Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, October 6, 2004
Professor Kristin Shrader-Frechette’s column, Science Watch, published last Friday both contained a large number of errors regarding the teachings of the Catholic Church and promoted a shallow understanding of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s statements on Catholic voting.
First, to state that John Kerry stands with Catholic doctrine 80 percent of the time and George Bush 20 percent of the time assumes that all issues of Catholic doctrine are equal in weight. Cardinal Ratzinger made clear in his statement regarding voting that “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.” Ratzinger argued that issues such as the waging of war may warrant “diversity of opinion even among Catholics,” but that such diversity is not possible “with regard to abortion and euthanasia.” Furthermore, John Kerry has made it clear that while he personally considers himself a Catholic he does not believe in forcing his views upon peoples of other religions. One must then conclude that although Kerry advocates some positions that are in line with Catholic doctrine, he does so not out of faith and right reasoning, but by the use of his individual conscience. Can a rational Catholic voter then really place his trust in this statistic knowing that Kerry is not guided by the Church, but only by himself?
Professor Shrader-Frechette writes, “Catholic doctrine requires the primacy of conscience. It requires informing one’s conscience but prohibits ever violating it.” To use this statement in the context that the professor does is a misunderstanding of what this doctrine states. The Catholic Church has always defined an informed conscience as being one informed by the doctrines of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that a conscience not informed in this way can be erroneous in judgment. According to Church teaching, the belief that personal conscience overrules Church teaching is a heresy. Indeed, rule-following has never dominated Catholic morality, only the recognition that to define good and evil based on individual conceptions is not to truly love God, whom we know through communion with Christ’s Church, but rather is to worship a god invented by man.
Finally, Professor Schrader-Frechette ignores the arguments set forth by Pope John Paul II in his Gospel of Life that in order to take any of the life issues seriously, one must first respect life in the womb. If one cannot respect life at conception, how can one begin to defend life issues such as welfare and pollution rights? Perhaps this is why Professor Schrader-Frechette is able to make a utilitarian argument at the end of her piece, “One million three-hundred thousand U.S. abortions are a tragedy. But so are the slow deaths of 18 million U.S. children. And the 1 million deaths of children in developing nations,” that implies the lives of 19 million children are more valuable than 1.3 million children with relative ease. Catholic doctrine asserts the value and dignity of every individual. Putting forth arguments such as the ones found in Science Watch will not help to create a culture of life, but will plunge us even further into the culture of death.