BEND, OREGON – “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” is the document of the United States Catholic Bishops which is intended to provide some moral guidelines for discerning difficult election choices.
The document does, in fact, provide very sound guidance. It is important, however, to properly discern what the document says and what it does not say. The document does not say, for instance, that it is just fine to vote for a pro-abortion candidate as long as one votes for that candidate only because of his or her stand on other important social issues.
It seems to me that paragraph 22 of the document is quite clear: “There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called ‘intrinsically evil’ actions. They 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 and euthanasia. In our nation, abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.”
Casting a vote, even for reasons other than the candidate’s pro-abortion position, is still casting a vote for the preservation of “a legal system which violates the basic right to life,” it is still casting a vote for a system which is “fundamentally flawed.”
In this election year there has been some discussion of freedom of conscience and it is no accident that the Bishops chose to include the phrase “Forming Consciences” in the document’s title. As the Bishops state in paragraph 18: “The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences they can make erroneous judgments.”
The matters, in this election, around which consciences must be formed include a variety of issues. However, not all of those issues are of equal weight. The document cites a number of serious violations of human life and dignity which must always be avoided. “Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.”
I am quite confident that if a candidate made a bold proclamation that he or she would actively seek to institute in these United States a concerted program of genocide against any minority group every Catholic, without exception, would oppose that candidate. I am also confident that if a candidate swore that he or she, as the first act of the new Administration, would institute an aggressive program of torture to root out crime, violence and terrorism in this country there would be no doubt that such a candidate would be categorically unacceptable. Rightly so! Further, if any candidate would attest that he or she intended to prosecute the war on terror by the aggressive and random targeting of civilian non-combatants no one, of either party, would give even the slightest thought to wasting their vote on such a position even if the candidate had a marvelous record in the area of all the other social programs. Unfortunately, when candidates for office in these United States make bold assertions that they have every intention of working to assure that the alleged right of a woman to kill her pre-born child is either preserved or even expanded, many Catholics seem to think that it would be morally acceptable to vote for such a candidate as long as they somehow miraculously excised the candidate’s pro-abortion mindset out of the equation. A vote for such a candidate, like it or not, is likewise a vote for the firmly held abortion position; it is inseparable from the person. Just as a vote for a genocidal maniac is a vote for genocide and a vote for the avowed torturer is a vote for torture and a vote for the indiscriminant targeter of innocent women and children is a vote for such targeting so a vote for a promoter of abortion, when there is another less evil alternative available, is a vote for abortion.
Someone brought to my attention paragraph 1868 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches about the sin of cooperation: “Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: by participating directly or voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; by protecting evil doers.” It is essential that we take this teaching seriously. The question to be asked is: “Does a Catholic who votes for a pro-abortion candidate, whose pro-abortion leanings are very well known, share in that candidate’s guilty responsibility for abortion?” It seems to me that a vote for such a candidate involves “not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so,” and it further involves the direct promotion and support of the person whose abortion expansion intentions are boldly proclaimed.
Paragraphs 27 – 29 of the bishops’ document makes it very clear: “Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed. The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity.”