Muddier Waters

May 2008

In our February New Oxford Note "A Perplexing Political Potpourri," we combed through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) latest voter guide, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship." One of the more peculiar aspects of that dense document is its suggestion that voting for pro-abortion candidates puts a Catholic's eternal salvation in jeopardy. In section 22, the document states, "Intrinsically evil actions...must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion...." Section 34 states, "A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion." Section 37 states, "It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual's salvation." One can easily come to the conclusion that voting in favor of abortion places one's eternal salvation in jeopardy.

But then the document declares, "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" (#35). And, "The voter may vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position" (#36). But isn't this the very cooperation with evil that would place one's salvation in jeopardy, especially if the "position" in question is abortion? The document neglects to provide an answer. Beyond the one mention, it is silent about how voting affects one's salvation.

Reporter John L. Allen Jr. caught up with Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta and former USCCB president, at the USCCB's annual Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C., on February 26. Archbishop Gregory was good enough to take a moment to clarify this aspect of the USCCB document. According to Allen (National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 26), Archbishop Gregory "said that it was not the intent of the U.S. bishops in their recent 'Faithful Citizenship' document to suggest that Catholics who vote for a pro-choice candidate are automatically placing their salvation in jeopardy."

Oh, no? But isn't the mass murder of over 50 million preborn babies in the U.S. since 1973 the moral issue of our time -- an "intrinsic evil" that "must never be supported"? Evidently it depends on what your definition of "never" is. "Defending the right to life is obviously a primary concern," Archbishop Gregory told Allen. "It's the point of departure for everything else." But, said Archbishop Gregory, it is "at least possible" that, as Allen put it, "a Catholic who carefully weighs the issues could decide that, on balance, a candidate who is not explicitly pro-life is preferable to one who opposes the legalization of abortion but who does not share Catholic positions on other matters of importance. In that sense, Gregory said, 'Faithful Citizenship' cannot be reduced to an absolute obligation to vote for a pro-life candidate...."

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

New Oxford Notes: May 2008

Read our posting policy Add a comment
Sad but true. Whenever you need the American bishops to stand up and be counted for an important cause, they do the expedient thing and lay down and play dead. Since they do not speak with one voice, they shrink away at every challenge. How can they expect us to evangelize if they won't do it? Posted by: joreill
May 19, 2008 01:02 PM EDT
Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, is a wishy washy coward...with all due respect to his title. Anyone who knowingly votes for a pro-abortion candidate is an accomplice and a promoter of murder and therefore most assuredly places him or herself out of the church through automatic excommunication. Why can't these @#$%!#@ bishops speak like Archbishop Burke does? Without fear! Posted by: gespin3549
May 21, 2008 08:23 AM EDT
or Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver for that matter...another "Voice in the Wilderness." Posted by: gespin3549
May 21, 2008 08:29 AM EDT
But what if you are convinced that the putatively pro-life candidate or party actually has no intent to overturn Roe, or otherwise significantly restrict abortion?

I've been a strict pro-life voter for 20 years. And nothing substantial has been achieved. I doubt that anything will be, so long as the likes of Karl Rove think that they can take us for granted.

There are in fact many other issues of extreme import, other than abortion, after all. Two years ago I woke up and realized I - we - have been taken for granted, and that life issues were the only major reason I have been voting Republican.

No more. They've "called in" their dissent one too many times. Pro-Life politicians can start showing up to the March for Life, and presenting us with results, or they will never again get my vote. Not on that basis alone.

Between the war and the economy, the Republicans have lost me. Let them overturn Wade, then they might get me back. Maybe. But then again, I'm a naturally Democratic voter, so from now on I've decided that I'm joining Democrats for Life, and am fighting for my ancestral electoral home.

Enough with being a shill for the Republicans.
Posted by: chascurtis
June 08, 2008 04:11 PM EDT
Unfortunately, what this does primarily is provide cover for priests, Bishops, and Catholic laity to "vote their consciences"; consciences that have been formed on teaching equally filled with ambiguity, double-speak, and elements of New Age and Modernism. The parish we left had more education on Teilhard de Chardin that on Catholic saints, sacraments, and doctrine. Not surprisingly, the pastor also had a speech empediment when it came to abortion. Posted by: davidschnelly
May 21, 2008 07:49 AM EDT
On the other hand, why does one ask this question? To justify voting for abortion candidates? Reading the guidance given by then Cardinal Ratzinger to clarify Church teaching it is clear that one cannot vote for a pro-abortion candidate if there are pro-life candidates available. Also one must vote for a candidate that is the least evil given both are not purely pro-life. Weighing the issues does not mean that a pro-choice candidate can be voted on in favor of a pro-Iraq war candidate for example because the abortion issue trumpts(so to speak) the war issue. What is so complex? In straight talk terms it is my opinion: voting for McCain over the pro abortion democrat candidates is the obligation of Catholics in this election. Whatever the concerns of the Iraq war or other social justice issues, they do not trump the damage wrought on our society by the positon of the democrat candidates on their social positions. You will see unlimited abortion allowed and the U.S. will,again (as during Clinton years), join other U.N. agencies to push 3rd world countries on the abortion issue under the guise of human rights. Currently, under the Bush administration, the U.S. joins the Vatican in resisting this liberal movement in the United Nations. Posted by: awunsch
May 21, 2008 02:40 PM EDT
Add a comment