Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” and the Catholic Vote


For the last 30 years the religious right (both Protestant and Catholic) has been telling us that Christian values should influence the way we vote. What will they say now that Pope Francis has called 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to move beyond obsessions with sex – abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage?

How will they respond to his demands in his recent Pastoral Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) to centralize instead issues of poverty and the huge income gaps between the haves and have-nots? How will they answer the pope’s call to recognize the futility of directing billions towards a doomed “War on Terrorism” rather than correcting the structural injustices that cause such violence in the first place? What about his suggestion that those billions would be better invested in meeting human rights to food, health and education? (Yes, they are human rights according to the pope!)

All of that puts the Republicans and their fellow-travelers on the spot. After all, they have been the voting booth beneficiaries of obsession with sexual issues. They are the champion privatization, deregulated markets, and huge tax breaks for the rich. They oppose universal health care, investing money in public education, increasing the minimum wage, supporting labor unions, Food Stamp programs, and even Social Security financed by workers’ own savings. Republicans are the “tough on terrorism” bunch who (unlike the pope) attribute such violence to “hatred of our freedom,” rather than to blowback for the injustices of global capitalism.

According to the pope, such right-wing attitudes represent the very causes not only of world hunger and poverty, but of violence and terrorism. Only by interfering in the out-workings of the free market – by regulation (such as Glass-Steagal or the Tobin Tax), redirecting defense spending towards social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps), by increasing the minimum wage, and taxing the rich, – can such problems be solved.

In other words, it’s not possible this time to say “Oh, yes, we all know that good Catholics are expected to give generously to their favorite charities.” That’s not sufficient, Pope Francis asserts. No, the pope has faulted not lack of charitable giving, but the free enterprise system itself for causing the problems of global poverty and hunger as well as those of terrorism and war.

For years at election time, both the political and religious right has inundated us with directions about voting based on what the pope has identified as sexual obsessions.

It will be most interesting to observe any change in tone or direction in the upcoming general election.

Will we now be directed towards voting Democratic – for Hillary? Or will our Christian “leaders” be even more heedful of Pope Francis’ direction and urge voting instead for consumer protectionist Elizabeth Warren, for Socialist Bernie Sanders – or the Green Party candidate?

In red state Kentucky, we anxiously await direction from Mr. McConnell and Lexington’s Bishop Gainer.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

6 thoughts on “Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” and the Catholic Vote”

  1. Great piece, Mike. You have made some excellent points. I was not happy to see Hillary’s name on the page. God forgive us and help us if we get that charlatan elected. I’m sick to death of her and her behind-the-scenes puppeteer ‘husband.’ Let’s get rid of their influence once and for all.

    Also, Mike, I hope that you are not inferring (as does the pope) that the so-called ‘hot button issues’ of abortion, same-sex marriage, et al (including euthanasia and all anti-life actions), should be shunted aside as it were because we seem to be obsessed by them. I recognize that his comments may be a political tactic on his part that could very well boomerang.

    The issues I cited are abominations and are morally wrong. They will not solve the problems that we and the world confront. We will never succeed as a nation if we persist in legitimizing them. Please know, too, Mike that I am not a right wing conservative Christian.


  2. Hi Mike,

    of even greater interest to me was Francis’ emphasis on changing the process of change within the church. Being the good Jesuit he is, he found support for “synodality” in the works of conservative predecessors. At the same time, he leveled the playing field within congregations, pointing out that priests are no more important than any other member of the congregation, and directing them to be nurturers, not judges.

    Add it all up, and I see a movement to create a process of change that starts with leadings of the spirit in individuals, of individuals listening to conscience and heart in the context of local spiritual communities performing a process of discernment. He is making the case for a spirit-led organization, with the caveat that the spirit is in every person, rather than a few pampered cardinals sitting in an office in Rome.

    Leaving aside my personal preference for this type of spiritual community (which I enjoy as a Quaker), we do know where listening to conscience and heart lead: to loving one another unconditionally. It’s that kind of change which, I think alone, can bring about the changes needed so that the poor don’t go hungry, the ill do not go untreated, and those without power are protected. Yes, we need to change the economic system, to the healthcare system, and so on.

    But these changes in large systems, which need to be made, even if made won’t last against the forces of (all-too-human) greed (for money and/or power) unless the spirit as it expresses itself in the spirit and heart of individuals has a way to be pulled together on a global basis into a single voice. This is what excites me about what Francis is doing: he is making the case for this to happen, in the world’s largest single denomination. It’s not what comes from the pulpit that counts, but what comes from the heart: Francis is changing the process, so that hearts are heard, and what they reveal counts.

    The tipping point for a social theme to “go viral” is 10%, it appears from research of online themes doing just that. If 60% of the world’s 1.2 Bn Catholics “get” the popes message and implement it, things could get very exciting.



    PS: the Yearly Meeting (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association, SAYMA) to which Berea Friends Meeting belongs, will have as its theme this year’s meeting (in June) “Leadings of Spirit: A Revolution of Practice,” recognizing this incredibly significant change in direction for the Catholic church and for non-Catholics in their approach to spiritual life. The question being asked is along the lines of “given our experience in being an organized spiritual community based on leadings of spirit, what can we do to facilitate this change in our local communities?” We have skills in spirit-based organizational process, and skills in discernment of spirit-led leadings, that might help other spiritual communities in their move to this new way of being an organized spiritual community. We’ll see how it turns out. 🙂


    1. So glad to read your comment. I have always believed that the Holy Spirit lives within us. I believe, too, that our informed consciences should make moral decisions. This idea sounds almost too simple to be true. Do you really believe that it could work? That the process can be changed? I hope so.
      Thanks for giving me something to think about – and pray about.


      1. @Alice — well, I know it works for Quakers. The historical record (the medieval Kabbalists and medieval Sufis, both of which were civilizing voices for tolerance and enlightenment) suggests this is so generally for religions based on leadings from individuals in spiritual communities. I hope I get to see it tested on a global scale. In truth, it could not have been attempted much before now: to create a u-turn on a global scale requires global communication. And it’s still the case that spiritual communities which put a direct relationship with the divine above earthly authority, even earthly spiritual authority, are being crushed (e.g., the Sufis in the tribal areas of Pakistan). Still, there’s a chance it can work, and it’s the only kind of change that can last.


      2. Thank you, Hank. for taking the time to respond. All of this is so new to me but I maintain an open and, I hope, healthy mind. We must change the way things are and have been in the Church for too long. The powers of darkness have overshadowed us. I fear for our future here and now and for those not yet born.


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