Skip to comments.Catholic Voters and Moral Choices: A Response to 'Catholic Answers'
Posted on 11/03/2006 12:29:07 PM PST by radtrad2006
In a few [days] in the United States we will have an election in which all the members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election. And, as they did in the 2004 election, the California organization Catholic Answers, this time by means of their parallel political action committee, Catholic Answers Action, is planning to issue a Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics in an attempt to influence how Catholics vote in this election. And not only Catholics, for this time they will also issue a parallel guide for Protestants, Voter's Guide for Serious Christians.
Catholic Answers began as an apologetics organization and publishes an outstanding booklet on the Catholic faith, Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, as well as many other useful apologetics books. But in recent years they have become more involved in politics, and now with their political action arm have explicitly entered the area of electoral politics.
Is there anything wrong with this? Is it not a good thing for Catholics to participate in the political process? Indeed, does not the Catechism (no. 2240) tell us that it is "morally obligatory...to exercise the right to vote"? Certainly it is true that Catholics do have an obligation to try to influence public policy, but it makes a big difference which principles we operate with as well as which methods we use. In their Voter's Guide Catholic Answers Action offers a set of principles, five things which they claim are "non-negotiable" for Catholics, and indeed for all Christians.
Principles and Methods
What are these five items? Abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning of humans and same sex "marriage." No Catholic, asserts Catholic Answers, may compromise on any of these since they are all intrinsically evil. "No one endorsing the wrong side of these issues can be said to act in accord with the Church's moral norms." And of course they are correct in saying this. Each of these things is an evil and no Catholic can directly support any of them. For example no Catholic legislator could support or vote for a bill which legalized any of these practices, nor could an ordinary Catholic voter support a referendum on behalf of any of them.
Abortion and euthanasia are simply murder, embryonic stem cell research is the goulish practice of using parts derived from tiny babies for medical experimentation, cloning is the attempt to play God by creating human beings, and same sex "marriage," even if called by another name, is both an absurdity and a danger to the moral health of society. It is on the basis then of these issues alone that Catholic Answers argues we should evaluate candidates. Since these five items are intrinsically evil and "non-negotiable," we can never vote for a candiate who supports any of them, unless his opponents are even worse. "Citizens support these evils indirectly if they vote in favor of candidates who propose to advance them." Thus the Catholic voter's task is simple: Find out how each candidate stands on these issues, and choose the one whose positions agree the most with Catholic morality.
Actions Speak Louder
But is it so simple? In the first place, we must distinguish between a declared position in favor of some policy and a real commitment to do anything about it. The Republican party has for several decades stated that it is against legalized abortion, but it has not produced much in the way of concrete results, even with control over both executive and legislative branches of the federal government. Actions speak louder than words is an old but always relevant proverb.
Secondly, are there any other issues besides these five which Catholics may regard as worthy of consideration in making decisions about which candiates to support? The Voter's Guide rightly notes there may be legitimate disagreement on questions about war or economic policy. And that surely is true - but true largely in the abstract. For example, we can rightly say that it is not always certain whether or not a nation is justified in any particular war which it might be waging, and therefore Catholics of good will may sometimes differ in good conscience. But if we take the logic of the Voter's Guide to its limit, we reach the conclusion that a politician who proclaims his agreement with Catholic morality on the five issues listed above may then inaugurate any war with however flimsy a pretext, and receive a pass from Catholic voters. Or that since sincere and informed Catholics may disagree about specifics of economic policy, the most extreme free market or socialist policies must be overlooked in a politician who proclaims that he stands with the Church on the five issues.
Political questions are essentially moral questions. This is not to deny that practical wisdom very often comes into play, so that the decision whether to set a speed limit at 25 mph or 30 is hardly a moral decision. But the meaning of "politics" as society's deliberations on the common good must ultimately resolve themselves into moral considerations if our politics are not to degenerate into a Realpolitik. Thus very many governmental policies do have clear moral implications and consequences, even if they are not as clear cut as the five items enumerated by Catholic Answers.
Abortion and an Unjust War
In addition, we must weigh not only what is most important in itself, but what is achievable in the here and now, and what are the indirect consequences of a proposed course of action. Abortion, as the legal murder of the defenseless unborn, ranks with an unjust war in the gravity of its evil. But is the possibility of eliminating abortion a real option for us now? And if we judge, for example, that the invasion of Iraq was not only unjust, but has destabilized the entire Middle East and created a potential for further wars, and that an attack on Iran could bring about a genuine world war in which nuclear weapons are used on all sides, could not such threats to the common good of the world be seen as the overriding evils to be averted at present? The fact that certain acts are intrinsically evil and can never be excused does not mean that only those acts have to be taken into account when we evaluate how we are to vote.
