It has been a brutal 2016 in a number of ways for many people, and the desire for a more peaceful, more normal 2017 is palpable.
January brings not only a new year but, following on the heels of a bitter, deeply controversial election, it also brings a transfer of power to a new president. To put it mildly, this brings mixed feelings among Catholics. After voting for President Barack Obama in the last election, a majority of Catholics who voted this time chose President-elect Donald Trump. But as with the last election, that leaves almost as many Catholics shaking their heads, wondering how that happened.
It is the church’s role in these situations not to pick sides in elections but to help form consciences, and, in the wake of an election, to try to prudently, prophetically and articulately propose sound principles where society needs clarity to truly seek the common good, all within the context of whatever government comes to power, whether it is friendly or unfriendly or somewhere in between.
President Obama, as any president does, came to power with a set of goals and ideas, some of which were, in the Catholic view, conducive to the common good, and some of which were deeply incompatible with it.
Something similar can be said of President-elect Trump, who, on the bright side, promises to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices who will restore protection for the right to life and says he will protect religious liberties that have been under relentless assault for years now. At the same time, as a candidate he advocated a return to the intrinsic evil of torture, and his rhetoric on immigration has at times been awful, even at one point embroiling him in an apparent public spat with the pope. His support for religious liberty seems not always to extend to Islam.
In an American landscape riven by matters of racial and economic justice, environmental protection, access to affordable health care, and more, there are also legitimate questions over how the Trump administration will govern. This bears watching.
If there is a silver lining to this clouded situation, it’s this: We have a clear path, one very similar to the one for any new president coming into power. We must pray for him. We must hope for him to govern well and help him to do so.
And among the ways we do that are to continue bearing witness to the truth, to support him when he does something good and to oppose him, with charity and respect but also with resolve, if he does something wrong.
Here’s to a more peaceful 2017.