Did Mitt Romney Make the Wrong Decision?

Senate Vote

Mitt Romney’s recent vote to convict President Donald Trump following the impeachment trial in the Senate created a huge uproar among politicos, but particularly Republicans, many of whom were outraged. When someone bucks his party and votes outside the group, backlash is a typical reaction. And that is why few politicians vote very often in opposition to their party’s line. It is just easier and usually more politically astute to vote with your party, lest one lose his/her committee appointment, chairmanship, preferred office space, or future dollars needed for the next election. No, the vitriol Romney faces is not all that surprising among hard-line party members, especially secular ones.

Catholics Question Romney’s Motives

What I did find surprising, however, was the harsh backlash from many considered to be devout Catholics, including Catholic clergy. A few examples from social media the day of the vote: One Catholic layman stated, “So Romney was turned down by Trump for a cabinet position, proves he ran for the Senate to take down Trump. Pathetically petty.” A deacon wrote, “I accidentally watched Mitt Romney give his speech. Pathetic. Justifying the unjustifiable using God & conscience as justification.” A second deacon wrote, “I used to like Mitt Romney, less so over the last few years, but now I see him as a very little man, petty, resentful, vindictive, and small. So many more thoughts…..unauthentic, and the rest I will refrain from sharing.” A priest wrote, “Please pray for Mitt Romney. A heart filled with vengeance can carry a person into very dark places. Lord, please heal him.”

Those are some of the more tame examples available of the many pretty serious judgements of Romney’s heart and intentions. And to a man, I know them all to be good, holy men. They just reacted emotionally to a political disappointment, which we are all prone to do from time to time. The comments, though, are pretty good examples of rash judgment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, warns us against such judgements:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved (CCC 2748).

Why Did Romney Cast a Vote to Convict?

Mitt Romney is not Catholic, of course, but he considers himself, as do his peers, a man of devout Mormon faith. It was his deep Mormon faith, he claims, that led him to follow his conscience and vote to convict the president. Now, one can disagree with Senator Romney’s conclusions about the evidence, certainly. We can be quick to judge his heart and intentions as in the four examples above. And we can think, as some allege, he perhaps let a sour relationship with the president cloud his judgement. Or we can think he just misunderstood the evidence and drew the wrong conclusions. I choose to believe Senator Romney failed to properly view the evidence and was thus led to the wrong conclusions, and then the wrong vote. But where so many Catholics – and there are many, many more than the examples above – make a mistake is casting aspersions toward the senator for having cast his vote for any other reason than what he stated, which was:

I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong… my promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

That many Catholics would simultaneously state that the case against the president could not lead to a conviction because the provable evidence – essentially what was in the president’s mind – was nonexistent, while claiming to know what was in Romney’s head when he cast his vote, seems both ironic, and a bit hypocritical. Unless we can prove otherwise, we should take the senator at his word, as many of us did the president’s.

The Catechism on Conscience

Catholics should be very careful about criticizing a person who follows his/her conscience when making a decision. As the Catechism states:

Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law (CCC 1778).

It goes on to say:

Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters (CCC 1782).

With regard to how to have an informed conscience, the Catechism states:

Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.

The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.

In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church (CCC 1783-1785).

I realize that the above information is not discussed much, but the message is crystal clear; one must act within one’s informed conscience, provided that act is not in opposition to Christ and His Church’s teachings. How can we assess how well another’s conscience might be informed? One’s faith is an indicator, of course, but without truly knowing a person, and their lifelong formation, it is hard to nail down a definitive answer. And too often, we tend to think merely disagreeing with another person means their conscience must not be informed. But perhaps it often it is our own that might be out of line, particularly when we subordinate our faith – willfully or otherwise – to politics, and our emotional reactions to political actions, as many public Catholics seem to do.

