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Voting with a Catholic conscience

| Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I have always tried to vote my Catholic conscience. This Catholic conscience has led me to vote more often for Democrats than Republicans in the past 20 years, and not because they are exemplars of virtue or represent any Catholic ideal. Instead, like most people of good conscience, I “hold my nose and vote” for the least offensive candidate on the ballot.

Single-issue voting is a poor use of judgment. God has given us the capacity to think through and weigh complexities. Good people led by their conscience arrive at differing conclusions. This is why the Catholic Church embraces no single party or political ideology.

Many students have asked me my opinion on the coming election. I would never presume to violate their conscience by insisting on one candidate over another, but I will manifest my own conscience as we all are preparing to vote.

In the history of the world, only two nations have slaughtered 40 million of their own people: the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the United States of America under legalized abortion. No election of the past 30 years has been so critical as this one for the issue of abortion. With as many as three or four of nine Supreme Court justices likely to retire from a court already evenly divided on a whole host of cultural-moral issues like abortion and stem-cell research, the next President will have a unique opportunity to set the tone of Constitutional Law for then next generation. On the issue of abortion, he will name those who will decide if America will give its blessing to another 40 million deaths.

Why is abortion so important?

Abortion is America’s dirty vast secret. This atrocity dwarfs the Holocaust by a factor of six (or by 12 or by 18, depending on how you count), yet so few people talk about it. While abortion was made legal to give women freedom, they often become prisoners of the secrecy which shrouds their choice.

Tiny, beautiful, innocent human children, whom our human nature is wired to protect, are not the only victims of this tragedy. Often decades after the fact, mothers who have made this choice face their own consciences in waves of sorrow, regret, guilt and shame when they see babies in strollers, see their former due date on a calendar, see others about the same age as their child would have been or look in the eyes of their children and recall the missing sibling.

This trauma from which millions of women suffer is now common, but remains virtually unspoken in public settings. In a society that has dared go public with every shame and former taboo, one still remains: the stories of millions of women who can bear their troubled spirits only in the silence of prayer before God or before a trusted friend or perhaps a priest in a confessional.

Today, abortion in the distant past is an almost common confession in parishes across America. Having seen the heartbreak of so many women, so many years after their choice, as a priest I can attest to the now clear truth. The choice of abortion is bad for women – and not only for women, but bad for their boyfriends, their future husbands, their present and future families. Anything else that would do so much damage, cause so much pain and enduring trauma would be illegal.

The Church and the Gospel call us to weigh in a balance all the various moral and practical factors that go into electing any politician. In past years abortion had not weighed as heavily for me as other life issues, such as the nuclear threat during the Cold War. This year I have tried honestly to weigh in that sacred inner scale of conscience the good of a greater care for the poor, the good of ending capital punishment, the good of being more dovish than hawkish in foreign policy, all these goods and more against the evil spectre of another 30 years of legalized abortion, perhaps another 40 million dead, another 40 million anguished mothers, another countless many who will have some hand in this ongoing tragedy – and I can’t.

The Catholic Church is the only institution in this nation which has resolutely opposed the practice of abortion since its federal legalization in 1973. However, the Church has been opposed to abortion not only for the last 30 years, but for the last 2000. A Catholic who publicly professes to oppose his private conscience in order to gain office for himself, betrays the fact that he has no understanding of conscience. It is our sacred inner knowledge of the truth, and of what is good and evil that tells us how we must act publicly, even if it means to give our own lives for it. This is the Gospel.

Ironically, it was Edmund Burke, an 18th Century British statesman who lost his seat in Parliament for taking pro-Catholic and pro-Irish positions, who said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good [people] do nothing…” Likewise, it is a shock to consider that all that is necessary for legalized abortion to remain a “right” in our land for some decades into the future is for good Catholics, other Christians and all people of conscience on this issue to ignore their consciences in a single act on a single day this November.

This year as never before, my conscience leads me to vote like that single-issue voter I have held in disdain in the past. But, my advice to anyone who wishes to hear it, remains the same: However you vote, vote your conscience, even if it means you have to hold your nose.

Father J. Steele, CSC

Rector, Morrissey Manor

Chaplain, Campus Ministry

Assistant Holy Cross Vocations Director

Oct. 26