On Misinforming Consciences: My Letter to a Bishop on Single Issue Voting

Last election, I heard a homily that was incredibly frustrating for me because it didn’t teach Church teaching correctly and it insinuated that people were evil if they do not vote the way the priest thought they should. It was an extremely difficult moment for my faith. This year, bishops are starting to send out letters regarding the forming of faithful consciences, but unfortunately, they are deliberately focusing on certain parts of Church teaching while neglecting others on the subject in order to serve the political candidate they prefer. Here is the letter I wrote to the first one I saw, and it applies to many of the letters I have seen since.

Dear Most Reverend Bishop,

I am writing to you regarding your pastoral letter regarding the election. With respect to your position in the Church, and the authority that has placed you there, it is a great struggle for me to present my concerns to you. However, there is a tradition of saints presenting concerns to Church leaders when serious conditions are at hand, and today though I do not consider myself a saint, there are issues which have gravely affected my own spirituality and those around me, which drive me to discuss these issues with you. St. Paul recommends that if you have a problem with a member of the Church, that you should confront them first before saying anything to anyone else. Therefore, before I discuss my concerns about your work with others, I wanted to give you the chance to discuss with me.

The introduction to your letter was commendable and beautiful. I was excited to read your unbiased elaboration on the necessity of forming our conscience, and hoped that you would give due process to both sides of this election and to Church teachings and opinions on this election. I was, however, saddened to see that your letter was deceptively biased towards a particular side of the election, and left out a great deal of important information that is crucial to forming consciences which you said you were going to guide your people on.

I was sad to see that you did not discuss the additional topic that the USCCB adds that says:
  

“We also bring broad experience in serving those in need-educating the young, serving families in crisis, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, helping women who face difficult pregnancies, feeding the hungry, welcoming immigrants and refugees, reaching out in global solidarity, and pursuing peace. “

There is also their entire letter adding more to it for this specific election. 

https://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/upload/usccb-forming-consciences-faithful-citizenship-introductory-letter-20191112.pdf

Particularly important to that addition is this.

“Equally sacred,” he[Pope Francis] further states, are “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”

I hope that it was not your deliberate decision to entirely exclude all of these issues and focus solely on the issues of abortion and euthanasia. However, based on the insensitivity I have experienced from multiple priests in your diocese regarding these issues I am concerned that it was a deliberate attempt to imply that Trump is the only permissible choice for Catholic voters.

It is also very dangerous to imply that this clash between good and evil is necessarily on the side of Trump. Trump’s policies and actions have repeatedly gone far astray from anything Catholics should strive to emulate. To suggest that the fight for him is a black and white(in the letter I said black and white, but a wonderful visitor pointed out that that could lead to racist connotations, which was completely unintentional, so I would change my wording for next timemaybe to a one-sided) fight for goodness, is extremely dangerous-for several reasons. Most importantly, you have caused scandal for those who believe that Trump is doing evil. You have confused those who are following you about what goodness looks like. You have also implied that they are on the side of evil itself if they disagree with you.

This is extremely concerning for me given Trump’s consistent lack of charity in his speech. His tweets and speeches that promote violence, enthusiasm for the death penalty, lack of regard for the poor, and numerous other actions and attitudes that are just as contrary to our principles as the pro-life issue is. To imply that this is the goodness we should all be following is extremely dangerous to the formation of the consciences of the faithful. 

I know that on both sides of this issue there are extremely strong feelings, and I am sure you have guessed that my opinion and very carefully formed conscience is extremely opposed to yours. However, I am not writing for the sake of my opinion. I am writing to you because this very night, in one post on facebook of this letter, I saw three people questioning their Catholic faith. Furthermore, I heard a sermon just like this one 4 years ago, and was told by a priest to leave the Church because I do not believe in Trump.

This is not ok. 


God loves both sides. Both sides are forming their consciences. Both sides are fighting for the good in different ways. Neither is all good, neither is all bad. God wants every single soul and Jesus would not want you to turn men and women away from Him, whose sin is to defend people who were murdered unjustly, or tortured unjustly, or families were ripped apart, or even just those who are starving and afraid.

I urge you to amend your pastoral letter, and reach out to those who are now questioning whether God loves them because of your letter, or questioning whether the Catholic Church stands for love at all. I urge you to speak about the evils of racism and other evils we have seen this year as the USCCB and Pope Francis have repeatedly done this year, and I ask you to encourage the priests in your diocese to do so as well. Racism is not the only concerning element of Trump’s leadership, but it is one of the gravest concerns of most of your followers who disagree with your letter.

The USCCB has a beautiful prayer about racism, specifically, that I say and share.  

https://www.usccb.org/resources/prayer-service-racial-healing-our-land

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, I pray that it will be received with the fraternal charity and respect with which it was written. I do not wish to disrespect or offend you in any way, however, I have been on the receiving end of this confusion before, and I almost lost my faith, but instead, I educated myself.

Thank you again,

Julia O’Donnell

2 thoughts on “On Misinforming Consciences: My Letter to a Bishop on Single Issue Voting

Add yours

  1. Julia, Thank you for this brilliant post! I look forward to sharing it with others. One request: Would it be possible to replace the phrase “black and white issue” with a different phrase? Many of us are trying to move away from that language as it associates “good/bad” with “black/white” and as such can perpetuate white supremacy. I 100% trust that is not your intent as I’ve read your posts on racial justice, so I trust that you’ll also be grateful for this feedback. Thank you for listening! Kristi

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