Moreover, there is a certain confusion of thought on the issue of war, I think. It is true that some defensive wars may be just, and that serious and orthodox Catholics may come to varying conclusions about the morality of such a war. But if a Catholic has come to the well-grounded conclusion that a certain war is not just, must he not therefore regard the killing taking place in that war as objectively murder, even if the individual soldiers are not subjectively culpable? And as such, these killings have the same objective moral status as abortions.
I am sure that many will simply reply to me that war is seldom or never a clear-cut matter. But consider this analogy. Could I not volunteer to fight in a certain war on the ground that my conscience was certain that the war was just, even if I knew that others, equally informed and serious Catholics, believed the war to be unjust? For example, would Catholic Answers criticize an American Catholic for volunteering to fight in Iraq on the grounds that since questions about war were never certain, no one should place himself in a situation in which he might be called upon to commit murder. But if not, then individual Catholics, despite the differing opinions of others, may reach sufficiently certain judgments on individual wars that we can act on those consciences. The fact that these judgments of conscience, both in favor of and opposed to a certain war, are fallible judgments, is beside the point. Yes, they are fallible, but they are all the certainty we will have. The fact that two individuals with opposed opinions on a particular war may each be considered subjectively worthy of receiving Holy Communion does not mean that neither of them may consider his judgment certain enough to act upon it. If this were not the case, then no one could ever volunteer to fight. But if one may volunteer to engage in killing that other serious Catholic consider murder, then surely those serious Catholics opposed to a particular war may regard it as a sufficiently important issue for determining how they should vote.
Catholic Answers advocates using these five issues even when voting for local candidates who might never face these questions as part of their elected duties. It is true, as they note, that many politicians begin their careers in local government, and therefore who would want to help launch the career of a pro-abortion politician?
But if other political issues can ever be important, are voters to ignore local questions, e.g., about schools or the environment or crime, because a candidate for city council may indicate a theoretical support for stem cell research? Most city councilmen never become state or national legislators, and it seems silly to ignore pressing local questions on the basis of a statistically unlikely event that the candidate in question may rise to higher office.
Contradicts Judgement of Church
Above I quoted the Voter's Guide to the effect that "Citizens support these evils indirectly if they vote in favor of candidates who propose to advance them." This is really the key sentence in the entire Guide, since by forbidding not only legislators from voting for any of these five evils, but ordinary citizens from ever voting for a candidate who supports them, it underlies Catholic Answers' assertion that it is solely on the basis of the five "non-negotiable" points that we must vote. But as a matter of fact on this point the Voters Guide directly contradicts the judgment of the Church as expressed by then Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I am referring to the last paragraph of Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum, "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion," send to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington in 2004. This paragraph reads as follows:
[N.B. 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 favour 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 is here simply noting the complicated nature of human society and of voting, something which cannot be reduced simply to five issues, not all of which are even likely to be under consideration by many politicians during their tenure in office.
Moral theologians recognize that not all decisions are clear cut, especially when we must act along with others, which is why the area of moral theology that deals with collective and shared actions, which is known as "cooperation," cannot be reduced to some simplistic rationale. Whether one thinks the "proportionate reasons" which Cardinal Ratzinger mentions are present today or not, surely this statement is relevant to the question of how serious Catholics may vote. Curiously, although the Voter's Guide does quote from this memorandum, it does not quote this paragraph, perhaps because it directly contradicts its own assertions.
It is also interesting that Catholic Answers Action has called their new voting guide for Protestants a voting guide for Christians. By doing so, they implicitly endorse the heretical notion that Catholics are not Christians. Of course, I know that Catholic Answers does not hold such nonsense. But by entering onto the political scene Catholic Answers has already begun to water down their apologetic work on behalf of Catholic truth to accommodate the popular terminology of Protestant America. Unfortunately, every such erroneous usage simply reinforces the silly notion that Christian does not mean Catholic and Catholic does not mean Christian. I understand why Catholic Answers Action called their booklet Voter's Guide for Serious Christians, rather than "for Serious Evangelicals" or "for Serious Protestants." But which is more important - winning souls for the Church of Jesus Christ or advancing a political agenda which in fact is not mandated by Catholic teaching and tends toward uncritical support of the Republican party? Which is more important for the Catholic Answers apostolate?
Catholics should take their responsibility for the common good of their country and of the whole world seriously. This is not an easy thing to do, especially in our time. Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics reduces this difficult task of discernment to five simple principles. In doing so it does a disservice to Catholic discourse and places a restriction on Catholic voters which the Church has explicitly denied. Catholic voters must indeed vote with an informed Catholic conscience, but such a conscience cannot be neatly captured by the five issues - important as they are - enumerated by the Voter's Guide.
