As the election nears, many news outlets are repeating misinformation about what Catholics believe and what they can and should do when it comes to voting.
Conservative groups have targeted a largely Catholic group of antichoice Democrats who voted in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, falsely claiming that the bill permits federal funding of abortion.
A Catholic Tea Party has been mooted, and conservative Catholic bloggers who represent a tiny minority of Catholics are manufacturing controversies in order to get in the news. To overcome their lack of influence and numbers, they have decided to condemn bishops, politicians and their fellow lay Catholics in equal measure.
In Massachusetts, the bishops conference issued an election statement elevating certain issues as being of paramount importance for Catholics. According to their statement, "the sanctity of life [and] the family based on marriage between a man and a woman" come before "religious freedom and the well-being of the poor" in importance.
The reality is that Catholic teachings and the views of Catholics are not closely aligned with the political priorities of the bishops, nor are they close to the views of the bishops' conservative allies in the blogosphere.
MYTH ONE: Catholics are more conservative than the rest of the electorate
REALITY: Catholics' opinions largely mirror those of the rest of the electorate
On these and other issues, we see that Catholics make up their minds independent of the bishops or the loud noises from the blogosphere.
MYTH TWO: All Catholics oppose abortion
REALITY: Catholics are pro-choice
The reality is that, like people of other faiths and no faith, a large majority of Catholics can see circumstances in which abortion is an acceptable or even necessary moral choice.
MYTH THREE: Catholic teachings on reproductive health issues are rigid and unchanging
REALITY: Catholic teachings on abortion and family planning are more nuanced than the bishops claim
The reality is that Catholics can, in good conscience, support access to abortion and other reproductive health services and affirm that they can be a moral choice.
MYTH FOUR: Catholics do what their bishops tell them to
REALITY: Catholics do not want to hear from their bishops about politics
These numbers are crystal clear. Catholics are perfectly capable of making up their own minds about whom to vote for and can and do, in good conscience, cast votes that their bishops might oppose.
MYTH FIVE: Catholics are obsessed about abortion
REALITY: Abortion is not the only issue that concerns Catholics
The reality is that at the heart of church teachings on moral matters is a deep regard for an individual's conscience. The Catechism states that "a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience." Richard McBrien, in his essential study Catholicism, explains that even in cases of a conflict with the moral teachings of the church, Catholics "not only may but must follow the dictates of conscience rather than the teachings of the Church." The bishops and their conservative allies simply don't get it.
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