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Muddier Waters

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 decide…to 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….”

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