It is never permissible for a Catholic to vote for a pro-abortion candidate because the candidate is pro-abortion. Such a vote would be formal cooperation in the serious sin of the candidate who, upon being elected, would vote for legislation making possible the taking of innocent human life through procured abortion.
When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons strictly defined.
Since abortion and euthanasia have been defined by the Church as the most serious sins prevalent in our society, what kind of reasons could possibly be considered proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for a candidate who is known to be pro-abortion? None of the reasons commonly suggested could even begin to be proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for such a candidate. Reasons such as the candidate's position on war, or taxes, or the death penalty, or immigration, or a national health plan, or social security, or AIDS, or homosexuality, or marriage, or any similar burning societal issues of our time are simply lacking in proportionality.
There is only one thing that could be considered proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for a candidate who is known to be pro-abortion, and that is the protection of innocent human life. That may seem to be contradictory, but it is not.
Consider the case of a Catholic voter who must choose among three candidates: candidate A) Kerry, who is completely for abortion on demand; candidate B) Bush, who is in favor of very limited abortion, i.e., in favor of greatly restricting abortion; and candidate C) Peroutka, a candidate who is completely against abortion but who is universally recognized as being unelectable.
The Catholic voter cannot vote for candidate A) Kerry, because that would be formal cooperation in the sin of abortion if that candidate were to be elected and assist in passing legislation which would remove restrictions on abortion on demand.
The Catholic can vote for candidate C) Peroutka, but that will probably only help ensure the election of candidate A) Kerry.
Therefore the Catholic voter has a proportionate reason to vote for candidate B) Bush, since his vote may help to ensure the defeat of candidate A) Kerry, and may result in the saving of some innocent human lives if candidate B) Bush, is elected and introduces legislation restricting abortion on demand. In such a case, the Catholic voter would have chosen the lesser of two evils, which is morally permissible under these circumstances.
Of course, the Catholic voter could choose not to vote. But that would be a serious abdication of the Catholic voter's civic and moral obligation to participate in the election. By not voting, the Catholic voter could well be assisting in the election of candidate A) Kerry, and while that would not carry the same guilt as formal participation in candidate A) Kerry's, support of abortion on demand it would still be sinful, even if only a sin of omission.
Those Catholic voters who love moral absolutes would have no choice but to vote for candidate C) Peroutka, but those Catholics who recognize that in the real world it is sometimes necessary to choose the lesser of two evils in order to prevent greater harm " in this case harm to innocent unborn children " would vote for candidate B) Bush.
Rene Henry Gracida is Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas