The Post-election Picture

Regarding the election of Barack Obama, an aggressive abortion supporter, as president of the United States, a central fact must be borne in mind: this election wasn’t a referendum on abortion. Exit polls show that Americans voted overwhelmingly — and altogether predictably — on the economy, not on abortion or anything else.

The situation can be likened to that of a man with a toothache and hypertension. The hypertension is a lot more serious and he knows it, but at the moment the toothache overrides everything. Economic woes are the nation’s toothache right now. Other issues, abortion included, will take a back seat as long as that’s so.

But after this election it’s fair to ask how Americans feel about abortion. The answer, almost certainly, is: just as they have for years. Some are ardently pro-abortion. A larger, but still small, number are ardently pro-life. The vast majority are in the conflicted middle. They don’t like abortion and want some restrictions on it, but they’re not ready to rule it out entirely as a legal option. That’s unacceptable from a pro-life point of view, but it does offer grounds for hope.

The election results paint a similarly complex but not unhopeful picture of Catholics.

According to exit polls, about 53% or 54% of Catholic voters supported Obama. Two-thirds of Hispanics, the majority of them Catholics, did that. But among white Catholics, slightly over half voted for John McCain. In relation to religious practice, a comfortable majority who go to Mass every week supported McCain while a substantial majority of those who don’t attend Mass weekly backed Obama.

Here’s a little rough calculating. There are about 70 million Catholics in the United States. Nationwide, roughly one-fourth of them attend Mass weekly. Without pretending to mathematical precision, I put them at about 17.5 million people.

Subtract 2.5 million who are children or non-citizens, and you have 15 million. As a matter of fact rather than wishful thinking, they’re the Catholic voters the Church actually can reach. A majority backed a (generally) pro-life presidential candidate this year. A not inconsiderable minority did not.

And so?

For their November 10-13 general meeting in Baltimore, the Catholic bishops scheduled a discussion of the pastoral aspects of abortion politics. As this is written, there’s no way of knowing what, if anything, the bishops might conclude. If I had a chance to speak to them, I’d say something like this:

“Your Excellencies, there’s an enormous need for conscience formation among American Catholics. That isn’t true just of politics and abortion — it’s true across the board.

“But the need for conscience formation for political participation is particularly great. For many, there’s a huge disconnect between morality and political life. That’s bad for them, bad for the country, and bad for the Church.

“The decline in Sunday Mass attendance puts many millions of Catholics beyond earshot of the Church. We need to bend every effort to get those people back to Mass.

“Meanwhile, it’s those Catholics who still attend Mass regularly that, realistically speaking, you still have a chance to reach. And please don’t dismiss reaching them as preaching to the choir. The election results suggest that even among the weekly Mass-attenders, there are plenty who need help.

“What kind of help? More statements about politics? No. The help that’s needed is serious, continuing instruction in forming conscience. Many today don’t know what that means. If the Church wants to have a long-range influence on American public life in regard to abortion or anything else, conscience formation is the name of the game.”

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • markpro67

    What a great article, one of the best I have ever read on this site. Right to the point of people not forming a Conscience. 75 to 80 percent of Catholics that go to Mass every week dont do an examination of Conscience before approaching the Eucharist. Thank you for pointing this out, it has been over do.

  • markpro67


  • goral

    Don’t kid yourself Mr. Shaw. There will not be a new campaign of conscience forming coming out of the bishops’ meeting. There will however be much discussion of how to best give additional aid to the majority of Hispanic catholics who voted for Obama. (darn spell-check still wants to change it to Osama).
    How do we say? If you keep doing what you’re doing you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.
    The old liberal guard in the hierarchy of the “church fuzzy” will continue business as usual until a fresh crop of JP2 foot soldiers take command.

  • Dave

    markpro67, 75 to 80 per cent of Catholics that go to Mass every week don’t examine their conscience before receiving communion? Commentators who throw out undocumented statistics lose all creditability. A reminder that not all Catholics live in self-described “liberated parishes”. If I were to take your statistics as fact, I might surmise that the Church established by Christ is nearing death’s door.

  • Warren Jewell

    Dave, though you may have an issue with markpro67 over numbers, I do not.

    When I make my monthly confession, of a parish with about 500 active households, maybe one other person goes to confession. Likely, that is two of us out of 1000 Catholics. Multiplied for weeks, that’s about 10 a month out of 1000. I would say that if they find no reason to confess, how lilkely are they to be examining their consciences at any time?

    That aspect, conscience building, is seminal to the whole realm of catechesis that just is not taking place in the Church. goral is not optimistic about the bishops starting programs of intensive catechesis at the most-needy adult level – neither am I. From my experience, there are no parish programs that are designed to get the non-attending Catholic families in. Among our bishops there just is too much complacent clericalism all these years after VatII.

    And, Christ’s Church cannot die. Indeed, Mother Church grows by leaps and bounds in the southern hemisphere. But it could become nearly as good as dead in this country. (Would you like to surmise how many ‘Catholics’, in pew and out, would stay that way in a violent persecution?) The U.S.A., of course, needs the Church, but the Church does not need the U.S.A.

