An Open Letter to the US Catholic Bishops

Your Excellencies and Graces,

As you know, we are in the midst of an election season here in the United States; on November 8, 2016, we will elect a new President.  With all due respect to former Governor Johnson of the Libertarian Party, the two primary choices we are presented with are Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  It is my view, and I am not alone in this opinion, that this choice represents a monumental turning point in the history of the United States, one that will have profound consequences for not just our country, but for the world.

It is with this in mind that I write this open letter to us, as a Catholic and a US citizen deeply concerned with the fate of my Church, my country, and my world.  My aims are modest.  I am not asking you to directly weigh in on the election, as that would be unwise of you, even improper.  Nor am I asking you to speak out against the overt racism exhibited by Donald Trump and his supporters during this campaign—racism directed in large part at Latinos/Latinas, who by and large are fellow Catholics.  Nor am I asking you to remind the other members of your flock that they too were once despised immigrants in this land, indistinguishable from the targets of Trump’s attacks except in time.  Nor I am asking you to further remind members of your flock that we were once persecuted and demonized on account of our religious faith in this country, and that we have an obligation not to pass that discrimination on to another religious minority, in this case Muslim Americans.  You should do these three things in this election season, in my judgment, but as I said my aims in this letter are more modest than that.

No, I want to talk about Tim Kaine.

Senator Tim Kaine is Hillary Clinton’s nominee for the Vice Presidency.  He is liked and respected by members of both parties. He is by all accounts a good and decent man and a committed Catholic.  He took a year off from Harvard Law School to work with the poor in Central America.  He has advocated on behalf of our Latino brothers and Latina sisters.  He has talked quite openly about the role his faith plays in his life and in his political decision-making.

And this is what has me worried.  You see, this is the fourth election cycle in a row that a Catholic has been on the ticket for the Democratic Party—John Kerry in 2004, Joe Biden in 2008 and 2012.  And in those previous three election cycles, some of your members have tried to, frankly, knee-cap the Catholic candidates.  And this knee-capping achieved some measure of success, especially with regard to Kerry in ’04.  Your justification for this move has been primarily your zero-tolerance approach to the abortion issue, and lately with regard to LGBT issues.  Whatever the reason, you have been particularly hard on Democratic Catholic politicians who have tried to balance their faith with their legal and political principles, while giving Republican politicians (such as Vice Presidential candidate and current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) a pass for their lack of fidelity to Catholic teaching on social justice questions.

I am not here to re-litigate your actions in ’04 or ’08 or ’12.  I am here to ask you directly to stand down with regard to Senator Kaine.  If you cannot bring yourself to implicitly criticize the Trump campaign for its racism and bigotry and anger and fear-mongering, then I am asking you to stay silent.  Please, do not do or say anything that could be perceived as giving support or encouragement to those, especially white Catholics, who might be inclined to vote for Trump by criticizing Senator Kaine.  I understand that you cannot directly control everyone who presumes to speak on behalf of the Church.  But among your ranks, I ask that you stay silent.

I ask this because I think we are standing on the edge, staring into the abyss.  I believe, and I am not alone in this, that we are in danger of walking down the path of darkness that Europe walked in the 1930s.  In light of this reality, if I may be blunt, we don’t have time to indulge in the obsessions of some (perhaps many) of your number with the so-called “pelvic issues.”  We must, and I do not believe I am being alarmist or hyperbolic in saying this, save democracy from a proto-fascist demagogue.  We must insure the freedom and dignity of a large segment of our own people who happen to have a Latino last name.  That is what is important right now.  If you want to continue your fight on the abortion issue or the contraceptive mandate or LGBT issues, save it for November 9th.

Because, if you don’t, and if Trump wins, you will be partially responsible for whatever happens after that.  You will have shown that all of your talk, and by extension the Church’s talk, about social justice and human dignity is utterly empty and hollow.  You will have proven that you are Republican Party operatives in mitres (as some of your number openly admit).  You will have gone the way of most (though, not all) of your new-found evangelical friends who have meekly rolled over and taken the Mark of Trump.  You will have betrayed all of the people, including people like Senator Kaine, who have tried their best live out the faith as they understand it, even when it was not politically expedient to do so, in favor of a man who is openly contemptuous of every value that Christianity stands for.  Truthfully, you will forever tarnish your reputation, and the reputation of the Catholic Church in this country.

I believe the time of testing is here for those of us in the United States.  It is a time of testing for us who will vote and rally and campaign this fall, but it is a time of testing for you as well.  History will judge you for what you do in the coming weeks, and if I may be so bold, I think the Lord will as well.  I’m not asking you to fix the problem.  I am just asking you not to make it harder for us to solve it.  Stand down.

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