None of us can know for sure what was in President Trump’s head while the money was delayed. It is clear to many, including me, that the case against the president was flawed and unproven. So too is it clear to me that the allegations about what was in Senator Romney’s mind and heart are also flawed and unproven. Speculation is a dangerous thing, can ruin reputations, and can lead to putting ourselves in a state of sin. We Catholics are called to avoid rash judgement, tale-bearing, calumny, and detraction – all sins against the Eighth Commandment, according to the Catechism. Social media is a tempting beast, where we think we can speak as we please. The question is not can we, but should we? As Proverb 21:23 states, “He that keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his soul from distress.” I think in the internet age, we can apply that to our fingers as well.

Did He or Didn’t He?

I think it is clear from Catholic teaching that we should always accept at face value, in the absence of proof otherwise, a proclamation by someone when they claim that they acted based on their conscience – even if of another faith, and even when we disagree with the result. We do not have to like the choices, nor even the person, but we are still called to love them and not judge their hearts, minds, and intentions. Did Senator Romney make the wrong decision? With regard to his vote, I indeed think so. And as far as acting on what his conscience advised? As a huge fan of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher, both of whom steadfastly followed theirs to violent ends, I think not. Senator Romney said he did what he thought was right, and this Catholic respects his exercise of conscience, even if not the political result.

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21 thoughts on “Did Mitt Romney Make the Wrong Decision?”

  1. Steven P. Barrett

    If Trump’s supporters are going to rest their defense of the man around the fact that he’s the first to attend an RTL rally, “reform taxes” (though only temporarily to the benefit of all taxpayers) and supposedly “turn the economy around” and make “America stronger,” etc — then they’re completely missing the boat insofar as this particular thread of commentary’s concerned: a fair assessment of whether or not Mitt Romney has been fairly treated for his willingness to buck his party and his party’s leader. I thought we lived in a nation where principles and the guts to stand up for them were “expected givens” to put things concisely. Romney is a former governor from my Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Did I agree with his stands on everything. No. Did I wish his administration did more for the western half? Yes. But those points made, they don’t cloud my entire view of the man, especially with regards to Trump’s impeachment and Romney’s speech and vote to convict. Maybe we should update an old saying to “Hell hath no fury as an ideologue or party hack scorned.”

  2. Dear Mr. Roney,

    Thank you for your charitable, well-thought-out, well-sourced, and Catholic response to Senator Romney’s decision. As St. Thomas More is said to have said (it was in the movie, at least), “I have no window with which to look into another man’s soul” (the quotation might not be precise).

  3. It is amusing to hear many deride Trump for being a lying, adulterous, and rude person. What would any of you think of a leader who seduced a married woman, have sex with her and get her pregnant, then have her husband killed to hide the crime? No, I’m not equating Trump to Holy King David, but no leader is perfect. Plus I didn’t elect someone whom I put my spiritual well being in – that’s reserved for God. Would it be nice if that leader exhibited such qualities – sure. But I elected this leader because he was the one who most aligned with my values and he’s proven to do that, from actually being the first President in about 40 years to personally show himself at this year’s RTL march, to his commitments to the pro-life cause, to fighting for religious liberty, and helping cement all of that by appointing judges who will continue to do so. Is he perfect and represent 100% of what I want and believe in – nope, and again, that’s reserved for God.
    So throughout all of this ugliness, ask yourself who best represents (NOT perfectly) your Catholic beliefs and I’d about guarantee they don’t have a “D” next to their name.

    1. The problem, of course, is that is the logic that has been repeatedly condemned in the Bible and in the Church throughout history. There are innumerable examples in the Old Testament where leaders made the rational political choice – and then were severely punished One need only remember that David decided to conduct a census – and as a result 70,000 people were killed by a plague in punishment. King Zedekiah made the rational choice to make an alliance with Egypt – against the direct command of God – and as a result the nation was destroyed by the Babylonians and the people were sent into exile.

      The idea that God rewards “rational politics” is completely false; there cannot be the slightest doubt that God will send a catastrophe on this country as the result of Trump. Perhaps the coronavirus plague that will match the one given to David as punishment. Or the complete destruction of the country as happened to Israel – perhaps the great Yellowstone volcano will erupt. God is incredibly merciful to those who act through ignorance; but he will severely punish this country for the actions of Christians who should know better.

