The nation’s newest Black bishop has spoken out on the upcoming midterm elections, releasing a new statement calling for level-headedness but focusing on pro-life concerns.
“Our political cause as Catholics is the defense and dignity of human life,” Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS of Charleston said bluntly in a letter to the faithful on Wednesday, November 2.
“We must elect lawmakers who uphold and promote the common good, reject intrinsically evil acts, and protect the weak, underserved, and vulnerable.”
Installed as Bishop of Charleston in May, the Haitian-American prelate’s stated focus on abortion—the “intrinsically evil” act being the main political focus of many US Catholics—follows similar comments he made during a homily at an All Saints’ Day Mass at the cathedral on November 1.
According to one attendee, Fabre-Jeune stated (with a laugh) that “maybe someday we will be lucky to have a good Catholic president in the United States, unlike now.”
The pointed comments came in the wake of President Joe Biden’s recent commitment to enshrining abortion protections in federal law, following the fall of Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court earlier this year.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops responded with a statement on October 25 from their pro-life chair (and presidential candidate) Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, excoriating Biden’s views as “gravely wrong” and “single-minded extremism”.
Fabre-Jeune’s thoughts last week on Biden, however, seem to have been viewed similarly by at least some of his constituents.
“I got up and left,” said one attendee at the All Saints’ Day Mass.
“[It was] un-Christian and words like this would never come out of Jesus’ mouth.”
Though Biden is not on the ballot this year, Tuesday’s midterm elections include a number of hotly contested races for statewide offices and the US Congress, many of which involve conservative Catholic incumbents and upstarts.
Unsurprisingly, abortion has become a central issue in many of these races, as has the legitimacy of the election of President Biden, COVID-19, teaching race in the classroom, and various migrant crises currently rocking the nation.
American Catholics are divided along party lines concerning each of the above, and while some US bishops have often spoken in lockstep with the Republican party, the USCCB has typically responded to each political issue with statements reflecting the Church’s notably non-partisan teachings.
“As Americans prepare to step into the voting booth later this month, it is important to recognize, especially as Christians, that we do not only belong to a specific party—we are Catholic first,” Fabre-Jeune said in his new letter.
“We do not vote from social pressure or selfishness, but from a well-formed conscience in light of the Church’s teaching.”
Political deadlocks have stalled most major legislation from moving through the Democrat-led 117th Congress, and several of this week’s most important elections remain a toss-up according to many statisticians, with unpredictable races dotting the country for both the House and the Senate.
These include a close contest for US senator in Bishop Fabre-Jeune’s longtime home of Georgia, between newly minted GOP poster child Herschel Walker and the incumbent Rev. Raphael Warnock. Democrat Stacey Abrams is also in a relatively tight rematch for governor with incumbent Brian Kemp, to whom she lost narrowly in 2018.
Democrats’ tenuous hold on the two chambers of Congress could hang in the balance on Tuesday, and Catholics nationwide have been encouraging voter turnout as their bishops collectively maintain a neutral stance on permissible candidates.
In an interesting turn, though the Catholic presence in Congress is not expected to change drastically, it is likely that only one self-identified Black Catholic will remain: Rep. Adriano Espaillat, an Afro-Dominican Democrat representing the 13th District of New York.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).