Bishop McElroy addresses SMC community, invites audience to vote faithfully
Genevieve Coleman | Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Saint Mary’s hosted Bishop Robert McElroy who spoke in a lecture titled “Voting as an Authentic Disciple” Tuesday evening — a talk centered around voting and considering political issues as Catholic voters. The event was sponsored by Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry, the Office for Civic and Social Engagement, the Center for Spirituality and Notre Dame Campus Ministry.
To begin the talk, Saint Mary’s campus minister Fr. Steve Newton introduced College President Katie Conboy who spoke about the importance of having honest conversations about voting, especially as a part of Saint Mary’s mission.
“Events like this one are so important as we enter the final weeks before the election,” Conboy said. “These events serve as a great reminder, not only of Saint Mary’s mission to promote a life of social responsibility but also of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and their tireless work for social justice.”
Conboy then welcomed McElroy, the author of two books on religion’s place in civic discourse and several articles about Catholic social teaching, who currently serves in the Diocese of San Diego.
McElroy acknowledged how Catholic voters can feel isolated from a divisive two-party system that does not accept all parts of Church teaching.
“The faithful Catholic voter is automatically homeless in our political world, never feeling at peace with the specific constellations that her party has chosen to accept and certainly never feeling at peace with the partisan tribalism in both Democratic and Republican cultures that forms our politics and our nation,” he said.
McElroy said voters must evaluate candidates based on the values found in Catholic social teaching. While some voters believe there is only one central issue in the 2020 election cycle, like abortion, climate change or racial discrimination, McElroy argued that one issue does not define how to vote correctly.
“It falls on the faithful Catholics in their own conscience to bring Catholic social teaching in its entirety to bear on their voting choices to us deeply and without partisanship or self-interest … There is no single issue, which in Catholic teaching constitutes a ‘magic bullet’ that determines a unitary option for faith-filled voting in 2020,” McElroy said.
McElroy believes voting requires reflection on which candidates will further Catholic social teaching.
“Voting for candidates ultimately involves choosing a candidate for public office, not a stance, nor a specific teaching of the Church,” he said. “And for this reason, faithful voting involves careful consideration of the specific ability of a particular candidate to actually advance the common core [of Catholic beliefs] and in making this assessment leadership, competence and character all come into play, particularly in the election of a president.”
Speaking specifically on candidate character, McElroy said the personal qualities of leaders hold great importance, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic will be wrenching at every dimension of our national life for a long time to come,” he said. “The personal qualities of our president and congressional leadership will greatly impact whether these coming years will be a time of increased suffering and division or a time of healing and unity.”
McElroy also condemned those who deny candidates’ Catholic identity because of their stance on specific political issues.
“Being Catholic means trying to transform the world by the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “To reduce that magnificent multi-dimensional gift of God’s love to a single question of public policy is repugnant and should have no place in public discourse. In the end, it is the candidate on the ballot, not a specific issue.”
When discerning which candidates to cast their ballot for, McElroy said Catholic voters should exercise the use of the virtue prudence.
“It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience and Catholic social teaching,” he said. “Prudence is called the charioteer of the virtues. It keeps the virtues all in balance and it provides insights of moral perspectives for the disciples confronting ethically complex problems.”
As long as prudence and prayerful consideration is used in voters’ decisions, McElroy states it is legitimate for Catholics to re-elect President Donald Trump or vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.
“This is a decision which falls rightfully and fully to the individual and informed conscience of believers and — if exercised in this manner — will be a moment of grace for the voter and for our nation rebuilding our political culture,” he said.
McElroy said voters will not only be responsible for voting this year but also for looking into solutions to troubling national political behavior and culture .
“The primary responsibility of the faithful citizen is to exercise their right to vote having discerned in their conscience the choices presented to them in light of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church,” he said. “This year, there will be an additional and similarly paramount responsibility of faithful citizens which will occur after the election, in the imperative to transform and rebuild our broken political culture.”
To fix the country’s flawed political culture, McElroy spoke about the importance of the virtues of compassion, solidarity, and dialogue, and said compassion is critical to tending to human suffering.
“We must follow the example of the Good Samaritan who had no connection of faith or blood to the beaten man by the side of [the] road who risked his own life by ministering to him when the robbers might still have been near and who only saw human suffering and that was enough,” he said.
McElroy said solidarity is part of putting others before yourself in a world where every individual is connected to one another.
“It means continual willingness to place the common good before our own self-interest,” he said. “It means recognizing the bonds which ties us to every man and woman and child in our own society and to the world as a whole.”
For McElroy, dialogue is an issue that can only be fixed with patience and understanding of other’s perceptive.
“We have parallel monologues seeking not understanding and encounter, but melody to defend our opinions, reinforce our prejudices and convince ourselves that we have been right,” he said. “All redemption of our political culture cannot begin until a genuine toleration of and thirst for dialogue enters back into the public square. The depth of our current national crisis will not be addressed on a substance of level, unless we as a society engage more deeply, honestly and openly with those whom we disagree on important questions of culture, economics, partisanship and religious beliefs.”
At the conclusion of his lecture, McElroy took questions from his virtual audience. In response to a question about the complicated process of voting, McElroy had a simple solution.
“One way to simplify [voting] is when you’re sitting down to fill out your ballot, think of Jesus being there by your side as you go down the ballot,” he said. “Just think to him being there, watching you as you do it and think to yourself, ‘In the end, what I really think Jesus would want me to do in this case?’ and if you do that authentically, that’s a great way to vote.”