In a combination photo, U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is seen Sept. 9 and U.S Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen Sept. 14. CNS photo/Brian Snyder/Mike Segar, Reuters

In tough election year, U.S. Catholics urged to avoid cynicism, work for change

  • September 16, 2016

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In his 50 years of voting in U.S. elections, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said he has never seen the two major parties offer "two such deeply flawed" presidential nominees "at the same time."

Without naming the nominees — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton — the archbishop said he presumes they "intend well and have a reasonable level of personal decency behind their public images, but I also believe that each candidate is very bad news for our country, though in different ways."

"One candidate, in the view of a lot of people, is a belligerent demagogue with an impulse control problem," he said in a Sept. 15 speech at the University of Notre Dame. "And the other, also in the view of a lot of people, is a criminal liar, uniquely rich in stale ideas and bad priorities."

Chaput delivered the 2016 Tocqueville lecture on religious liberty, sponsored by the school's Tocqueville Program for Inquiry Into Religion and Public Life. His wide-ranging talk also addressed the moral threats facing society, the necessity of strong families, and the controversy surrounding Notre Dame and its awarding of the Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden.

Though faced with flawed presidential candidates, he said, Catholics and other Christians do not have "the luxury of cynicism," because if they "leave the public square, other people with much worse intentions won't."

Many "honest public officials" are currently serving our country well, and both parties have "good candidates for other public offices," he added, offering other reasons not to be cynical.

Christians "have a duty to leave the world better than we found it," the archbishop said. "One of the ways we do that, however imperfectly, is through politics."

"Elections do matter," he said, emphasizing that the next president will likely appoint several Supreme Court justices. One seat is vacant, with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the oldest of the current justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, and Anthony Kennedy, 80.

The next president will "make vital foreign policy decisions, and shape the huge federal administrative machinery in ways over which Congress has little control," Chaput said.

Instead of whining or wringing our hands over the current state of politics and the feeling citizens have no say in "the big mechanical Golem we call Washington," Chaput said, the situation demands "we be different people" and change the country by changing ourselves.

The nation's future depends on strengthening traditional family life and church life, the archbishop said, and rejecting secular society's mores of casual sex, adultery and divorce, abortion, selfishness, instant gratification and sexual confusion.

The future, he said, "belongs to people who believe in something beyond themselves, and who live and sacrifice accordingly. It belongs to people who think and hope inter-generationally."

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