Friday, April 11, 2008

Fuzzy Morality

Pope Benedict XVI could not come at a better time for America. On the advent of a presidential election, Catholic citizens of the United States NEED a clear, strong and unequivocal voice of moral and doctrinal authority to help properly form consciences that will responsibily vote this coming November.

Recently, I was made aware of a priest telling his parishioners that they could, in good conscience, vote for a politician who openly supported abortion AS LONG AS the voter did not agree with that position. Then he quoted from the American Bishops' (USCCB) statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (Nov. 2007), specifically:

34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.

When taken out of context, paragraph #35 could erroneously be used to justify material cooperation in grave evil AS LONG AS there were no formal cooperation. That is NOT what (then) Cardinal Ratzinger said in his letter to the American Bishops (July 2004). He makes an important distinction between remote and proximate material cooperation in evil. The Church has always condemned formal cooperation in evil where a person gives consent to evil being done by another. When someone does not agree, however, they can still be guilty of material cooperation in evil when they provide the means by which the evil is performed. Direct or proximate material cooperation in evil occurs when a person provides necessary tools to perform the evil act, e.g., when someone sells illegal drugs they are a material cooperator in evil since they are providing the necessary means to commit evil, either illegal drug use or illegal drug distribution. Selling dangerous materials such as radioactive or biological material used for weaponry is material cooperation in evil even though personally, they object to acts of terrorism. Likewise, Doctors, nurses and other who make abortion or euthanasia possible are material cooperators in evil. If it is the biological father who drives the biological mother to the abortion clinic, he is guilty of direct (proximate) material cooperation in evil even if he personally is against abortion. Were he to give internal consent, it would also be formal cooperation in evil.

The medical personnel who perform the abortion or who assist the doctor are also direct material cooperators in evil. Remote material cooperators are those who provide indirect means to carry out the evil. The merchant of a sporting goods store sells amunition to a hunter. Legal and moral. If that hunter commits an immoral act by using the bullets he just bought to kill an innocent person, the merchant is not guilty of direct material cooperation in evil. He MAY be guilty of remote material coopertion in evil if he neglected to report to the police suspicions or apprehensions he may have had when he sold the amunition.

Politicians who personally oppose abortion and euthanasia but who VOTE for legislation to allow, permit or continue such immoral activity are MATERIAL COOPERATORS IN EVIL. If they are candidates whose office can and will affect the curtailment, restriction or possibile abolition of such grave evils, and they consistently vote to keep these heionous acts legal, then they are DIRECT (proximate) material cooperators in evil. VOTERS who elect these candidates but who disagree with their position on abortion or euthanasia, are also material cooperators in evil. They are proximate and culpable if viable alternative candidates exist.

Pope Benedict clearly stated:

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

He also states in the Nota Bene:

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

Note that the qualification for voting for a 'pro-abortion' candidate when you personally disagree with their position is PROPORTIONATE REASONS. Since abortion and euthanasia are non-negotiables, they cannot be equated with moral issues such as economic justice, just war or even the death penalty. Since abortion and euthanasia always and directly involve innocent victims, they are always grave evils to be avoided. The only time a Catholic can vote for a politician who is not overtly 'pro-life' is when he or she is more pro-life than their opponent. You cannot ignore a pro-abortion candidate just because you agree with his or her economics, or other political platforms. They are not equal issues.

Hence, Catholics who vote for pro-abortion candidates merely because they agree with their position on secondary issues are guilty of material cooperation in grave evil. It would be like a person ignoring a candidate's anti-Semetic or racist positions just to vote for them because you agree with their financial policies. Likewise, someone who advocates unrestricted abortion must be opposed. Period. The other issues like the economy, the environment, the war, etc., can be used if the abortion/euthanasia issue is unclear or unknown. Proportionate reasons means that HIGHER goods, like protecting innocent life, outweigh economic issues, like taxes, etc. Some evils are intrinsically evil. When there are no 100% opponents of these evils, then we can incrementally opt for the lesser of evils if there are no other alternatives.


Christine the Soccer Mom said...

Father, I have a question, then. When someone says, "Well, I am voting for Candidate X even though he's pro-choice because I agree with his positions on the economy, etc. I don't support his position on abortion," how do I answer them? It seems that the "proportionate" clause provides wiggle room, at least in the minds of those who use it in the manner you just wrote about.

For example, before the last election, I was at a parish in Norfolk, VA, where the priest went on and on with this exact point, and on the way out two women were discussing this and one said, "Well, it seems like it'll be fine to vote for Kerry in spite of his abortion position." This is prevalent among those Catholics who vote for pro abortion candidates.

I'm not sure why that caveat is there, then, if there really is no proportionate reason to vote for someone in spite of their position on abortion. It seems that there is no proportionate reason, and yet ... there's that clause!

In short, I'm confused. But not confused enough to EVER vote for a pro abortion candidate.

Thanks in advance, Father, and God bless you.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

Look at the last paragraph where I explain the restriction of PROPORTIONATE REASONS. Abortion and Euthanasisa are so heinous since they involve the DIRECT and INTENTIONAL UNJUST KILLING OF INNOCENT LIFE, hence, one cannot put a pro-choice candidate's pro-abortion stand on the back burner IF a viable pro-life candidate is available, regardless of their position on the economy, ecology, the war, capital punishment, etc.