      One may never chose evil; and Satan always appears as an “angel of light.” There cannot be the slightest doubt that he will appear as a pro-life politician (Satan hates abortion; it results in fewer souls that he can cause to spend eternity in hell). Remember Satan will always appear as an angel of light. The ONLY thing he cannot consistently due is state “Jesus is Lord” and consistently tell the truth. Pay close attention to Trump’s words at the National Prayer Breakfast. Draw your own conclusions.

      It is also important to point out that to chose the “lesser of two evils” is to chose evil and is always forbidden by the Church. “Doing nothing” is always a valid option and is often the only morally correct option.

      Finally, with respect to Trump’s personal life, one must decide if adultery is an intrinsically evil act. If one denies the evil nature of adultery, and does not have invincible ignorance, he cannot be saved. It is also consistently taught in Scripture that we will be held accountable for not warning others of their sins. Why are so few Trump supporters concerned about his soul? If you do not condemn Trump for his sins so as to save his soul, your own soul is in extreme danger. On this God has been crystal clear. If before the judgement seat of Jesus you argue partisan politics…. well, better bring an SPF 1 Trillion suntan lotion.

  4. “Are you actually trying to say that because Mitt Romney felt differently . . . “ damned straight, You understand me load and clear. The President is who chooses his cabinet and, yes, Mitt applied. . . Trump said no. This hurt poor Mitt’s feelings which has went from a pout to full throated hatred, the end result of Trump Derangement Syndrom.

    As for the President “earning” impeachment . . . impeachment is a charge, and unlike any other, a totally partisan charge devoid of a single Republican vote in the House . He was lawfully acquitted. i.e. not guilty. You can try to spin that anyway you wish, but acquitted is acquitted.

    “Most dishonest occupant of the nation’s highest office” You’re not serious? Hmmm, Fast and Furious (selling guns to Mexican cartels), weaponizing the IRS against 501C3 conservative groups, Bowe Bergdahl, the Cambridge police acted stupidly, on the links laughing within five minutes of telling of how ISUS had beheaded an American Journalist, making billions of dollars available to Iran, the world leading exporter of terrorism (making Obama, the worlds largest financer of international terrorism), telling the President of Russia to pass on to Putin to wait until after the election as he’ll have more room placate him. I could go on all day on the absurdity of “Most dishonest occupant…”

  5. Mitt offered the President his services? That’s a rather charitable way of saying, he wanted a cabinet level appointment of which Trump decided he was not qualified for! Herein lies the genesis of some of the bad blood between them. As for all the lame arguments against Trump arising from prior to his election 3 years ago… i.e. a cross between sour grapes, envy and Trump derangement syndrome. Trump did not run for saint of the United States, but President. As President, he’s done very well, and I was a solid never-Trumper, right up to Ted Cruz dropping out of the race leaving me with what I considered, at the time to be a choice between two dumpster fires. Is Trump an unpleasant verbal counterpuncher who is often quite crude around the edges? Has he did bad things in his past. Yes, he’s a fallen son of Eve, as are we all. Following eight long years of Obama, Trump ends up being just what our country needed to get it back on track.

    Bottom line is that although Trump may have had failed business attempts in his past, it may help in understanding some of his motives; but, it does not excuse Romney’s current bias or action that I believe put his personal feelings over evidential reality and the good of the United States. Romney, and his failed record on health care in Mass. or many of his private equity moves that bankrupted many hard working people by wiping out their savings . . . men in glass houses should not through rocks.

    1. Steven P. Barrett

      Are you actually trying to say that because Mitt Romney felt differently about Trump and offered his services in order to serve his country (first, and foremost) that Romney boxed himself out of having anything to say as a senator elected on his own right, about the conduct of a man he once gave the benefit of the doubt? It was Trump who dropped the ball with his behavior in office. It was Trump who deserves the scorn for what he did that earned him his impeachment. That the vast majority of Romney’s fellow Republicans in the Senate disagreed with him does not take away from the rightness of Romney’s brave speech and vote to convict on the first charge. Have we forgotten who was impeached and why? It’s bad enough that the gaslighting gasbag in the White House has lied consistently all along, but for Catholics who should know enough about ethics to understand when they’re being bamboozled by the most dishonest occupant of the nation’s highest elective office … that says something. And it’s sure as hell not good.

  6. I see a more compelling body of evidence that Romney’s personal distaste and feeling against President Trump, outweighed and colored his judgment. In fact, there seems to be more factual evidence concerning Mitt’s bias than the Democrats had evidence supporting their claims against President Trump.

    Beginning his talk with, “I’m a very religious person,” seems a bit virtue signaling. Kind of like, “hey believe me, I pray a lot.” People who begin any conversation with some kind of self declarative statement… “Hey, this really happened,” – “With God as my witness,” – “I’m an expert in this or that….” I’ve listened and read many saints, and I have never heard such from them. Saint Pope John Paul never started a homily or Angelus Address with “I’m a religious man.” He did not have to, because everyone knew he was.

    As for judging. We all judge, we may say we don’t, but as a parent, you must judge our children’s behavior. Some of us have been or jury’s… we judge. We , all judge daily. Rash judgment and calumny, are apples and oranges. In serious issues and even in the little ones, we mush judge in the fear of the Lord. Talking about how we honestly judge the veracity of a politician is not calumny, it’s social responsibility. I do not believe his actions and words were pure. I do not dislike Mitt, I just don’t trust him.

    1. Steven P. Barrett

      When you consider the way Trump has treated Romney, can you blame Romney for speaking out against the president and calling for his removal? In the past, Romney had offered his services and Trump seemed glad to welcome him on board despite their differences. It was Romney who swallowed his pride at first, not Trump who also never seems to let the slightest past slights escape his own mental lockbox so they can be used against others when it suits him. This is how Trump has operated nearly all his life. He sure forgets legitimate complaints by contractors who weren’t paid on time for their labors on his projects. He tells them to file their complaints in the local small claims courts or wherever else appropriate, and then proceeds to drag the cases out till hell freezes over. Does Trump forget them? No. He remembers those people who (in his twisted view) demonstrated the gumption or gall to file claims against him. But when it comes to owning up to what he’s promised, forget about ever seeing that come to fruition. Remember what he did to the charities he set up for the families of first responders to the 911 tragedy? How about Trump University? It’s an on-going pattern with him. Cross this man just once and he never forgets it. He’ll deny he ever met you if for some reason your past presence in his life might cause some momentary or future embarrassment, but he’s consistently shown a pattern in this regard as well. He learned well from his father and Roy Cohn, his mentor who was also a past political consigliere to none other than Joe McCarthy.

  7. Dear Mr. Roney,

    You are a good and thoughtful man. Thank you for being a voice of Catholic reason in a time when even Catholics have adopted the know-nothing mob mentality of Jack Chick.

  8. I have nothing to say about the verdict in this comment. There is another serious moral issue in all this, other than whether Trump is guilty or not.
    Romney is not my favorite person, but I give him credit for doing what most of the other Senators did not, that is, for taking his juror’s oath seriously. All the senators took an oath before God to do impartial justice. Judging from their own words and actions, they swore that oath while never intending to keep it. Some said right out, even before the trial, that they were going to acquit. Many brazenly made it clear during the presentation of evidence, that they were simply not paying attention to the proceedings.
    Lying under oath is completely dishonorable, yet these people are not even ashamed of themselves.

