Tom Kreitzberg has been having a grand (and sometimes howlingly funny) discussion of a very important topic over at Disputations for the past two weeks. And I quote:
"How about if, instead of arm-twisting Catholics to vote for lousy Republican candidates, you arm-twist Republicans to nominate good candidates? And
How about if, instead of arm-twisting Catholics to vote for lousy Democratic candidates, you arm-twist Democrats to nominate good candidates?
Can we vote for individuals who advocate evil who are running for office?
We can't vote for them. We can't vote for them because there are no elections being held today.
Why is anyone talking about voting? Now is not the time to talk about voting. Now is the time to talk about promoting candidates who don't advocate evil.
If instead of talking today about what we should do today, we talk today about what we should do in a year and a half, we are acting in a way that turns false dilemmas into real ones.
Why do we do this?"
A couple years ago, I was giving a presentation at a conference where Archbishop Chaput was also speaking and remember listenng to him plead with his audience: If you are pro-life, GO INTO POLITICS. POLITICS IS WHERE THESE DECISIONS ARE MADE. But his devout Catholic audience seemed only concerned with getting their local Bishop to issue statements.
So I thought I'd share the following experience which comes under the heading of "Church Teaching is Often More Complicated Than It Seems"
On US election eve, 2004, Fr. Mike and I were in Australia. While there, I took the opportunity to ask two world-class experts on Church’s teaching in this area (who are both known for their careful orthodoxy) and the intense political debate that it had engendered among Catholic voters in the US. One was Bishop Anthony Fisher, OP, then of Sydney (recently elevated by Cardinal Pell), who has a PhD in bioethics and is recognized as (in John Allen’s words) “one of the sharpest minds in English-speaking Catholicism”. The other was Dr. Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, and one of most respected new theologians emerging today.
The topic: Voting as formal cooperation in intrinsic evil:
1. Both Fisher and Rowland emphasized that Church teaching is “very underdeveloped” in this area. Bishop Fisher had attended a symposium in Rome on Evangelicum Vitae 73 in February of 2004. EV 73 reads in part:
"73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. . .
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.”(98)
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. . . In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects."
Fisher said that at this symposium two top notch, orthodox theologians presented completely opposite views and neither could be considered “wrong” in light of current Church teaching (although Fisher privately agreed with one over the other). The bishop noted that only about 9 scholarly works existed (at that point) on the subject and that he had read them all. In other words, there is, as yet, no authoritative interpretation of EV 73 to guide us.
2. Fisher stated that there was no theological basis for asserting categorically that a Catholic could not, in good faith, vote for either US candidate (in 2004) since both had serious problems from the perspective of Church teaching. Fisher said that if he were an American, he’d be voting for Bush – precisely because of the abortion issue, but that it would be a matter of personal judgment. Life issues had been his personal passion since he was at university and naturally they dominate his moral appraisal of the current scene. Fisher noted that other people with other expertise would naturally be pre-occupied with different areas of grave concern that would shape their prudential judgment.
3. Fisher then made a fascinating comment that I have not heard elsewhere – that there is no basis in Church teaching for comparing two very different “intrinsic evils” and determining that one is objectively and absolutely more grave than the other. One can compare levels of a similar intrinsic evil. You could say that 4,000 abortions is more grave than 40 or that a genocidal conflict that killed 10,000 was a more grave evil than one in which only 500 died. But you can’t, on the basis of current Catholic teaching, categorically determine that abortion, for instance, is always and absolutely more grave than a given unjust war or torture or severe economic injustice. By definition, something that is truly intrinsically evil can’t be relatively less evil anymore than a person can be only mostly dead (well, outside the alternate universe of the Princess Bride, anyway – although I did encounter some situations that came pretty close on the cancer unit).
So one cannot state, as definitive Church teaching, that the gravity of the evil of abortion must outweigh all other intrinsic evils or any possible combination of intrinsic evils in our political calculations. An individual could arrive at such a prudential judgment in a particular situation in good faith but an equally faithful Catholic could come to a quite different prudential conclusion in good conscience. (Sherry’s note: As a Dominican friend pointed out to me, one problem in the US was a failure to make it clear when individual bishops were making their best argument for a particular prudential judgment in their public statements rather than articulating Church teaching that obliged everyone.)
1) When I said that it was my observation that quite a few serious Catholics in the US were under the impression that doctrine had developed in this area, Fisher responded that a few bishops making personal pronouncements simply isn’t the development of doctrine. When I asked Rowland why some US bishops had made such statements when they must know that Church teaching did not support it, she responded that some bishops are not familiar with the nuances of Church teaching in this area. Rowland (unlike Fisher, who thought that any talk of ex-communication in the midst of an election was imprudent) believed that then-Cardinal Ratzinger (she said that she was a big fan of Ratzinger) had made a good case for refusing communion to a politician who publicly supports abortion but also agreed that there simply wasn’t any clear Church teaching about voting as a form of formal cooperation with evil.
Comments? Keep it civil.