate’s position on each of (the) essential God-given rights that government has a duty to protect, beginning with the right to life.”

The bishop goes on to encourage us to study carefully the candidates’ respective platforms “on critical life issues such as abortion, destructive research on human embryos, euthanasia and assisted suicide, the appointment of judges and Supreme Court justices and conscience rights.”

In what may readily be viewed as disingenuous, Bishop Johnston goes so far as to cite Pope Francis as support for his directives. According to the bishop, the pope told him personally that “the right to life for the unborn child is the preeminent issue because it is fundamental.” These undocumented comments attributed to Francis are in stark contrast to the pope’s written guidance to the world. In his 2018 “Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete Et Exsultate,” or “On the Call To Holiness In Today’s World,” Francis is very clear on the subject.

In paragraph 101, he states: “The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others” as if “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause. … Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate. … Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm.”

Lest there be any doubt that the pope’s view of single-issue voting is the polar opposite of that foisted on area Catholics by Johnston, we need look no further than paragraph 102 of Francis’ writing. Particularly relevant to this election, the pope tells us:

“We often hear it said that … the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.”

Johnston’s not-so-subtle endorsement of Trump can have but one objective: to mislead area Catholics into believing that a vote for Trump is a moral imperative dictated by Catholic Church teaching and by the pope himself. The bishop is wrong on all counts. His support for the current president seems to be based only on Trump’s supposed late conversion in 2015 from pro-choice to pro-life when seeking the Republican Party’s nomination, and his Supreme Court nominations based solely on that criterion.

The bishop ignores other issues that the pope says are equally sacred, such as immigration and immigrant rights, health care and the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and addressing the devastating and ever-worsening effects of climate change (an issue that Francis, in line with the world’s scientific community, describes as catastrophic and threatening the very survival of the planet, but which Trump dismisses as a hoax).

Bishop Johnston, apparently rejecting Pope Francis’s specific admonition, considers these as lesser issues and instructs us Catholics to do likewise. We need not consider ourselves bound to do so.


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