The Catholic Vote

I have been asked by many people to help clarify Catholic teaching on exercising one’s voting rights, especially with respect to the abortion issue. There are many candidates across the nation running on many issues, and Catholics are trying to sort through them all, so I will state the Church’s position as unequivocally as possible for the education of the faithful and not as an endorsement of any particular candidate or candidates: true Catholics are not “single-issue” voters — we are principled voters. That determines which candidates we give our vote to and it determines the state of our souls after we vote. With respect to the abortion issue, the principle in question is the moral impossibility for a Catholic to cooperate in an act or an institution that is “intrinsically evil.” Now, something that is “intrinsically evil” is not just a bad thing — it is a heinous thing, trumping all other moral considerations, and we can never legitimately commit the act ourselves or approve of it in anyone else. Casting a vote for a candidate who forcefully advocates the killing of innocent unborn babies shows approval or unacceptable toleration of that heinous crime against humanity, and Catholics can never do it in good conscience. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls such an attitude and action “formal cooperation” in evil (#2272). This does not mean that I commit the evil myself. It means that I agree with it and have made it possible for a person in public office to continue and/or advance that evil in my society.

Formal cooperation in the evil act of another is a sin, and depending on the gravity of the person’s evil act, formal cooperation in it can be a mortal sin. Since procured abortion is an intrinsically evil act, and all promotion of it fits into the same moral category, voting for a person who forcefully advocates it must be a mortal sin. Add to the sin of formal cooperation in evil the sin of disobedience to legitimate Church authority. To date the USCCB and more than a dozen US bishops and state bishops’ conferences have clarified these principles for Catholics, and their teachings couldn’t be clearer.

Further, add the sin of scandal that a regrettable number of priests and religious are giving by their appalling disingenuousness about Church teachings both in and out of the pulpit. Catholic parents and teachers equally give scandal when they do not teach their children the principles that undergird moral behavior or properly form their consciences according to the Truth that is in Christ.

Some ask if a Catholic may vote for someone whose policies would advance an agenda that is mostly in line with the Catholic Church’s teaching. Also, what if the Catholic disagrees with the candidate’s position on abortion but still wants to vote for this candidate for other reasons consistent with our values? Here the Church uses the term “proportionate reason” to indicate that there must be some kind of balance in the candidate’s position that indicates it is likely that a greater good would be accomplished for society despite the evil he or she advocates. Proportionate reasoning usually has to do with positions that are not intrinsically evil in themselves or that, if they are, would constitute such a minimal part of the platform that they would be “outweighed” somehow in the grand scheme of the candidate’s public service. According to the above principle, however, the degree to which the candidate would promote something as heinous as abortion can literally nullify all the other “good” that he or she would do for humanity! When the fundamental right to life is denied in society, all other rights and goods are therefore threatened. The very moral foundation of a people is eroded. So the answer has to be no, it is not legitimate to disagree on abortion and still vote for a radical abortion candidate.

May a Catholic vote for an “imperfect” candidate if the radical abortion candidate is worse? The Church says yes, but only if the vote is not expressed as an agreement with the “imperfect” elements of the candidate’s policies and only if the vote is intended to limit the evil that other candidate would inevitably do.

It is truly regretful that we have gotten to the point where we might have to surrender some of our basic values in the voting booth because we have not successfully insisted on the very best candidates for public office to serve the common good. That is a discussion for another day, but I anticipate that if Catholics do not assert Catholic values forcefully in elections and public policy from here on out, we may be faced in future elections with no choice whatsoever that can morally satisfy the Catholic conscience. Heaven help and guide us all on November 4th.

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  • Grace Harman

    “Freedom of Choice Act” which Obama has promised to sign into law, would force all abortion to be UN-restricted and government (tax) financed. This would force us to allow it and kill many more milions of helpless babies for years to come. we must prevent this total takeover of the culture of DEATH.

  • elkabrikir

    My 16 year old son has seen through the equivocating bishops. He said, “why do they use the word “urge” us to vote for life, when we MUST vote for life. There is no choice here. McCain is the only candidate as of this writing. (I know I’ll hear about 3rd party candidates….save your vote for the primaries to send a message.)

  • goral

    Unfortunately there are catholics out there who think ACORN is a worthy Cath. charitable org. and continue to vote their deformed consciences and reasoning set in rigor-mortis.
    We can’t change that, let’s pray that God speeds them to the other side where they can do harm.

    Sunday I went to visit my daughter at RPI where we went to the Chapel of Christ Son of Justice. I could end it here and you’d guess the rest.
    A chaplain was giving the homily, telling us how we can change things with our vote. She mentioned all the injustices in the world that need to be remedied.
    In passing she did mention the killing of the unborn but the others got the pauses and the dwells. She ended with “we can change the world and we will”.
    Oh, so skillful, not once was the messiah’s name mentioned but all I could think of during that monotonous message was – Obama, son of justice.
    Yep, they’re out there and there’s so damn many of ’em.

  • saintstephen

    Obama wants to legalize abortion and McCain wants to legalize war which kills men, women and children so there is no one to vote for, both candidates believe in killing.

  • Mary Kochan

    Uh, war is already legal. Read your Catechism. Also the purpose of war is not to kill innocent children or civilians; the purpose of war is to defend them. But the purpose of abortion is to kill innocent children.

    We may disagree about the justness of the war or how to manage it, but the Church does not allow us to disagree about abortion. Haven’t you ever heard of “just war doctrine”?

    Abortion is an INTRINSIC EVIL. That is why there is no “just abortion doctrine”? It is always wrong and can never be supported for any reason. The Church teaches that absolutely no one can ever under any circumstance justify it, nor can it be legally supported. It must be always and everywhere opposed AND CATHOLICS ARE OBLIGATED TO SEE TO IT THAT THE UNBORN ARE PROTECTED BY LAW!

    We are also obligated to use our vote to limit the evil of abortion if it is not possible to eliminate it right away.

    Please tell me that you are a teenager and too young to vote anyway. Because your reasoning is very childish.

  • saintstephen

    One of the primary reasons for abortion is cost. Many women abort their conceptions is because of the enormous costs of delivering a child. Obama’s heathcare initiative in making heath care affordable will have a strong impact on the number of abortions simply by making childbirth more affordable. The cost of war even if authorized is far more enormous than the cost of abortion. The economy of this nation is not nearly as devastated by abortion as it is by war. Apparently your cost evaluation of the war is not as effectively educated as your cost awareness of abortion. The life of the newborn is of no greater value than the life of those whose lives are taken in war. To suggest that anyone’s life is of greater value in the eyes of God is not educated in the Catechism of “the culture of death” proposed by John Paul II. The culture of death is not exclusive in it’s definition of “life”. To say that the taking of life of the newborn is of greater value than taking the life of the aged or the life of a soldier or the life of a terrorist is nonsense as human life on all levels is precious in the eyes of God. McCain’s intent to make war to take human life is equally absurd as Obama’s intent to allow abortion to take human life. Both candidates are equally ignorant of Pope John Paul II’s definition of the “culture of death”. Death is when a human life is taken away by one with malicious intent, no matter who’s life is taken away.

  • saintstephen In recent months peace has been overwhelmed by the events in the Middle East that appears once again as a region of disputes and wars.

    The many attempts made by the Holy See to avoid the grievous war in Iraq are already known. Today what matters is that the international community help put the Iraqis, freed from an oppressive regime, in a condition to be able to take up their Country’s reins again, consolidate its sovereignty and determine democratically a political and economic system that reflects their aspirations, so that Iraq may once again be a credible partner in the International Community.