    1. You have identified the real issue. Those Republicans sinned. But Catholic Trump supporters choose to ignore it.

    2. It would no violation of one’s jurors’ oath if one believed that even if Trump’s actions were all exactly as alleged by the Democrats in the House, none of the allegations rose to the level of an impeachable offense, and therefore a firm predisposition to vote for acquittal would be utterly ethical. Indeed, mandated by standard US jurisprudence.
      It is interesting that in response to an essay asking us to grant Mr. Romney the benefit of the doubt as regards his motivations, you feel all “these people” should all be ashamed of themselves who voted for acquittal, since you have determined they acted in bad faith. You seem to have entirely missed the point of the article.
      You feel so certain that Mr. Trump is guilty that you cannot believe his guilt is not obvious to everyone. Thus his defenders are dishonorable.
      In point of fact, fully half the nation disagrees with you. And you and people who agree with you do not have a monopoly on virtue.
      The following facts are not contested. Hunter Biden doesn’t speak Ukrainian, and has zero expertise in the natural gas industry. But, his father was VicePresident of the USA. Burisma paid Hunter Biden hundreds of thousands of dollars solely for access and influence. Joe Biden threatened to withhold a billion dollars in American aid unless the Ukrainians shut down any investigation of his son. Joe Biden boasted about this on camera.
      John Kerry’s son also financially benefitted from Burisma, and I believe some other Democrat-comnnected individuals who shared Hunter Biden’s lack of expertise in the petroleum industry did also.
      So, ask yourself. Are you OK with this? Is graft and corruption on this scale OK with you? Or should it be investigated?
      I think a better case for impeachment of Donald Trump could be made charging dereliction of duty in enforcing the law and conducting foreign policy if he FAILED to investigate the Bidens.
      Suggesting, even pressuring the Ukrainians to pursue such an investigation is the Chief Executive’s duty, not a crime.

    3. Steven P. Barrett

      What we’ve seen with the Trump craziness within self-perceived conservative Evangelicals and conservative Catholics is a willingness to believe in the notion that as long as he’s openly pro-life and the stopper of abortions, he’s the guy. Well, he hasn’t stopped abortion. And what’s worse, he’s created a half-truth image for himself as being “pro-life” when in fact his and his party’s record on domestic spending on crucial programs like SNAP for poor pregnant moms, their children, and Meals on Wheels for the elderly (to give some examples) is pathetic. It shows the exact opposite for any respect for the dignity of life, especially for the less well-off. Buying into Trump’s and his supporters’ claims of his administration being so pro-life when in fact it’s been anything but for the poorer amongst us is buying into and spreading his and their lies. And I don’t even want to spend hours going into the shabby way this administration has treated those at the border and Muslims. Are we not all “people of the Book” or has contemporary politics and a misreading of what it means to be “conservative,” never mind compassionate as our God expects of His children overtaken long treasured and honored teachings?

  9. Steven P. Barrett

    Well, haven’t some Catholics forgotten already the examples of St. Thomas More and St. Thomas Becket! Thankfully Trump doesn’t have the kind of power that Henry II and Henry VIII possessed. Just a little ironic that Mitt Romney is taking his abuse American-style from the closest leader we’ve had to Henry VIII. Fret, not ye supporters of Trump, no doubt he’ll be getting enticements from the smug uber-conservative Catholic clique who managed to seduce Larry Kudlow and the Gingriches into joining the Church. Anything goes in this era of packaging any genuine example of “alternative” truths.

  10. Steven P. Barrett

    What Mitt Romney said in the Senate Chamber and his vote to convict Donald Trump was an act of bravery. It shouldn’t have been. Not in the least. It was an honest appraisal of Trump’s behavior and conduct and the Utah Senator acted on his conscience which is more than I can say for a lot of other Christians who looked at their 401Ks and decided what Trump did and has done in disgracing his office for the past three years was of little consequence. Praises for Sen. Romney and Speaker Pelosi for showing their moral and civic backbone.

  11. Your position is that Trump’s innocence is Catholic dogma and by questioning it Romney was not necessarily evil but possibly merely mistaken.

    1. You’re not serious, I hope, about Trump’s innocence being dogma. And no, I don’t think anyone questioning the president would be wrong. We should question our leaders regularly, to keep them honest and in check. I do think Romney drew the wrong conclusion from the evidence. That’s an opinion, not dogma. Thanks for the comment.

    2. OK. It’s just that your entire essay seemed premised in Trump being factually innocent. It’s almost like you expect your readers to agree with you on that.

  12. Long experience with Rommey suggests his fundamental misreading of the situation coupled with a general cowardice and mediocrity. None of this is about Ukraine or a phone call. The reason doesn’t matter, any pretense will do. It’s about fanatics losing their grip on the institutions of power.

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