'I'm David Zubik and I approve this message'

At the end of the televised political ad for president — usually after ripping apart the opponent — the candidates let us know that they reviewed the content and signed off on it.

“I’m Donald Trump and I approve this message.”

“I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.”

I have this mental image of both candidates locked in a room reviewing message after message in front of a big-screen TV. And I like to also think that after too much viewing, they might get just as upset as most of us are at the conflicting rants.

It is tough being the object of so many ads. They force themselves into our living rooms and stand over us with their heated agendas. Everybody is telling us all about everybody else and what’s wrong with them. We get an endless list of the evils they will inflict on us, the country and the world. We get a long indictment of their past and present sins and the failures that will result in the future if elected.

The ads are not only tiresome and upsetting. They have helped to create an unprecedented level of distrust and division as Election Day approaches. When the public questions the fundamental honesty of both presidential candidates, you know we have a very serious problem as we head to the voting booths this election.

Serious issues

As your bishop, I hear it said in this presidential campaign more than I have ever heard it said before. A day does not go by that someone does not tell me why I have to speak out, telling the faithful why they cannot vote for Donald Trump, or why they cannot vote for Hillary Clinton.

The following competing negative litanies define the presidential campaign, each bringing up serious issues, serious objections. And so, I share with you “in quotes” the actual concerns that others have shared with me:

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because of his horrible treatment of women.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because she publicly berated, insulted and ridiculed the women who claimed abuse by her husband.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because he has waffled in the past in his allegedly pro-life position on abortion and can’t be trusted.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because of her extremist pro-abortion positions, even supporting partial-birth abortions.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because of his anti-immigrant rhetoric and positions.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because of her loud and vociferous support of public funding for Planned Parenthood.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because he has no respect for freedom of religion as is evidenced by the positions he has taken compromising and questioning the rights of Muslim-American citizens and refugees from Islamic countries.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because she has no respect for the rights of faith-based people, and has openly declared that faith-based people and institutions should be required to change their beliefs if contrary to her secular agenda.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because his claim of a ‘rigged election’ can undermine the fundamental premise of our democracy.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because she has shown that she will embrace privately the aims of international big business that undermine American ideals.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because he and his party take positions that will only serve to harm the poor.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because she and her party have taken positions that have done nothing but keep the poor poor.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because he verbally attacked Pope Francis.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because the leaks of her staff’s e-mails showed a culture of anti-Catholicism.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because he is a bully and a narcissist.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because she will lie to suit her ends as she lied to the families of the Benghazi victims, telling them that they had been killed because of a video.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because his lifestyle and past adultery stand in sharp contrast to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because her public advocacy of gay marriage stands in sharp contrast to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because you cannot have a man of his disposition with his finger on the nuclear trigger.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because her use of her private e-mail server as secretary of State proves that she cannot be trusted to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because of that ridiculous position of building up a huge wall to keep Mexicans out of the country.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because she would allow a flood of Islamic refugees into our country that we cannot carefully absorb.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Trump because his bluster, bullying and violent rhetoric stand in absolute contrast to the message of Pope Francis.”

• “Catholics can’t vote for Clinton because so many of her positions on life-related issues stand in absolute contrast to the message of Pope Francis.”

Pray, then vote

And so the litany goes. One side calls the other criminal; the other side declares many of the other’s supporters deplorable. We are going to need to go a long way to bring back any sense of unity, decency and harmony in our culture after Tuesday’s election, no matter the result.

So where do we stand as Catholics? Which candidate to support? Which negative critique do we reject? Which negative critique do we respect?

The church never — this bishop never — will tell you which candidate to embrace or which lever to pull or which button to press or which checkmark to mark in Tuesday’s election. But the church — and this bishop — will tell you that you must consider all the critiques and weigh them with a Catholic perception, a Catholic focus and a Catholic conscience.

As I said last week when I told you “how to vote”: Pray before you enter that voting booth. A conscience rooted in true and open prayer will never let you down. Then vote as that Catholic conscience tells you. Vote in faith, hope and prayer this Tuesday. Vote as a faithful citizen.

“I’m David Zubik and I approve this message.”