While those who attended religious services regularly favored Romney, it is difficult from initial exit poll data to tell what impact issues such as religious liberty played in their vote.
The U.S. bishops have spoken out recently about threats to religious liberty, including a federal contraception mandate issued by the Obama administration that requires many religious institutions to offer insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs in violation of their beliefs.
A Pew survey shortly before the election showed that about one-third of Catholics who attend religious services at least monthly remembered hearing about religious liberty from the pulpit.
Mercer observed that it is possible that more than one-third of Catholics were present when religious liberty was discussed at Mass, but that they did not remember it because the issue was not consistently presented as an urgent matter.
The bishops have been unified in presenting a strong and clear message about the importance of religious liberty and the threat posed by the mandate, he said, and that message must continue to be proclaimed, so that the average person in the pew realizes that this “truly must be important.”
A second group of Catholic voters is comprised of those who are “cultural Catholics,” Mercer said. These individuals do not attend Mass regularly but still identify as Catholics. Although they have a basically “secular mindset,” they participate in the “rich culture” of the Church.
Among these Catholics, the faithful should see an “opportunity to evangelize” by reaching out through their shared culture and seek to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the Church, he said.
Another subgroup that is distinct in its voting behavior is the Latino Catholic population, said Mercer. Although most Hispanic Catholics are strongly pro-life and pro-marriage, this voting group heavily favored Obama, often differing from the Republican Party on immigration.
Reaching out to these Latino Catholics will require “a sustained effort,” Mercer said, explaining that teaching about the importance of pro-life and pro-marriage voting cannot be done simply through pamphlets handed out in the month before an election.
Rather, he said, there is a need to “invite our brothers and sisters who are Latino into the pro-life and pro-family movement and listen to them.”
We must recognize that this means committing to “long-term grassroots work” and investing in Hispanic communities, Mercer stressed.
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If Latinos become more integrated into those movements, Mercer believes it will strengthen the pro-life and pro-marriage causes and allow different Catholic groups to learn from one another.
“It’s going to require building relationships,” he said.