The Decline of the Catholic Vote

The midterm election is now well behind us, and the statisticians have calibrated the Catholic vote. Perhaps the busy reader would like an abridged summary: There is no Catholic vote. Why?

If you love our country, you probably dread our government—and pay your taxes, grudgingly, knowing how they will be squandered on wars abroad and subversion of good order at home.

If you read this publication regularly, it’s likely you love the Church and support it financially. But my guess is that it is not the USCCB that inspires your generosity. Its cooperation with the current regime on issues like health care and immigrant resettlement swell their coffers, not the pews. You might wonder how it is possible for a Catholic, with even distracted awareness, to vote for the enemy of his faith. The USCCB might have done a little more to dispel the distraction.

The midterm election is now well behind us, and the statisticians have calibrated the Catholic vote. Perhaps the busy reader would like an abridged summary: There is no Catholic vote. Catholics differ only marginally, if at all, from the Nones and the Dones. U.S. News & World Report noted that once again Evangelical Christians voted for “conservative candidates,” while Catholics “showed how closely divided they are—even on abortion.” 

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One may feel dismay, but hardly shock, to learn that roughly half the Catholic electorate favored the party of abortion, gender reassignment surgery, and coercion of healthcare providers who refuse to collude in these crimes. It’s embarrassing that our Evangelical brethren evinced greater clarity than Catholics in voting to kick the bums out. 

This disheartening outcome might have been different if Catholics had heard, repeatedly and emphatically—from their pulpits, schools, and diocesan newspapers—that abortion is a grave evil; that same-sex “marriage” is a devilish mockery of nature and nature’s God; that politicians who promote these crimes have renounced their claim on Catholic support.

Our clerical leaders would not even have had to jeopardize their tax-exempt status by pronouncing the name “Democrat.” It could have been left to the congregation to draw its own conclusion about which party is the more zealous foe of those “non-negotiables,” of natural law, and of common decency. While hardly inevitable, it’s just possible that if we had been roused and catechized—rather than soothed and sedated—a Catholic vote would have decided a close election. Or maybe I’m over-generalizing from limited personal experience. 

One weekday after the Dobbs decision, I attended Mass away from my parish. I expected a buoyant homily, extolling what C-Fam (the Center for Human and Family Rights at the U.N.) listed as number one of its “top five Moments of 2022 for Life and Family at the United Nations.” Catholic Vote referred to the overturn of Roe in similarly exultant language as “…not only the highlight of 2022, but of the century.” 

Whatever jubilation the priest may have felt he managed to smother in a single sentence: “We must not gloat over those who disagree.” I looked at my fellow worshipers, mostly old, weather-beaten, peripheral folk, like me. Not the sort given to vaunting, whooping, rubbing it in, or gloating. Maybe just a touch of gloating could have been forgiven, there being so few occasions for exuberance in our dispiriting era. 

Ever since Roe was passed more than 50 years ago, the pro-life movement had been working—including freezing during the January pro-life rallies—and praying for repeal of this unconstitutional piece of judicial inventiveness. After all those decades out in the cold, so to speak, didn’t the overturn of Roe call for the celebratory peal of church bells rather than this reflexive, clerical caution? Would a little jubilation, just this once, have been so unseemly? Cautious timidity, and the passivity it breeds—when celebration is warranted—may be one reason why politicians neither fear nor court a Catholic vote. 

Clerical timidity is also one of the reasons that Will Durant’s 1968 prediction about a coming blaze of Catholic political dominance fizzled like a damp match.

In 1968, after completing his magnum opus—a history of the world in ten hefty tomes—Durant issued a slight volume compressing what he had learned from a long life examining the entrails of dead civilizations. He entitled it The Lessons of History. One of his conclusions is of special relevance in our discussion of the chimerical “Catholic vote.” He predicted that “the higher birth rate of Roman Catholic families suggests that by the year 2000 the Roman Catholic Church will be the dominant force in national as well as in municipal or state governments.” 

During decadent periods in past empires, Durant observed, rulers were alarmed at the refusal of the upper classes to generate children for the state. They knew that only citizen administrators and soldiers, not mercenaries, would have the loyalty to save the patria from decline. Absent a flourishing birth rate, the empire would have to rely on a great replacement of hirelings.

Julius Caesar (59 B.C.) saw the precariousness of having to buy protection. He therefore rewarded fecundity and punished infertility. For example, barren wives were forbidden to ride in litters or to adorn themselves with jewelry. But the Roman patriciate, like the demimonde, forswore both baubles and babies. Four decades later, Augustus resorted, with equal unsuccess, to increase the birth rate. But “birth control continued to spread in the upper classes.” And eventually, the Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and assorted “barbarians” were no longer repulsed at the borders. Instead, they were invited in to supply the military force that the effete Romans found distasteful. 

And so with America. But unlike those ancient Romans who had to resort to pessaries of wool and white lead or concoctions of Queen Anne’s lace and olive oil, American women relied on a more exact science of sterility. Ever since the FDA approved the general use of the pill in 1960, American feminists—upper, lower, and middle class—have, like their ancient Roman counterparts, increasingly shunned the burden of maternity.

Would Catholic women have been docile enough to obey had the clergy affirmed Humanae Vitae instead of plotting at Land O’ Lakes to assert their “independence?” Would they have provided the progeny needed to save the republic from the maelstrom of decadence, unnatural vice, and self-flattering stupidity encompassed by the term woke? Would their complicit partners and husbands have “manned up” if they had?

Of course, we can’t know. But of all the sad words of mice and men, the saddest are it might have been. Perhaps firmer and consistent messaging from the pulpit would have helped elect a more pro-life congress. To turn out the Catholic vote, however, you must have Catholic voters. With fewer of them, thanks to widespread acceptance of contraception—contra Durant’s prediction—the outcome might not have been much different.

Both conviction and numbers are necessary for a vibrant family life—and for ancillary goods, such as the health of the patria. In the absence of both, a future chronicler might include America, with Greece and Rome, in his history of the decline and fall of once-great civilizations.

  • Peter Maurice

    Peter Maurice, a native of New Orleans, is a retired teacher of French, English, and humanities, all levels from elementary through university. He is the recipient of several fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities to participate in summer seminars for school teachers. His writing has appeared in Touchstone, Gilbert Magazine, Chronicles, The Wanderer, New Oxford Review, and Latin Mass Magazine.

tagged as: Election 2022 Politics

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