Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and maybe Michigan have turned out to be among the very most important states in this year’s presidential election. These states have several things in common, one of which is a large Catholic population. Catholics represent approximately 18 percent of the population in Ohio, 29.5 percent in Wisconsin, 28.5 in Pennsylvania, and 22 percent in Michigan.
A Columbus Dispatch poll gives Romney a 55 to 44 lead among Catholics in Ohio. But according to John Fund, the Romney campaign is concerned that, at the last minute when it’s too late to call them out, Obama supporters will launch an underground attack designed to drive a wedge between potential Republican Catholic voters and their candidate over the Mormon issue. Indeed, Fund points to anecdotal evidence of such an underground attack in Ohio. No one should be surprised if it accelerates in Ohio and spreads to other states with large Catholic populations that have recently have emerged as key battlegrounds.
The Obama campaign, though, has its own worries when it comes to the Catholic vote, and they do not involve underground attacks. Some Catholc leaders have publicly warned parishioners about the religous implications of a vote for Obama.
For example, Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky ordered priests to read a letter to parishioners on the Sunday before the presidential election (i.e., today), explaining that politicians who support abortion rights also reject Jesus. “By virtue of your vow of obedience to me as your Bishop, I require that this letter be personally read by each celebrating priest at each Weekend Mass,” Jenky wrote in a letter circulated to clergy in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.
The letter itself cautions parishioners that Obama and a majority of U.S. senators will not reconsider the mandate that would require employers, including religious groups, to provide free birth control coverage in their health care plans. “This assault upon our religious freedom is simply without precedent in the American political and legal system,” Jenky wrote. He added:
Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin.
Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki has offered a commentary on the Democratic and Republican parties’ platforms that he said wasn’t intended as instruction, but guidance. Of the Democratic platform he said, “There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils.” (emphasis added) Paprocki advised that “a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” (emphasis added)
Rockford Diocese, Vicar General Eric Barr has also criticized the president, comparing his support of religious freedom in Muslim countries to his lack of support for Catholic liberty. Barr complained:
Meanwhile, Obamacare marches on, steamrolling Catholic morality and the First Amendment under its weight. How can that be tolerated by citizens? Nothing justifies this peculiar and unreal stance of the president.
These three Catholic leaders happen to come from Illinois. However, it’s not unlikely that word of their views has spread to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and it’s possible that some Catholic leaders in these states have expressed similar sentiments. I’m neither a Catholic nor a theologian, but the views of Jenky and Paprocki seem to follow logically from major tenets of the Catholic faith, to the extent one take them seriously.
As John Fund points out, observant Catholics and white Catholics lean Republican while Latino Catholics and nominal Catholics lean Democratic. This means that a key to victory in this election may be which group of Catholics shows up in bigger numbers on Election Day. Obamacare with its assault on religious freedom would seem to provide observant Catholics with a very good reason to show up and vote for Romney — one that should trump the Mormon question.