Voting to Make a Difference

In the United States, only about half of those who were eligible to vote actually cast ballots during the last national election. I admit I have not always voted in the past. When I am tempted not to vote, however, I think back to a story I once heard about a certain Aunt Katherine who died a few years ago. She was blind during the last months of her life, but she had her daughter read the ballot to her and fill it out on her behalf. She was careful to sign the ballot and make sure it was mailed. It was one of the last things she did before she went to the Lord. She believed that voting was important, and it was one way she manifested her concern for others and for the society she was a part of.

We face the daunting task of evaluating many hot-button issues and sorting through various candidates’ positions whenever we vote. We may have to consider energy policy, access to health care, education, social security, the problem of homelessness, taxes, farm subsidies and inner city violence, to mention just a few. Some issues, however, merit greater attention than others.

The life issues — extending from abortion to embryonic stem-cell research to euthanasia — are, objectively speaking, the most critical issues to weigh in on as we cast our votes, because they address the basic good of life itself. Even if we strongly approve of a candidate’s position on social security and taxation, would that ever allow us to vote for him if we knew that he condoned and promoted human slavery?

Even if we strongly agreed with a candidate’s position on health care and education, would that allow us to vote for him if we knew he supported the genocide of Jewish people?

Certain kinds of evils, known as “intrinsic” evils, can never be permitted in a society, and candidates who promote such evils need to be shown the door by our votes, regardless of their positions on other, lesser issues. In the words of Father Brian Bransfield, a truthful conscience will wince whenever it “hears a candidate claim that he can fix health care, but still agree that a child in the womb can be killed. Conscience knows that if a candidate favors human embryonic stem-cell research, which always includes the killing of a human person, then our neighborhoods can never be free of violence — because we just voted for violence.”

When casting our votes, then, we ought to begin from a key and unmovable position — that every human being has a right to life, and that fundamental right makes all other rights possible. Absolute protection for the gift of life is the foundation of all the other goods we hope to promote and enjoy within our society.

While certain kinds of violence like abortion and embryo destruction can never be directly supported under any circumstances, other forms of violence like war and the death penalty may be morally tolerated in very limited circumstances. The difference lies in the fact that human life in the womb is, by definition, completely innocent, while the criminal in the electric chair (or the unjust wartime aggressor threatening a sovereign state) is no longer innocent, but is guilty of serious wrongdoing beyond any reasonable doubt.

Inasmuch as an accused criminal or a wartime aggressor is guilty of radical evil, war and the death penalty may at times, and in limited circumstances, represent a legitimate societal response. War and capital punishment, then, cannot be deemed intrinsically immoral. Any direct attack on innocent human life — whether through abortion, embryonic stem-cell research or euthanasia — will always remain intrinsically immoral. Voting for a candidate who supports war or capital punishment in very limited circumstances is not the moral equivalent of voting for a candidate who supports the killing of innocent human life in the womb or in the research laboratory.

Would it ever be morally justifiable to vote for a candidate who supports abortion or other intrinsic evils? Possibly. To vote this way, however, would require a proportionate reason for doing so. We can begin to understand what is meant by a “proportionate reason” if we consider a hypothetical case of two candidates running for president of the United States, one of whom favors a law that would authorize the killing of all Muslims living within the country (because the candidate claims that a small percentage of them might pose a terrorist threat someday). The second candidate, meanwhile, opposes any such genocide, but supports and encourages the killing of the unborn through abortion.

It might be permissible to vote for this pro-abortion candidate, not to support his pro-abortion agenda, but as a means to prevent the killing of Muslims. Roughly 1 million children are killed annually by abortion in the United States, while there are about 5 million citizens who are Muslims. Insofar as a vote for the pro-abortion candidate would help prevent the unjust killing of nearly five times as many Muslims as unborn humans, one could safely say that there was a “proportionate reason” to vote in this way. One might prefer to refrain from voting altogether in these circumstances, considering that both candidates are supporting intrinsic evils in their platforms. We must exercise caution, however: abstaining from the voting booth can unintentionally lead to support for the more evil platform. We should probably refrain from voting only when the platforms of all candidates support intrinsic evils to a similar degree.

In sum, voting is an indispensable duty within our democracy. The attention we focus on protecting vulnerable and innocent human life when we cast our votes will determine, in large part, whether we promote a just or an unjust society for our children and grandchildren.

