Father, Forgive Me–I Voted for Obama

I know, I know–you thought with the election being over, the politics posts would stop. But when I woke up a few weeks ago to discover Obama had been reelected–with considerable help from Mass-going Catholics–I realized the issue of Catholics supporting pro-abortion/pro-gay marriage/pro-insert-objective-evil-here isn’t going away. Obama v. Romney won’t be the last time we have to choose between less-than-ideal candidates, so in anticipation of the next round of political undesirables, let’s prepare ourselves to explore exactly what our Church teaches about moral voting practices. (It is the Year of Faith, after all.)

Whether Catholics can vote for pro-abortion politicians without sinning themselves originated in a six-point memo from then-Cardinal Ratzinger, published online years ago by L’Espresso, an Italian magazine. The memo outlined that Catholics can’t vote for a pro-abortion candidate without incurring mortal sin–except for “proportionate reasons,” but the future pope didn’t clarify what those justifiable reasons would be. Though the memo mentioned pro-abortion politicians specifically, civil leaders who support other intrinsically evil acts such as euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, or legalizing gay “marriage” create a similar quandary for Catholics.

The best guidance I’ve found that attempts to clarify what proportionate reasons would justify these votes for Catholics was put out by Bishop Emeritus Rene Henry Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas:

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 between three candidates: Candidate A, who is completely for abortion-on-demand; Candidate B, who is in favor of greatly restricting abortion; and Candidate C, who is completely against abortion, but universally recognized as being unelectable. The Catholic voter cannot vote for Candidate A 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, but that will probably only help ensure the election of Candidate A. Therefore, the Catholic voter has a proportionate reason to vote for Candidate B, since his vote may help ensure the defeat of Candidate A and may result in the saving of some innocent human lives if Candidate B is elected and votes for 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.

What this bishop says is common sense. If you’re voting for a pro-abortion/euthanasia/gay marriage candidate because that candidate supports those things, you’re complicit in the evil and committing a mortal sin, too. Duh.

But what if you disagree with the candidate on abortion or gay marriage, but think his position on issues such as war, welfare, or the environment justify overlooking the first two? No again. Prior to the last election, Catholic Answers put out a great guide titled, “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics,” which outlined the five major moral issues declared by the Church to be objectively and absolutely immoral: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, and same-sex “marriage.” As Catholics, we’re morally obligated to vote against all five and–with only rare exceptions–to vote against politicians who support any of them.

Despite the confusion promulgated by those who subscribe to the “seamless garment” or “consistent life ethic” philosophies, which aim to present all life-related issues as equally important, the fact remains that some issues are simply more critical than others and must be considered first. Abortion is always wrong, whereas war may sometimes be justified. Euthanasia is always wrong, but capital punishment may not be. Yes, we’re called to support policies that respect the sacredness of all human life, but when forced to choose, there’s a hierarchy of moral issues and some (those five non-negotiables, for example) rank more important than others. (Incidentally, you can download a great lecture by apologist Tim Staples here that more fully explains our moral obligations on these life issues.)

But there’s a third category of voter, that I first encountered five years ago. As a professional writer, I used to contact strangers for interviews every day, so it’s nothing for me to contact public figures via e-mail. I’ve lauded and upbraided many celebrities and what’s shocked me is how many of them actually write back. I’ve conversed with actress Carol Drinkwater, Some Girls author Jillian Lauren, and editor-in-chief of the American Medical Journal, to name a few. Once I even got a phone call back from the former editor of Our Sunday Visitor, after I sent a letter in criticizing Ted Kennedy’s bishop for cozying up to the late politician despite his pro-abortion stance.

Perhaps the most surprising response I ever received, however, was from writer Anne Rice, famed author of The Vampire Chronicles series. Rice had publicly confirmed her return to Catholicism a few years earlier after decades as an atheist. I wrote to her via e-mail expressing my disappointment that despite claiming to desire full union with the Catholic Church, she was nonetheless stumping for presidential hopeful John Kerry, a pro-abortion Catholic.

Rice wrote me a lengthy letter back, explaining that she was voting for Kerry because she believed his social policies would actually do more to reduce abortions than John McCain’s would. In other words, Rice claimed to have “proportionate reasons” to licitly vote for a pro-abortion candidate. (Not that Rice has to worry about being in union with the Church anymore, having decided she no longer wants to associate with any institution that upholds the traditional teachings of Christianity. But I digress.)

Rice’s justification surprised me at the time, but in the past month, I’ve heard that same reasoning offered by several practicing Catholics who voted for Obama (again). In their opinion, whether Romney or Obama say they’re pro-life or pro-choice is meaningless; we have to look to their proposed economic and social policies to determine which candidate is truly “for life.” And in their opinion, Obama’s record and policies are simply more “pro-life” than Romney’s, which makes it morally permissible for them to vote for him. The HHS Mandate (which will force Catholic institutions to violate the faith), as well as Obama’s record in promoting Planned Parenthood, as well as his public stances against all five of the non-negotiable life issues…none of these override the actual, practical good that will come from having him as president over the other candidates, they say.

Readers, what do you say? Does the logic of Rice and other prObama Catholics hold water? And if not, why not? What reasons, if any, would constitute legitimate “proportionate reasons” for voting for similar candidates in the future? I look forward to your answers.

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