Thursday, August 07, 2008

Can Catholics vote for a pro-Choice candidate?

Can a Catholic vote for a pro-Choice candidate?

The short answer, from Henry Karlson, can be found here.

The USCCB in Faithful Citizenship answers thus:

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... 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...In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching...As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.
However, Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, put it a little more forcefully. He writes:
So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is: I can’t, and I won’t. But I do know some serious Catholics— people whom I admire—who may. I think their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And most important: They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up; they keep lobbying their party and their representatives to change their pro-abortion views and protect the unborn. Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if they vote for them despite—not because of—their pro-choice views. But [Catholics who support pro-choice candidates] also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life—which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.
RepubliCatholics across the blogosphere have interpreted Chaput's answer to be a virtual NO.

I'd like to ask two questions:
1. Is Chaput's characterization of the issue accurate and fair?
2. In a hypothetical (or real world) situation what "proportionate" reason might fulfill Chaput's criterion?

I will post my thoughts shortly. What are yours?


Henry Karlson said...


The funny thing is -- I see Archbishop Chaput's statement as a "yes." It's when certain people read into his comments their own criteria for "proportionate reasons" it becomes a no. And I say it is a no - for them. But they don't see that is the point; the reasons are going to be internal reflections, and the vote one does will always be a matter of prudential reasoning...

Nate Wildermuth said...


JB said...

Henry, I think you are correct. Our desire to know and judge good and evil makes it far too easy for us to assume that we can decide unequivocally which vote is "good." However, this approach fails to respect each person's conscience. I think prudence is an appropriate (and oft forgotten) word for describing the judgment of a voter.

Thus, the proportionate reasons required for such a vote may vary from person to person. I think WWIII would certainly qualify as a such a reason for me. Another example of a valid proportionate reason, although I don't agree with his conclusions, is Gerald Cambell's approach. If I honestly believed a "pro-life" president had no intention of overturning the laws and that "pro-choice" president would actually reduce the number of abortions by his social policy, I could easily vote for the pro-choice candidate.

Henry Karlson said...


The ironic thing is that the people who have turned into my critics (not knowing, but thinking they know, my own decision in the election), and try to remove all sense of prudential reasoning in the voting process, are the first to try to dismiss judgments of Church leaders on issues of social doctrine via "prudential reasoning." They confuse areas where the Church has authority and speaks as being where they can ignore via prudence, and they think where the Church tells us "it's your decision" they can dictate for everyone else what that decision must be.

JB said...


I think we probably share the same frustrations with "those" people. Although most people don't really care who I'm going to vote for, I find myself inclined to disagree with those people because of their inconsistencies just as often as because of their actual opinions.

I think most of this is a result of stronger associations with a political party than with the Church, but I try not to judge.

What do you this is the stem of this "irony"?

Henry Karlson said...

I think the ultimate source of the irony is ego, and people will only follow the Church in those areas they want to follow the Church. Anything which is a challenge becomes challenged; and of course, this is true across the board.

I would also say that the way we as a society split the sacred and the profane, following the dualism of "pure nature theology" even if people involved with this separation do not know it, reinforces the ego's desire to cut things apart and find excuses not to look at the faith holistically but propositonally. When you do the second, it's easy then to find ways to cut off one truth from another, even though they are related, and to ignore one if it becomes a challenge, and push to excess the other as a way to compensate.

Tom said...

JJ, You should subscribe to Relevant Magazine. Try to find it on the stand at Barnes and Noble this month.
The cover story is "How to Vote: without losing your sold (yes, its possible)"

Last month their entire issue was about social justice.

Here is an excerpt from this month's issue. From a short article called, "Leading the Charge"

... Many Christians traditionally have voted Republican because of their justifiable conviction to protect the lives of the unborn. Now, many younger Christians are voting Democrat because of their justifiable desire to see our nation, the most prosperous in the world, address issues of poverty, global aid and the environment.

The problem is, many Christians vote their convictions, but that's largely where their personal involvement in the issues stops. Are the government leaders we vote for meant to do our job for us?

If God has given you a heart for the poor, or to see a reduction in the number of abortions, or to promote peace, or to help the sick, or to stand for strong moral values, or to be a better steward of the environment, then your personal focus needs to be on that - whether or not the President shares your same values...."

It is a good mag, it comes out 6 times a year.

Anonymous said...

Will the catholic church please give up its tax exemption status. It is now a political organization not a religious one and should be taxed as such.

JB said...


While I understand your point and can see your frustration at the apparent (and in some cases actual) violation of the requisites for tax exempt status by some members of the Church hierarchy, nevertheless you are absolutely factually wrong. The Catholic Church is a universal Church. The Church, as the body of Christ, has no special interest in American politics, but rather in promoting just civil societies.

Some Catholics may reduce their Christianity to political issues or use their Catholicism to promote a political agenda, but the Faith itself is not merely a political organization.