I think the article misses the point of the Guide. It is supposed to be a simple aid in narrowing down the choices. It correctly informs the voter that abortion (for example) is an intrinsic evil, when war (also for example) is something that requires further discernment.
Our enemies would like nothing better than to put the Catholic voter back on the Democrat party reservation.
Is this person American? He thinks a Congressman or State Senator "may inaugurate any war" ... how?
Karl Rove wasn't even elected!
The author appears to be grasping for an excuse to vote for pro-abortion, pro-embryonic-stem-cell-research, pro-euthanasia, pro-sodomy, pro-cloning politicians, because they also happen to be pacifists.
I fail to see how this "critique" serves any purpose at all. Normally,I am an admirer of Mr. Storck. I think he is wrong on this point.
But in recent years they have become more involved in politics, and now with their political action arm have explicitly entered the area of electoral politics.
Um, yeah. Thanks for pointing that out. I guess it does come as something of a shock to discover that when an organisation creates a "political action arm" it sorta hints that maybe, just maybe, they are gonna become politically active.
It is also interesting that Catholic Answers Action has called their new voting guide for Protestants a voting guide for Christians. By doing so, they implicitly endorse the heretical notion that Catholics are not Christians
*PUHLEEZE. It is called "meeting people where they live" Prots don't think we are Christians. However, THIS guide is about POLITICS. NOT DOCTRINE. CAPICHE?
Good Gravy. This bit of leaden pedantry and stretching to criticise makes the whole piece suspect.
And you know what, in making that criticism, HE is implicitly charging the Catholic Church with heretical practices because of its TRADITIONAL Practice.
Two can play this game :)
Congregation De Propaganda Fide "Instruction to the Vicars Apostolic of Tonkin and Cochinchina (1659)
... Finally, by conforming to the norms of evangelical charity, they must be ready to adapt themselves to the mentality and customs of others so as not to be a burden to the companions with whom they live, nor earn dishonour or even dislike of outsiders, but rather become, like the apostle, all things to all men...admire and praise whatever merits praise. As regards what is not praiseworthy, while it must not be extolled as is done by flatterers, you will be prudent enough not to pass judgement on it, or, in any case, not to condemn it rashly or exaggeradely. As for what is evil, it shouild be dismissed by a nod of the head or by silence rather than by words, without losing the occasions, when souls have become disposed to recieve the truth, to uproot it imperceptibly
OBVIOUSLY, Catholic Answers, not Mr. Storck is solidly in line with Tradition.
Mr. Storck, in the line of Traditonal Catholic Orthopraxis, owes an apology to Catholic Answers. Perhaps HE can issue a guide of, oh, I dunno, maybe 600-70 pages of moral casuistry vis a vis politics. I am sure it will be a best seller.
BTW, I guess my post pushes back to the 17th Century the advent of Indifferentism and Ecumenical Madness and destructive Modernism :)
And, btw2, what does this information do to the critics of Johannes Paulus Magnus and his days of prayers for peace with "those people?" I predict, little...
Sounds like this guy is trying to make an excuse for voting Democrat.
"Normally,I am an admirer of Mr. Storck."
Here, we differ, my friend.
Mr. Storck went mad a while back, along with the senior editorial staff of the New Oxford Review.
"Mr. Storck went mad a while back, along with the senior editorial staff of the New Oxford Review."
No kidding. They lost all credibility years ago now.
The article misleads in it's attempt to equivicate.
In claiming a "flimsy" basis for going to war it ignores a host of facts.
The Catholic Answers Voters Guide is solid, the rebuttal is not!
Now, I 'spose I'll have to admit, again, that you know more than me - and it ain't even Lent yet.
NOR used to be a pretty good read. Spritely orthodox, fun-loving and humorous in its critique of heterodoxy and heresy, I used to wait every month for its arrival. I learned a lot. I think maybe I was even a marginally better Catholic for reading it.
Then, the tone began to change, the cream began to curdle. The once-gentle fun-poking at silliness and stupidity took on an increasingly strident tone until eventually, I cringed every time it arrived in the mail, fearful of what new insults it would aim at which new victims. I just about had had it when they went after Fr. Neuhaus for being a universalist, specifically for what he wrote in his book, "Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross."
I actually read the book. I own a copy. I didn't recognize the arguments they said Fr. Neuhaus put forward in the book from what I read.
Their nasty review of Fr. Neuhaus turned into something of a feud, which Fr. Neuhaus tried studiously to avoid, but eventually had to engage when they wouldn't let it go.
At that point, I'd paid up a couple of extra years' of subscription, but vowed not to renew.
Our house has been NOR-free for some time, now, and the sun shines brighter, the grass is greener, and the honeysuckles smell sweeter.
This is incorrect. It is not at all the case that a Catholic who does not vote on this issue is aiding and abetting the pro-abortion machine.
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