Catholic Social Teaching Wins Hearts, Minds and Elections
‘The teaching and spreading of her social doctrine,’ says Pope St. John Paul II, ‘are part of the Church’s evangelizing mission.’
American political analysis often focuses more on why some candidates lost, rather than why others won. Perhaps that is why so little attention has been paid to a winning candidate in my home state of Florida: Catholic senator Marco Rubio. On what turned out to be a rough election night for Republicans outside the sunshine state, Senator Rubio won in an historic landslide.
In that victory, we should note something the press has missed: Marco Rubio’s campaign speeches were woven with a tapestry of Catholic social teaching.
It was widely suggested that the Dobbs ruling was a main ingredient in the Republicans’ disappointing performance on election night. Is that what happened? Did the Dobbs decision highlight that Republicans were too pro-life for American voters?
In reality, many Republicans were quiet on the pro-life issue, while Rubio was outspoken. Just seven weeks before the election, Senator Rubio introduced a bill called the “Providing for Life Act.” The bill’s stated goal was clear: “To provide support and assistance to unborn children, pregnant women, parents, and families.” The bill was not only compassionate but creative. For instance, while current tax law allows parents to take a credit beginning in the year of the child’s birth, Rubio’s bill allows parents to take a full tax credit for their unborn child. The bill reads, “The term ‘qualifying child’ includes an unborn child of an eligible taxpayer.” Thus, the bill’s passage would mean a restructure of the tax code to recognize the personhood of the unborn.
As Rubio phrased it in a speech on May 16 in Orlando, the unborn baby is a “human being that, from the moment of conception, is fully human, has all the attributes of humanity, all the genetic attributes, and all they are missing is the time and the nourishment to grow and to prosper like anybody else.”
From the Scriptures to Pope St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, we Catholics have been taught to respect and adhere to just laws. As Aquinas clarified, law is an ordinance of right reason promulgated for the common good by the community’s caregiver; moreover, human law must flow from eternal law. Looking at Aquinas’ definition, it is easy to see why Catholics must follow human law, as well as respect and pray for lawmakers. But some ordinances can be unjust; some fail to meet Aquinas’ necessary components of law. And we cannot adhere to unjust ordinances that run counter to our Catholic Faith.
Rubio reminded his audience of this principle in his May 16 speech:
We are a people who believe in an ordered society. And … for those of us of the Christian faith, we believe that we're called to follow the laws of legitimate leaders … as long as you’re not asking us to do something that violates the tenets of our faith.
That’s a vital distinction, as well as a call to lawgivers to pass bills that are in accord with the common good.
Rights of the Family
Throughout his campaign, the rights of the family were a centerpiece of Rubio’s messaging. In a Sept. 12 speech in Miami, Rubio cautioned against the growing notion that “children don’t really have to be raised by parents and families.” Referring to them as “Marxist misfits,” Rubio described the bizarre thought process of those who seek to remove parents’ rights:
We can raise them as a society. We can raise them in schools, and with the right programming on television, and with the right celebrity messaging on social media, we can raise productive, responsible human beings.
However, Rubio says, “We’re learning the hard way that that’s not true.”
The family has rights and the government has a duty to protect those rights. Rubio explained what that means:
It means we don’t pass laws and we don’t promote regulations or policies that undermine the work of parents, that undermine the work of faith communities. And we don’t teach values or reinforce values that do not reflect truth and that do not reflect fundamental facts that are so critical and essential to the human spirit.
And it was not just the rights of the family Rubio discussed, but the duties of family. In our hyperpolitical age, we cannot look to government to solve our problems and raise our families. In his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII cautioned, “the State must not absorb the individual or the family.”
While we live in a republic, we do not live in Plato’s Republic — that is, we parents cannot simply turn our children over to the state to be raised. We fathers and mothers have duties to live up to those noble titles. Rubio reminded us of this, stating:
But only you, only we, in our roles, in our lives as mothers and fathers, as husbands and wives, as members of community, only we, as individuals working collectively, can fix the culture in our society. And it starts one family, one home, one child at a time, in your individual life. No congressman, no senator, no governor can do that for our nation.
Solidarity and Common Humanity
Back in 1891, Pope Leo XIII condemned socialism and issued a dire warning against socialists who drive a wedge between rich and poor classes. His prescient words remain true in 2022. We have lost sight of our common humanity; we have even lost sight of human nature itself — that there even exists a human nature. The denial of human nature, as history illustrates, leads to misery.
Rubio expressed a similar concern and reminder, saying:
Everything has changed. The way people dress, where they eat, the way they speak, the way they live their daily lives, so much has changed. But the one thing that’s as true today as it was 5,500 years ago is human nature. Human nature will never change. And part of human nature is the desire to belong, the desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
Witness in the Public Square
Whatever the government, whatever the culture, whatever the time and place, we have a duty to witness our Catholic Faith. That’s not always popular; yet, the duty remains. Whether we follow that duty or not, others watch how we behave. They take note of whether we love, whether we truly believe and whether we hope. But if we persevere in those theological virtues, a wonderful thing may happen: we may inspire others.
Senator Rubio reminded us of this by looking back to the times of early Christianity. He said:
If you read some of the third-century accounts, these Romans, who lived in a pagan culture that was anti-Christian in every way, would ask themselves: ‘These people that we keep feeding to lions and putting to death, they have joy. They sing hymns on the way to their execution. They take care of poor people and themselves and each other. They even take care of Romans who hate them. What do these people have? Because whatever it is, I’m curious.’ And then some of them decided, ‘I want it, too.’
In his campaign messaging — which truly reflected his entire political career — Marco Rubio proved a loyal friend to the unborn and their families. He proved not only knowledgeable about Catholic social teaching, but also willing to champion that teaching. Despite the fact he was significantly outfunded by his challenger, Rubio won his election by more than 16 percentage points. Hopefully, this will inspire other Catholic politicians to know and promote social teaching in campaigns to come.