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  • Grace Harman

    Supporting and protecting human life is the most crucial issue of this election campaign. The “Freedom of Choice Act” that Obama has promised to sign into law is more extreme than Roe v. Wade and nullifies ALL restrictions on abortion (including parental notification, information on development of the baby, or info. on dangers of abortion). It makes abortion UN-stoppable in the U.S. and fully funded by our taxes. (Embryonic research also attacks the baby at earliest stages and the elderly need protection from forced euthanasia as well). A second vital issue is defense of traditional marriage as this is the foundation of civilized society. These issues can NOT be balanced by anything else. Since abortion providers target blacks and other minorities it IS a form of racisim. If there is no guarantee of LIFE, there are no other rights to be had.

  • noelfitz

    It is a sin to vote and a sin not to vote. Both McCain and Obama support abortion.

    All one can do is hope in the mercy of God.

    God bless,

    “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” Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.

  • When all of one’s choices are evil, the obligation remains to still make the choice that limits or deflects evil as much as possible. In this cycle, that may well mean poring over the various 3d-party candidates.

  • Catholic Mom of 9


    No,no,no! I understand your frustration but here’s a way to sort it out:
    Which will cause LEAST harm?
    Which has chosen a runningmate which will help the pro-life cause?
    Which seems to be searching for truth in the matter and has demonstrated that by openness to discussion?

    There is a heirarchy of important issues–Life above all other issues. One main party candidate today is vehemently anti-life–supports not only no restrictions on abortion, but also infanticide. The other candidate IS pro-life–has embraced his party’s platform of being PRO-LIFE. He has admitted to being ok with embryonic stem cell research in the past, but this seems to be to be simply a lack of formation on his part, not a full-knowlege choice and he’s not staunch in those views, but open to listening and discussion. He has chosen a very pro-life runningmate, which says mountains,has adopted achild from a foreign (Mother Teresa)orphanage (another way to be pro-life)…. Please do vote-This year is critical and may change the course of our nation. God bless-

  • Ken Donajkowski

    Dear NoelFitz, there is a clear distinction between Senator Obama’s wide ranging support for abortion and McCain’s limited support for abortion as evidenced by the strong pro-abortion opposition to McCain/Palin. Then there is the objective matter of Supreme Court appointments where there is no doubt the direction Senator Obama would go. There is also the matter of the overt support of abortion in the Democrat platform. Your point, I fear, is rationalization in support of voting for Senator Obama and not reason.

    In love, Ken

  • Catholic Mom of 9


    An excerpt from the article:

    “…McCain also indicates his support for ESCR alternatives, which some say he will prioritize as president instead of, as pro-abortion candidate Barack Obama wants, dumping more money into unproven and unethical embryonic research.

    “I also support funding for other research programs, including amniotic fluid and adult stem cell research which hold much scientific promise and do not involve the use of embryos,” McCain says.

    He also continues with his long-time position in agreement with the pro-life community, saying “I oppose the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes and I voted to ban the practice of ‘fetal farming’ making it a federal crime for researchers to use cells or fetal tissue from an embryo created for research purposes.”

    Deal Hudson a leading pro-life Catholic writer, writes approvingly of the McCain statement….”

  • The next time you walk into a voting booth (and the key is that we must all start actually voting), bypass the rich Republican and the rich Democrat that spent millions of dollars in special-interest money on their campaign. Pull the lever for the high school teacher or laid-off autoworker running as independents. This is what I do. Or vote for the Constitution Party, the only real choice you have, if you are a Catholic that wants to follow the Church teaching on life issues. Because neither party supports the Catholic position on life…even Republicans make exceptions, where there are no exceptions and usually support Capital Punishment, when our Holy Father has said it is no longer necessary in places like the USA where can be secured from criminals who threaten us.

    Until we get people in Washington who are truly like us, we will continue to have no one who represents us as true orthodox Catholics and we’ll have only ourselves to blame. Remember the lesser of two evils is still evil. This is what we have in Washington now, evil. We have illegal wars, wars that our Church has said is not in keeping with our faith. A war started by nearly all Republicans and Democrats that were elected voted with the support of McCain and let us not forget he served in another illegal war back in the 1960’s and 70’s that started with a lie, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Other party candidates can get elected, I was elected in North Dakota as an independent, as a Catholic and father to 10 children, so don’t tell me it is impossible. What will be impossible will be to explain to God why we voted for some evil when there were choices to support none.

  • elkabrikir

    To CE editor:

    Thank you for running Fr. Pacholczy’s thoughts on this issue. He is well known as a holy and brilliant scientist and thinker. I rejoice that he loves us enough to spend his time trying to teach us, using the simplest of analogies, what our moral duty is.

