Bishops' guidance: Do not remain on the sides, vote
Rev. Gerald D. Coleman, PSS
I have been noticing recently Catholic commentaries which raise the point that one cannot be Catholic and vote for a Democrat as president. One priest claims that voting for a pro-abortion candidate amounts to placing "the blood of these unborn children on your hands." He finds this "incomprehensible" and adds that such a Catholic is "stupid." He concludes, "in the name of Jesus you have to vote against pro-abortion politicians."
Along these same lines, another priest affirms that if a Catholic votes for a candidate and party that is committed to expanding abortion on command, he or she "puts your soul in grave danger especially if you present yourself for Holy Communion after casting such a vote with the full knowledge of what you're doing."
A third example includes a bishop who claims that a Catholic cannot in good conscience support candidates who advance abortion and the "Democratic platform is aggressively pro-abortion." However, he asserts, a Catholic can in good conscience vote for the Republican party because its platform calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, banning dismemberment abortion and opposing assisted suicide.
He admits that neither political party is in "complete alignment" with Catholic social and moral teaching. But it is the Catholic's duty to vote for the candidate and party that supports human life from conception through natural death, the freedom of religion and conscience, the family and the poor.
These examples must be adjudicated in light of the teaching of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility" is the conference's guide about primary issues that Catholics should consider when discerning how to cast their vote (www.usccb.org.faithfulcitizenship). This document makes clear that the Catholic bishops (should we not add priests as well?) "do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote."
Having said this, the document sets forth a set of guidelines to help Catholics come to good and prudential judgments in casting their vote.
The first and foremost level of consideration that must be considered by a Catholic regards acts that the moral tradition calls "intrinsically evil." In a recent column on Catholics and voting, respected writer Rev. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, raises the serious concern that the language of "intrinsic evil" is not intuitively grasped by many Catholics and others in our society. What does the Catholic moral tradition mean by such acts? Certain acts are so flawed, incompatible and damaging to the human person that they cannot be justified.
Faithful Citizenship gives specific examples: abortion and physician-assisted suicide are acts that destroy the innate goodness of holiness of an unborn child and a terminally-ill patient. These acts fail to uphold this God-given dignity, even though there may be extenuating circumstances that push a person into believing that the act is good.
Directly-intended abortion is judged as the most severely flawed action because it takes away nascent life which is the starting point for all other possibilities in the course of an individual's life-journey. Other acts are equally reprehensible, e.g., physical and mental torture, genocide, targeting noncombatants in acts of terror or war, racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, treating the poor as disposable, redefining marriage, human trafficking.
Pope Francis has coined the term "throwaway culture." Acts that are in themselves humanly flawed and incompatible with the respect due to all human persons fall into this category, and cannot be the objects of our support or approval.
Extremely important guidelines that too often are ignored appear in Faithful Citizenship:
1. A Catholic voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference to other important moral issues the candidate holds involving human life and dignity, e.g., environmental degradation, unjust discrimination, use of the death penalty, pornography, compromising religious liberty (Nos. 2225 and 2830).
2. A Catholic voter for grave reasons might vote for a candidate who supports intrinsic evils — because this candidate is more likely to pursue other authentic human values — as long as the voter's intent is not to support the candidate's promotion of an instrinsic evil (No. 34). This same conclusion was reached by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004 in "Worthiness to Receive Communion:" "A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. 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."
3. A Catholic voter must also take into account a candidate's commitments and character (No. 3437).
Faithful Citizenship wisely counsels that "the fact of our political rhetoric has become very negative and that political polarization seems to have grown should not dissuade us from the high calling to work for a world that allows everyone to thrive" (No. 8). We "cannot and should not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice" (No. 4).
(Sulpician Father Gerald D. Coleman is adjunct professor, Graduate Department of Pastoral Studies, Santa Clara University.)
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