There are “morally grave” reasons Catholics should vote for Joe Biden for president rather than Donald Trump, according to a former top official at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who endorsed the former vice president in an article in the Jesuit journal America on Thursday.

The article by John Carr, who worked for decades as the bishops’ adviser on issues of justice and peace, marks the first time he has endorsed a political candidate.

Previously, Carr, who opposes abortion, has described Catholics as politically homeless because neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party completely reflects Catholic social teaching. Republicans were better on abortion, he said, while Democrats were better on social justice.

In his essay, Carr criticizes those who “misuse the U.S. bishops’ ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship’ to insist that it is a sin to vote for Biden, that Catholics can’t be Democrats or are required to vote for Trump.” He is referring to the voter guide the USCCB releases in presidential election years.

Carr speaks with authority because, beginning in 1976, he helped the bishops develop “Faithful Citizenship,” which has been published for nearly half a century. He knows the document better than anyone.

Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, thinks “that under longstanding Catholic teaching and the moral criteria in the U.S. bishops’ statements, President Trump does not merit re-election and Biden can be supported by Catholic voters.”

“I believe Mr. Trump’s character, lack of integrity and record on racism and Covid-19, among other matters, constitute ‘morally grave reasons’ to oppose his reelection and that Mr. Biden has the ‘character and integrity’ to lead our nation and is ‘more likely to pursue other authentic human goods,’ ” he wrote. “I will vote for Mr. Biden for what he can do to help us recover and heal, lift up those left behind, ensure healthcare for all and treat immigrants and refugees with respect.”

Carr said that he understands that other Catholics may come to a different conclusion, and that although he is clear in his choice, it is not without reservation.

“I will not vote for [Biden] to support his position on abortion, but in spite of it,” Carr wrote. He said he is especially disappointed with Biden’s abandonment last year of the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal money to support abortion.

Carr recognized that Biden, “like most politicians, sometimes exaggerates and dissembles,” but said that “his political leadership reflects Catholic social teaching and Democratic party orthodoxy, limited by political pragmatism.”

Trump, on the other hand, “seems to be consumed with himself, lacks empathy and will not accept responsibility,” Carr wrote. He seems to view faith as a political tool, not a way of life; and his past and present behavior seem to violate most of the Ten Commandments, especially ‘not bearing false witness.’ ”

Ending Trump’s administration, Carr wrote, should not be construed as “a mandate to end all abortion restrictions, provide federal funding for abortions, or to undermine religious ministries that serve the poor and vulnerable consistent with the principles of their faith.”

For Catholic observers, some of Carr’s most interesting revelations concern the history of the voter guide itself. He wrote that Pope Benedict XVI inspired a major revision of Faithful Citizenship in 2007 to emphasize the role of conscience and prudence.

“It is not the church’s responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life,” Benedict wrote in his encyclical letter from that year, “Deus caritas est.”

“Rather the church wishes to help form consciences in political life, and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly.”

Carr also reports that divisions among the bishops in 2019 kept them from updating the “Faithful Citizenship” to reflect current issues and the teachings of Pope Francis.

The bishops approved language declaring “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority,” he wrote, while rejecting language from Francis stating, “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”

Carr writes that “the failure to include the full Pope Francis quote was a mistake and describing abortion as the pre-eminent priority is an incomplete and overly narrow moral criterion.”

“When Covid-19 leads to the deaths of more than 185,000 Americans, when an economic crisis, health and other disparities disproportionately threaten the poor, vulnerable and communities of color, I believe the protection of the lives and dignity of all God’s children should be the moral imperative in this election year,” his essay says.

— Religion News Service