  • elkabrikir

    There are excellent heroic priests, who would not self describe that way, who preach the truth of the gospel both in season and out of season. They are the squad commanders, of the footsoldiers, of JPII whether a commanding officer (bishop) has given specific marching orders.

    The ***** (5 star) General/ St Michael the Archangel has trumpeted the call to action.

    Father Jay Scot Newman at St Mary in Greenville,Sc is one of them. Here is what he had to say post election.

    Believe me, Father Newman always preaches like this! His very soul was saved from atheism, by the instrument of the Holy Spirit, John Paul II the Great.

    Please pray for Father Newman and all holy priests especially those with a charism of preaching prophetically. Make a pilgrimage to St Mary for the liturgy and the beauty of the church and to meet father. He’ll never forget you, and you’ll never forget him or his parish.

  • Grace Harman

    We have a Parish of about 1000 families. We have long lines (lasting 30 to 40 minutes) for confession almost EVERY day, and often heard by 2 priests. Our (Dominican) Priests do indeed mention the importance of respect for life and encourage us to protest abortion, but even here there are a few who didn’t “get” the message and voted for Obama.
    I think our culture/entertainment/news media are all distorted and poisonous, and our schools indoctrinate children with the LIE of “safe” sex and the belief in a right to “choose”. This is a direct contrast to God’s truth about love of neighbor and right to life, while following God’s laws of marriage and purity.

  • gadjmljj

    I believe until we see more priests, bishops, and lay people really sacrificing their lives for the truth, we will not inspire the truth. I know there are many holy priests, bishops and lay people but for the ones that are in the public eye and getting away with such blatant dissention without ANY consequence, Catholics in this country figure even the Church is democratic. We need more LEADERS in the Church in front of those abortion mills.
    AND at the root of abortion….We need to hear them speak out against Contraception and sterilization.
    There’s seems so little discipline in the hierarchy of the Church nowadays, it’s no wonder her children are so “undisciplined”.
    Not that I blame only the hierarchy…no doubt it is up to EVERY Catholic to seek the Truth and follow it. It’s not hard to do…just pick up a Catechism!

  • lebowskice

    I try to examine my own conscience instead of judging if others are.

  • cletermac

    I am curious, did the catholic bishops explain why they donated 7 million of our dollars to ACORN a major supporter of Obama and abortion on demand while discussing pastoral aspects of abortion politics at their general meeting in Baltimore on Nov 10-13 ? I don’t get it. They ar closing churches due to lack of funding,and yet they will hand over 7 million dollars to an orginization that helped elect a president who has said repeatedly that he is an avid supporter of abortion,including killing babies that survive abortions. If the bishops have that much extra money lying around to give to ACORN maybe we are giving them too much money.

  • Dave

    lebowskice, thank you for making clear what I was trying to imply. Simply put, too many believe the Church in most major cities is a true representation of all parishes. My wife and I are blessed to be able to travel about the USA and we have witnessed mostly thriving parishes where the Mass is in total accord with the Magisterium and Tradition. I cannot judge the conscience of parishioners by the length of confessional lines.

  • HCSKnight

    “List of Forbidden Books”

    What’s wrong with such a list? Faith contains “forbidden fruit”, does it not?

    I think there are three grave errors since, and as a direct result of the well intentioned but erroneous application of, Vatican II.

    First and most fundamental is the priest “taking the other side of the Paschal table.” In doing so he turned his back to Christ and became “Adam” facing “his” congregation.

    Second, homilies that “talk too much.” There’s the adage, the more you speak the more you show another how little you know. Almost all homilies I attend are long, disjointed and filled with “educational” tangents and testimonies. Few homilies provide salient commentary of the critical element[s] of the Catholic Faith, or historical and factual context, contained in the Sunday’s Gospel. There’s a reason Christ chose to speak in parables and simply. Priests need to realize it’s not their homily but rather the time the people spend in prayer and contemplation on the readings/Gospel that matter. The “proof” I think can be found in this simple arithmetic; the minutes spent speaking in the homily vs. the moments after Communion the priest sits an allows the people to have time to sit and pray after receiving the Body of Christ. I think it’s that simple and clear.

    Third, during the homily, and other forms of proclamation, there’s a sad absence of concrete teaching of the Gospel. For example during the pre-election period the UCCB released ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship’. This document, though technically making “clear” the Church’s teaching lacked moral clarity or conviction. The very first sentence should have been “To vote for a candidate who holds a policy or philosophy which is supports an intrinsic evil is to participate in that evil. As such to vote for such a candidate incurs a mortal sin and separation from the Church. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, which includes a firm resolution to amend their ways and “sin no more”, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation. In short, the priests and bishops consistently speak with language that shows a greater concern for their being liked than the salvation of the souls God has brought before them.

    The problem today is one of true love. Not of hardness of heart.