The ONLY time a Catholic CAN morally vote for a pro-choice candidate is if (1) he or she is proportionately less pro-abortion than their opponent; (2) there are no alternatives whasoever (i.e., all the pro-life candidates lost the primary elections)

In other words, we can only vote for someone who supports limited or restricted abortions when the alternative (opponent) is worse and favors unrestrictive and abortion on demand. In this case, the lesser evil of fewer abortions can be tolerated over the more grave evil of increased or unlimited murder of unborn babies.

If you have similar candidates who are partially pro-life and partially pro-abortion insofar as they appear equal in their position, then you can use other crieria like the economy, the war, domestic and foreign policy. When there is a clear distinction, however, that one candidate is MORE pro-life than the other, then we have no moral wiggle room. Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) made it clear that ABORTION and EUTHANASIA cannot be treated equally with just wars or the death penalty or any other social issue. Anyone who supports unlimited or greater access to abortion and/or euthanasia must NOT be elected even if he or she has a plan to cure the economy of a recession or even depression. Our comfort is not worth more than the innocent lives unjustly killed by abortion and euthanasia.

This is why the ENTIRE text of Cardinal Ratzinger needs to be read and not just the sound-byte some take completely out of CONTEXT. Proportionate reasons are not subjective in the sense that I myself determine them. The Natural Moral Law, the Divine Positive Law and the authentic Magisterial teachings of the Church inform us of what are legitimate proportionate reasons.

Christine the Soccer Mom said...

Thank you, Father. That helps me a great deal. It frustrates me to no end to hear people (especially priests!) talk about proportionality as though higher taxes on rich people and immigration reform and being against war and the death penalty are all proportionate reasons. I know they are not (His laws are written on my heart, right?), but have a hard time explaining that.

Maybe I can print this off and submit it for a bulletin announcement? ;) I won't do that, but I might share it with our Respect Life Committee at the next meeting.

Again, thank you, Father. God bless you!

Will said...

All three major candidates, it seems to me, have disqualifying stances. McCain's stem cells and the Dems abortion. So, if all 3 aren't truly pro-life, I guess we go into prudential judgment. To me, the answer is just far from obvious.

I don't know if we will ever see Roe v. Wade reversed. Many politicans have promised this, but so far nothing. Even Scalia, the most conservative one there, has said he would see it turned over to the states, not based on a moral argument, but federalism. The whole thing is very discouraging.

Mariaevitale said...

Thank you, Father, for clarifying this important issue. I plan to share your posting with members of my family who, though Catholic, consistently vote for pro-abortion politicians because of their stands on the war, economic policy, etc.

Ben said...


My comment (confusion) is with the following passage:

"If it is the biological father who drives the biological mother to the abortion clinic, he is guilty of direct (proximate) material cooperation in evil even if he personally is against abortion. Were he to give internal consent, it would also be formal cooperation in evil."

It seems that the biological father's cooperation is so direct that he has given assent to the act, and is therefore in formal cooperation.
I know you were using this analogy to differentiate formal and material cooperation, but I cannot think of an extenuating circumstance where the biological father's driving the mother to the abortion clinic would be morally licit, i.e. his formal and material cooperation cannot be differentiated.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

Here is a better example:

Two parents who are married to one another have an adult son. He announces that he is moving in with his girlfriend and they will be cohabitating for some time before (if) they get married. Both mother and father can be opposed to this grave immoral (fornication) but many, sad to say, allow Junior and his girlfriend to sleep together when visiting the family residence. I have heard parents say "I do not condone their living/sleeping together but I will not make them stay at a hotel if they refuse to use separate rooms when visiting. Here there is no formal cooperation but there is material cooperation in evil. Parents should give room and board to their adult children. If they are unmarried, however, there is NO reason to give them opportunity and facility to fornicate. Make them sleep apart or they can go elsewhere. If someone needs a ride to the abortion clinic, let them get a cab, but NEVER drive someone to an abortion mill where numerous innocent lives are snuffed out each day. Paying for the abortion is material cooperation just as would be providing transportation to such places. Yet, many rationalize and say to themselves "but I am PERSONALLY opposed." A Nazi could say he was personally against the genocidee of the Jewish people but if he worked in the death camps, he was most certainly a material cooperator in evil and has blood and guilt on his hands.

Mary said...

My parish just had a Lenten Faith Formation series on Faithful Citizenship and as I read the document I thought, "I know they don't mean to, but the Bishops have given a loop hole to those who want to vote for a pro-abortion candidate." My pastor covered the abortion topic, and I was disappointed in him, because he doesn't like getting into politics, never came out and said abortion is the top issue, and in my mind told us to vote for whom we thought was best leaving that loophole open.

Thankfully I have found your blog and can bring this back to the attention of the parish.

Joe Healy said...

Responding to Will's comments about all three candidates having disqualifying positions on intrinsically evil issues...

When you take the USCCB document on Faithful Citizenship and distill the issues that involve intrinsic evil and those that are other important issues and apply a rating system as I have done (, McCain clearly comes out on top.

I don't see how a faithful Catholic citizen could vote for Obama or Clinton over McCain in the upcoming general election in good conscience. How could they vote for one who supports such morally grave evils as abortion, euthanasia, homosexual "marriage", and cloning when the ONLY big issue they're better on is opposing the use of nuclear weapons (targeting non-combatants)? It's clear to me there is no moral justification for such a vote.

jmjamen said...

Father, I have a question. If a serious Catholic has looked over candidates for a national presidential election and discovers that NO candidate is "worthy" of his/her vote, can this person morally and ethically NOT vote in the election?

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