New Cleveland Bishop Says Abortion Should be "Paramount" Concern for Catholic Voters

New Cleveland Bishop Says Abortion Should be "Paramount" Concern for Catholic Voters
Cleveland Catholic Diocese

In an utterly wishy-washy pre-election letter to the region's 700,000 Catholics, newly installed Cleveland Bishop Edward Malesic invited his flock to prepare their consciences before casting their ballots, and in doing so, to make abortion their top priority. 

While he acknowledged that neither President Donald Trump nor Democratic challenger Joe Biden reflected "the complete breadth" of Catholic moral teaching, he said it was Catholics' "solemn duty" to vote for the candidate who best embodies the ideals of the faith.

Malesic might have made a splash by taking this preface to its logical conclusion and stating the obvious: that President Trump is a moral abomination; that he is surely one of the six or eight most repellant humans alive; that apart from his personal heinousness, he has presided over policies that vastly increase human misery and the likelihood of civilization's collapse; that he should be disqualified instantly as a legitimate option by any person of faith.

Instead, Malesic trotted out the old abortion card. He hastened to make clear that Catholicism was not a "single-issue" church, and that Catholic social teaching didn't particularly care for other "intrinsically evil" acts either: things like racism and "subjecting workers and the poor to subhuman conditions."  But all human rights, Malesic clarified, flowed from a fundamental right to life, and with that in mind, Catholics should make abortion their "paramount consideration" when voting for the President.

Well, that's an endorsement of Donald Trump. And it's not only repulsive coming from a faith leader, but frankly shocking coming from a Catholic one. Joe Biden, after all, is a practicing Catholic who for decades was an ardent pro-lifer. Biden famously said in 1974 that women "don't have the sole right to say what should happen to their bodies," and his record on reproductive justice is dismal, from a left perspective. He adopted a pro-choice position only recently and was still supporting the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funding for abortions, in 2019.

Biden's official pro-choice political stance but pro-life vibe, basically the view that abortions are tragedies and elected leaders should enact policies that don't necessarily restrict a woman's right to choose, but create conditions whereby abortions happen infrequently, is probably the predominant position among Catholics, (a majority of whom believe that abortion should be legal in all/most cases.)

To read Malesic's letter is to witness a church profoundly out of touch and out of tune. It might have been written about any two candidates in any election year. It's boilerplate right-to-life stuff that occludes the pervasive, heedless theft of life under Trump. The administration's Coronavirus response — 200,000 deaths and counting — is the marquee example, but the ongoing caging and torture of immigrants at the U.S. border, the (somehow) escalating militarism abroad, and the 2020 "execution spree," in which more people have been put to death by the state than in the past 57 years combined, also convey well Trump's stance on human life.   

Furthermore, the church seems unwilling to acknowledge the way Christians have been, and continue to be, instrumentalized in a larger political project. Trump's nominal opposition to abortion is meaningless as a reflection of personal values. What matters is the con: donning the pro-life mantle to convince single-issue Evangelicals and Catholics to keep voting Republican so the supreme court may be packed with arch-conservative justices who will promptly overturn Roe V. Wade to appease the sheep and then get on with the real work: dismantling Democracy and formally erecting the authoritarian state guys like Trump and Mitch McConnell prefer. 

Outside of that larger context — which is no joke! — Catholics who take their faith seriously should consider the ways that "right to life" messaging has been weaponized, all while Jesus Christ's own central teachings about the poor have been largely left by the wayside. It was candidate Elizabeth Warren who reminded voters, back in 2019, that reproductive rights were also economic rights, something to which Catholics, at least historically, were committed. 

"When someone makes abortion illegal in America," she told the New York Times last year, "rich women will still get abortions."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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