    Moses had strong words for those who would persist in error after such an article as this, and the many similar ones from priests known for their holiness and brilliance: Fr. Pavone, Archbishop Chaput….

    Moses said, referring to the Israelites, they are a “stiff necked” people. They spent 40 years in the desert for their sin.

    Jesus says in Mark 8:18 “Do you have eyes and yet don’t see? Do you have ears and yet not hear?”

    Jer 5:21 “Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see; Who have ears but do not hear”.

    Ezekiel 12:2 “Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house.


    Those people who struggle with Father’s presentation might benefit from recourse to Mary. She will happily help those who struggle with hearing God’s voice. After all, she is the one who heard and obeyed God through the message of an angel (today is his feast day too!)

    “If today you hear God’s voice harden not your heart”
    psalm 26:8-9

    Silence and prayer are the midwife who will deliver one to the Doctor of Souls. Confession and daily mass are the cure.

  • yblegen

    To markarmstrong and those struggling about whom to elect, I suggest Archbishop Chaput’s book, “Render Unto Caesar. I picked it up at my local library. If they don’t have it, suggest they purchase it. Anyone reading that book will have no doubts about how to vote in this election, not because he talks about candidates. He explains to us why we are to be active, as devout Catholics, in the public square and it is not by throwing away our votes.

    Thank you Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk for your succinct explanation on this issue.

  • shadesofgreen

    I saw an amazing 2-3 minute video made by the Knights of Columbus, on voting for life. It was so powerful, my eyes got misty. The knights can’t have a say in politics, but I suggest you look into it. Sorry I don’t know the name.

  • wgsullivan

    I wish all could see, hear, and talk with Fr. Tad. His manner is most warm and caring. His voice is soothing, his content unarguable.
    Please don’t throw away votes this Fall. As mentioned above, the Supreme Court nominations and millions of lives depend on reading this article again and taking it to prayer.
    Mother Mary pray for us.

  • crossedcrowns

    Thank you, Fr. Tad and CE for addressing this matter. For those who are still confused, I would like you to consider the following:

    1. If you consider it evil to vote for Mr. McCain, please get a piece of paper and write down the name of the person you want to vote for- and the only certified people who will not commit any evil are saints. Pick one of them, or even better, Our Lord Himself.

    2. Understand that either Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama will become president. Another person is not going to, any more than the aforementioned piece of paper is going to turn into the name you wrote down.

    3. Mr. Obama is planning a militia of citizens, and already has in place a “youth training club” called Public Allies. When people talk about not voting for Mr. McCain, I have nightmares about my kids being assigned to “volunteer” in an abortion facility. Homeschooling is definitely not on his agenda. My parents are active in their parishes, but are going to vote for “that wonderful Obama,” and will not hear a word against him. Please vote against them.

    4. If you do not like how Mrs. Palin was treated before the election, just wait. Mr. Obama’s friends like you even less and will do something about it. That’s where the militia comes in.

    I am not just fasting- I am thinking of going on a hunger strike- like Esther.

    Vote McCain

  • Remember voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil. God does not call us to be successful with our vote, He call us to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. Many of the saints in our Church became martyrs to their faith because they would not accept compromising their faith. Voting for anyone who accepts anything less than the Catholic teaching on abortion is about compromising our faith. Republicans and Democrats had paid lip service to abortion for 35 years. A vote for the Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin promises an Executive Order that ends all abortions, no exceptions, on January 21, 2009. This will not occur if McCain or Obama are elected. Instead there will be more killing of innocent children in their mother’s wombs.

  • crossedcrowns

    If one’s actions result in more abortions, one is liable for that. Not voting for Mr. McCain is equal to saying that one is okay if Mr. Obama wins. Mr. Baldwin is not going to win. It is not going to happen. Mr. Baldwin’s plan to end abortion is not going to change anything.

    If one is serious about ending abortion, then that person will vote for Mr. McCain. I am not sure what else we know about Mr. Baldwin, but voting for him becomes an accessory to voting for Mr. Obama. I should know, because I voted for Mr. “None of the Above” Perot. I take responsibility for Mr. Clinton getting elected. No one will trick me into that again. By not voting for Bush Senior, I voted for Mr. Clinton, no matter what my ballot said.

    The choices are left or right. There is no up.

