Washington D.C., Sep 4, 2020 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- The Catholic voter outreach of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has launched its 2020 efforts, telling Catholics that Biden’s priorities align with those of Pope Francis, despite the nominee’s support for federal funding of abortions.
On Thursday night, “Catholics for Biden” held its official online launch. Speakers at the event included Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sister Simone Campbell, and the former head of the politics department at The Catholic University of America, Dr. Stephen Schneck, who said in 2012 that concerns of the U.S. bishops about the HHS birth control mandate were “overblown.”
Durbin, a U.S. Senator since 1997, was in 2004 prohibited from receiving Holy Communion in his home Diocese of Springfield in Illinois; in 2018, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield said that prohibition remains in effect.
Speakers urged Catholics not to be single-issue voters on abortion, and challenged President Trump’s pro-life record while in office.
Biden has pledged to support taxpayer-funded abortion and codify legal abortion in law. His “public option” health care plan would also cover elective abortions. The National Abortion Rights Action League has endorsed his candidacy, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund said they were “thrilled” at his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate.
After the call, organizers promoted an online quiz, “Are you a Pope Francis Voter?” that tells voters “Donald Trump rejects the vast majority of Catholic Social Teaching,” while claiming that Biden shares the “Catholic priorities” of “Pope Francis.”
The quiz tells voters that Biden’s policies will protect people in poverty, the elderly, and migrants and reject racism, and that “you must prioritize these sacred issues in the voting booth this November.”
The U.S. bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” describes abortion as a “preeminent” threat to human life. The document acknowledges many attacks against human dignity, while also warning against a false “moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity.”
However, voting material promoted by Catholics for Biden urges voters to regard other issues as equal in priority to abortion. It discusses the idea of a “Pope Francis Voter” as someone who considers racism, poverty, migration and healthcare as “sacred issues” to be prioritized in the voting booth.
In his 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis said that all human life, born and unborn, is sacred.
The pope said that “defence of the innocent unborn” must be “clear, firm and passionate,” adding that “[e]qually sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
Citing the words “equally sacred”—where Pope Francis refers to human life itself— a 2020 election scorecard promoted by Catholics for Biden outlines “Equally Sacred Priorities” that equate abortion with a number of other issues in importance.
“In his writing and speaking, Pope Francis makes it clear: abortion is not the only issue that matters,” the scorecard states, adding that it would compare the stances of Trump and Biden on “areas Pope Francis names as ‘equally sacred’ to the defense of the unborn.”
The scorecard was produced by Network, the social justice lobby led by Sister Simone Campbell, who led a prayer at the 2020 Democratic National Convention and endorsed Biden at Thursday night’s event.
In a recent interview with CNA, Campbell was asked if her organization opposes legal abortion. “That is not our issue. That is not it. It is above my pay grade,” she responded.
The scorecard notes that Trump, and not Biden, is seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, but adds that Biden, and not Trump, would increase support for pregnant women and fight maternal mortality.
It then covers other issues, claiming that Biden “[s]upports families in the tax code;” opposes racism and xenophobia, the death penalty, and “discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and disabled people;” and would protect housing assistance, health care benefits, the right to organize, and humane treatment of immigrants.
Religious freedom is not mentioned in the voter materials. Biden has said that he would repeal new religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate, which had granted relief to Catholic organizations including the Little Sisters of the Poor. If the exemptions are repealed, the sisters could once again have to appear in court.
Biden has also supported the Equality Act, which would create broad anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity that the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned would threaten religious freedom.
Pope Francis has made forceful denunciations of abortion. He has likened it to “hiring a hitman,” and has condemned selective abortion of the disabled as “the same as the Nazis to maintain the purity of the race, but with white gloves.”
In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis wrote that “this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right.”
Patrick Carolan, Catholic outreach director of Vote Common Good, a group campaigning for Biden, told CNA that Thursday’s event was meant to galvanize Biden’s Catholic support and to reach undecided voters.
Carolan told CNA that “there’s probably about 20% of the Catholic vote that’s still in play,” especially in several key states that Trump narrowly won in 2016.
“I think there’s a lot of, really, dissatisfaction, a lot of buyers’ remorse among Catholics,” he said of Trump voters, especially white Catholics, he added.
“A lot of it is with white Catholic women, and a lot of that is over the feeling of disgust over the separation of children and seeing pictures of children in cages,” he said. “And if you’re a mother, you can’t see that and think that that’s okay. And I know a lot of white Catholic women who saw those pictures and saw what was happening there and it just disgusted them, and they couldn’t vote for somebody who supported that.”
On Thursday, before the “Catholics for Biden” launch, the group “Catholics for Trump” attacked Biden’s record on abortion and religious freedom.
The Trump campaign’s Catholic voter outreach began with its online launch in April, which emphasized Trump’s efforts to appoint federal judges who were not “activist,” his administration’s pro-life policies and measures to protect religious freedom, and his record on the economy and on the coronavirus pandemic—which has killed more than 180,000 Americans.
Trump targeted pro-life voters this week, sending a letter to pro-life leaders outlining his policy priorities for his second term. The letter contained some of the same promises he made to pro-life voters in 2016.
Trump’s 2020 letter promises to build upon “our transformation of the federal judiciary” with judges who will “not legislate an abortion agenda from the bench.”
He also promised to “overcome Democratic filibusters in Congress to pass and finally sign into law” a 20-week abortion ban. He pledged to sign legislation protecting infant abortion survivors and blocking all taxpayer funding of abortion providers, and promised to “fully defund the abortion industry” of taxpayer dollars.