Are Douglas Kmiec and Father Michael Pfleger destined to be the representative Catholic voters of the election of 2008? It could be.
Kmiec is the California law professor with conservative, prolife credentials who early this year made a name for himself by publicly declaring his support for Sen. Barack Obama. The Democrat, Kmiec claimed (on what basis is unknown), could be counted on take a reasonable position on abortion.
Father Pfleger is the Chicago pastor who got his 15 minutes of fame during primary season by trashing Hillary Clinton from the pulpit of what was — up till then — Obama’s liberal Protestant church.
Different as they are in many ways, both men were early and vociferous Obama fans who spoke as Catholics.
While I question neither their sincerity nor their right as citizens to support whomever they wish, it’s impossible to ignore the real-life implications of their choice.
Professor Kmiec to the contrary notwithstanding, Obama is an aggressive abortion supporter who promises that as president he’d sign the notorious Freedom of Choice Act making abortion on demand a matter of federal law and who as a member the Illinois legislature opposed a measure requiring that efforts be made to save the lives of children born via botched abortions.
If elected, Obama says, he will nominate to the Supreme Court people who support Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 abortion decision. As a senator, he voted against confirming prolife Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. For good measure, he opposes vouchers for parochial school parents and students and rejects amending the Constitution to bar legal recognition of same-sex marriage. And of course he promises “change.” Change indeed.
Can a Catholic vote in good conscience for someone who holds positions like these? Consider what the American bishops said in their pre-election document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, published last year:
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil….
There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
That leaves a small loophole — the possibility that someone might vote for a pro-choice candidate for a proportionate reason outweighing the evil of abortion. But the loophole was effectively closed by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver. Mulling the question of what might qualify as a “proportionate” reason in a case like the present one, he simply said he couldn’t think of anything that would outweigh the grave moral obligation to work for an end to the evil of legalized abortion that has poisoned American life for over 30 years.
I can think of no better advice for Catholics weighing their choices in this election who truly want to do the right thing than to read-carefully and prayerfully — the American bishops’ document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship and, if they have time, Archbishop Chaput’s admirable new book on Catholics and politics, Render Unto Caesar.
The first, which is available in English and Spanish, can be ordered from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at 1-800-235-8722. Archbishop Chaput’s book is published by Doubleday and available in bookstores and at online outlets.