  • wgsullivan

    I’ve come to the conclusion that many, like my relatives, cannot stomach voting for a Republican and will rationalize a third party vote will keep their conscience clear. As mentioned above a third party vote might as well be thrown in the trash because a third party vote against McCain helps Obama win.
    If Obama gets in, try telling all the additional souls that perish from abortion when you meet them, that my conscience is clear having voted for a third party.
    If there is one issue Obama has been clear on it’s his lust for abortion supporters money and his voting record for the Culture of Death.
    The Catholic Church uses words like fundamental, foundational, non-negotiable, and pre-eminent when it comes to abortion. We are obliged to vote for the least blood spilled. That means as faithful Catholics this, November 4th’s, vote is a no-brainer.
    I humbly urge those wishing to vote for a third party citing the abortion issue to read the article again but only after earnestly asking the saints and the Trinity for guidance.

  • rakeys

    The most important power that a president has is the power to appoint Supreme Court judges, and also his veto power. It is difficult for any President to initiate legislation if the other party has a majority. I am glad President Bush has vetoed Democratic attempts to fund abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Barack obamma says that one of the first things he would do is sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would essentially wipe out any attempt to restrict abortion for teh full nine months. McCain wouid veto it. There is a big difference in who we elect for President.

  • DonnaMaria

    Indeed, I “threw away” my vote to Perot years ago, and we got Clinton! A third party candidate will NEVER win, and by voting for one, you are allowing the worst evil to get in to the White House, and that IS something we contribute to by voting 3rd party. There’s no way you can honestly say you have a clean conscience when you vote that way, sorry! “Catholic Mom of 9” has it exactly right–please re-read if it’s not clear! We MUST keep Obama out of the White House!

    Also, check out this great video by Grassroots Productions: You can also find it on YouTube:

  • So tell please by the analogy presented, if Hitler promised no abortions you could vote for him? Please spare me. Remember that Arnold Swartzenegger is a a Republican, pro-choice, pro-stem cell and of the same party as John McCain. A vote for McCain is a vote for this party. They have done nothing, legislatively speaking, to stop abortions, except to pay lip service. There is no difference…if there was they would throw Arnold out of the party…and yet he wears the same label as McCain. Any vote for McCain is a vote for evil…evil is evil you cannot measure it and make some academic pronouncement that it is okay. Something is either right or it is wrong. It is either good or it is evil. Both Democrats and Republicans represent evil, not good and voting for either party representatives will only bring more of the same for America!

  • goral

    Rakeys, is right about who will change the law of the land, only the Supreme Court. Neither McCain nor Obama can make that change. They can only try to appoint the judges.
    You may not like Bush but he gave us the right appointments and the Senate accepted them, Republicans for the most part.

    The Jews didn’t like the Samaritans nor the Galileans but that’s where Jesus’s message found ‘ears to hear’.
    McCain falls well short of a crusader for the pro-life cause but there is reason to be optimistic that McPelin would appoint far better judges than would
    Obiden. The rest is up to us to lobby our reps.
    Work and pray.

  • goral

    M. Armstrong, are you suggesting that the Republicam party say ‘Asta la vista Baby’ to the Terminator. Yes, he is the terminator but so is the majority of the Dems.
    Read the Republican platform, it’s Pro-Life. There’s no evil in it as far as that goes. In practice many turn out to be cowards, but there are so many brave ones.
    Remember the late great one – RWR, he would tell you, “well…, there you go again”.

  • Cooky642

    Mark, by your rationale, all 11 of the other Apostles should have been thrown in a shallow grave just because Judas betrayed the Lord! Your thinking is stuck at a 3rd-grade level. If you’re that young, you can’t vote anyway, so this whole discussion doesn’t matter. If you actually are 18 or older, please–please!–take off your rose-colored glasses and look at the reality of the situation. Did you know (probably not because I didn’t either and I live here!) that the whole electoral vote of the state of Michigan was decided by ONE vote in a nearby county? ONE VOTE! We always think “well, what’s one vote?” Now, you have an answer!

  • goral

    If I was going to have anything decided by one vote, I would not be afraid to have that deciding vote cast by Cooky.
    I don’t think Judas ever realized that his seed was going to be sown that far and wide among the Catholic Democrats.

  • wgsullivan

    If I were to run with Mark’s line of logic: A man with a gun holds my family hostage and says he will kill us all. He’s mad and someone’s gonna pay. I happen to carry a hand gun and have a chance to take him out. But wait, taking someone’s life is against church teaching. It’s evil, it’s sinful. I must allow him to kill my family even though I have a chance to protect and save them.
    Wait a minute. The church says I have a proportionate vote! If more evil (death) will come of this man killing my family than my killing him, I am justified in voting to pull the trigger (lever) myself permitting less evil. Well,I could just vote for picking up a rock to hurl at him but he has a gun and that would be wasting my vote.