Catholic Conundrum: What's an Anti-Abortion, Pro-Immigrant Voter to Do?

Edilia Gonzales attends Mass every Sunday.

She gives communion to fellow Catholics, sick and elderly, who are unable to leave their homes. She believes that life is sacred, including the life of a child still developing in the womb. And she believes that undocumented immigrants who've made their way to the United States should be treated humanely and with dignity.

The 72-year-old was raised by devout parents who opened up their family's home for church services nearly six decades ago, before the modest Santa Teresita Catholic Church was built in El Mirage, a small community in the West Valley.

Gonzales knows that Bishop Thomas Olmsted, the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, tells Catholics to take their faith into the proverbial voting booth, and that abortion under any circumstances is "intrinsically evil."

Does that mean, then, that a Catholic vote for pro-choice President Barack Obama is a sin?

It's troubling, she says, particularly this year, as the immigration debate competes with abortion for the spotlight.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, has an unfriendly record on illegal immigration. He calls Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant law (Senate Bill 1070) a "model for the nation," and he decisively says that if he were elected to office he would veto the DREAM Act, a measure that would allow certain young people brought into the United States as children to earn their American citizenship.

Gonzales has seen many young undocumented children in her community — friends and neighbors — go to school, graduate, get jobs, and start families of their own.

"They've been here all their lives," she tells New Times. "They don't know Mexico. But the church says I shouldn't vote for Obama because he's for abortion. Who am I going to vote for? Romney? He wants to get rid of all the Mexicans."

More than 68 million Americans — including about 950,000 in the Phoenix area — share Gonzales' Catholic faith.

Religion and politics are always a difficult mix, but this year, the dichotomy is punctuated by a presidential race in which God has taken center stage.

Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church). Romney, whose family has deep roots in eastern Arizona, rose to the rank of bishop but stepped away from his religious duties when he entered politics. Yet, he says, he remains committed to the tenets of his church.

The Massachusetts governor's running mate, Paul Ryan, a devout Catholic, has close ties to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the nation's highest-ranking Catholic.

Obama is Christian, and Vice President Joseph Biden also is Catholic but, unlike Ryan, believes in a woman's right to make her own reproductive decisions and same-sex couples' right to marry.

Biden, by his own church's standards, is a sinner.

The 2012 Republican Party platform mentions "God" a dozen times, compared to only twice in 2008. The Democrats, who omitted the reference from the original version of their platform, scrambled during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte to get the word back in.

It was a big deal, with Republicans pouncing on Democrats for the omission and Obama reportedly personally intervening to reinsert the phrase "God-given" in the guiding document. The incident illustrates just how prominent a role religion is playing this political season.

Debates, campaign speeches, and pundit chatter are dominated by social issues steeped in religion — abortion, gay rights, and gender equality. Illegal immigration, the fate of Medicare, and programs for the vulnerable, such as food stamps and Medicaid, also are emotionally charged topics that could tip the balance in a tight presidential campaign.

At the same time, Catholics, Mormons, and other religious Americans are feeling the pressure from church leaders who are urging them to vote with a mind fixed on traditional church teachings.

All this fervor over religion likely will push more voters of faith to the polls, just as Obama energized African-Americans and other minority voters in 2008.

Conservative religious voters are going to make a difference in the presidential election — not only in Arizona, but in battleground states across the country where Romney and Obama are in statistical ties.

In Nevada, the state's sizable Mormon population could give Romney a boost. In Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, Obama's share of the Catholic vote will be pivotal. (For more on Mormons' political involvement, see "The Mormon Dilemma" on this page.)

Of course, the faithful aren't monolithic and do not vote by religious affiliation alone. Important overlapping factors include an individuals' ethnicity and the depth of their reverential convictions — that is, how closely they listen to their religious leaders.

Sixty-two percent of Latinos in America are Catholic.

"Obama may not win Arizona, even with huge turnout among Latinos," Josh Ulibarri, a pollster with Washington-based Lake Research Partners, tells New Times. "The key for Latinos in Arizona are all the down-ballot races. Do those Latinos turn out and vote for [Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard] Carmona? Do those Latinos turn out and vote for the Democrat in the state races?"