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Voting proportionally

Charles Rice | Wednesday, October 27, 2004

There may be a shortage of vocations to the priesthood. But, as someone said, there is no shortage of vocations to the Papacy. Suppose, however, that you are a believing Catholic, which means, among other things, that you do not feel a vocation to be your own Pope. Instead, you accept the teaching authority of the Church. That opens the question: How should your faith affect your vote? Fortunately, we have clear guidance from the Church. We can summarize that guidance, as found in writings of the real Pope, in statements issued in 2002 and 2004, with approval of the Pope, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in statements by the United States Bishops and individual bishops.

First, abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research are qualitatively different from any other issues. All three involve the intentional killing of an innocent human being, which the law is absolutely obliged to forbid. “[N]o one can, in any circumstance, claim . . . the right to destroy directly an innocent human being.” Evangelium Vitae, (EV). “[T]he law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.” Instruction on Bioethics. In his 2004 statement, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “Not all … issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia … There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not … with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

Second, Catholic lawmakers “have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.” Ratzinger, 2002. Under very limited circumstances, a legislator, whose absolute opposition to abortion is well known, could vote for an imperfect law to save lives where it is not possible to abrogate completely a pro-abortion law. EV, no. 73.

Third, a Catholic voter may never formally cooperate in the wrong committed by a public official who favors legalization of the execution of the innocent. In formal cooperation, which is always wrong, you directly take part in the evil act of another, or you intend to assist that evil act. In his 2004 statement, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is … remote material cooperation, which can be permitted [for] proportionate reasons.”

In material cooperation, your act, which is not in itself wrong, helps another to commit sin although you do not intend for it to do so. Material cooperation in evil is not always wrong. Its morality depends on how proximate it is to the evil act and whether there is a proportionate reason for it. A voter who votes for a pro-abortion candidate cooperates in the evil that candidate would commit if elected. What could be a proportionate reason that could justify a vote for that candidate by a voter who does not approve of abortion? The only reason that would make sense would be if that candidate’s opponent were even worse on abortion. An alternative would be to vote for neither.

Archbishop John Myers of Newark, in the Sept. 17 Wall Street Journal, explained this in terms that only an academic could misunderstand. He called the toll of 1.3 million abortions each year in the United States “a tragedy of epic proportions.” He noted that many abortion supporters would worsen the situation “by creating a publicly funded industry in which tens of thousands of human lives are produced each year for the purpose of being ‘sacrificed’ in biomedical research.” He could have named Senators Kerry and Edwards in that respect. “Certainly,” said Myers, “policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in any combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.”

As Archbishop Myers concluded, “Catholics may, in good conscience, support the use of force in Iraq or oppose it. Abortion and embryo-destructive research are different. They are intrinsic and grave evils; no Catholic may legitimately support them … Catholics are called … to protect the victims of these human rights abuses. They may not … abandon the victims by supporting those who would further their victimization.”

The premise of legalized abortion is the legal depersonalization of an innocent human being. That was the premise of the Nazi depersonalization and extermination of the Jews and also of the Dred Scott decision which defined slaves as property rather than as persons. To vote for a candidate who endorses that premise can be justified neither by hatred of George W. Bush nor by a subordination of the right to life to lesser concerns.

Professor Emeritus Rice is on the Law School Faculty. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at plawecki.1@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.