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Shannon Kelly, a protester demonstrating against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, shakes hands with Trump supporter Ben Kilgore after a long discussion about the billionaire’s qualifications at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.

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After divisive elections, bishops urge Catholics to build bridges
December 13th, 2016
By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON – Bishops across the country are encouraging parishioners to put aside their differences and work for the common good as President-elect Donald J. Trump prepared for his Jan. 20 inauguration.

The postelection messages that have emerged serve as both spiritual guide and practical response in an effort to overcome polarization and divisiveness that prevents the country from unifying.

The election saw Trump, the Republican candidate, win the Electoral College count, 306-232, even though he was out-polled by Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 2.6 million in the popular vote. Several bishops lamented the negative tone of the nearly two-year-long campaign.

“Faced with two unpopular candidates, voters in record numbers decided to hold their noses and vote for the candidate they saw as the least worst option,” opined Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski in a column posted online Nov. 10.

“Both Clinton and Trump were flawed candidates – neither succeeded in winning approval from more than half the country. But Trump’s negatives perhaps were seen as evidence that he was a ‘sinner,’ whereas Clinton’s negatives hinted at real corruption,” Archbishop Wenski wrote.

The archbishop’s assessment seemed spot on, at least among Catholic voters, who overall preferred Trump 52 percent to 48 percent margin, according to a preliminary analysis by the Pew Research Center. Among white Catholics, Trump’s margin stood at 60 percent to 37 percent while Hispanic voters preferred Clinton, 67 percent to 26 percent.

Despite Trumps threats on immigration, Catholic Hispanic support for the billionaire was stronger than for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Pew found that 26 percent of Catholic Hispanics supported Trump while 21 percent voted for Romney.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” its quadrennial statement on political responsibility. The document, revised by the bishops in at their fall meeting in November 2015, garnered discussion in some parishes, but previous surveys by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that fewer than 20 percent of Catholics recalled reading the document and about 5 percent considered it a major influence in their political choices.

In the end with a new resident in the White House, the USCCB and several individual bishops echoed the call for unity voiced by Trump and Clinton in the hours after the election and pledged to continue to assist immigrants and refugees who make their way to the U.S. no matter their immigration status.

Archbishop Wenski, in his column, credited both candidates for setting a “hopeful tone.”

“Let’s hope that tone of civility endures,” he wrote. “Because we won’t make America great by making America mean.”

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, writing in a column on in mid-November, said American Catholics themselves can decide how best to respond in the wake of an acrimonious election season.

“As Catholics, we now get to choose whether we’re Christians first and consistently, or just the latest version of political animals in religious clothing,” he wrote. “We need to help the president-elect do what’s right, support him when he does and resist him – respectfully but firmly – when he doesn’t.”

From December 15, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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