The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Election Thoughts

The Good News of the Gospel encounters a lot of competition these days. Open the morning paper, browse the headlines on the web, watch the evening news. More often than not, the reports you encounter are less than comforting: wars, terrorist attacks, riots, vicious crimes, unemployment, deficits, religious persecution, drought and famine, natural disasters...Subjected to this constant stream of bad news, it's easy to become overwhelmed and overlook the good news, especially the Good News of Jesus Christ. Indeed, one cannot help but notice the dour expressions on the faces of many Christians, people who instead should be filled with joy regardless of the state of the world.

Too many Christians resemble the seed sown on rocky ground [Mk 4:16]. They hear the Good News preached on Sunday and "immediately receive it with joy", but because their faith lacks roots, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately they fall away." This same lack of roots undermines not only their faith but also their understanding of the moral life. As they "fall away" from God's Word, they turn increasingly to the word of the world. This is perhaps most evident in their approach to politics and the upcoming election.

I have, on many occasions, been accused of being a "one-issue voter." I suppose there's an element of truth in this accusation, but where I and my accusers differ is on the nature of that one issue. Because I am strongly pro-life, they assume abortion is the one issue that directs my voting. They're wrong. For example, I would not vote for a candidate who declared his opposition to abortion, but at the same time supported same-sex marriage or the funding of embryonic stem cell research or physician assisted suicide. These are all intrinsically evil acts and this is the one issue that motivates my voting. I will vote for no candidate who supports anything that is intrinsically evil.

An intrinsically evil act is never moral. It is evil to the core, evil by its very nature. Abortion is one of these intrinsic evils. The willful destruction of innocent human life -- And what can be more innocent than an unborn infant? -- is always wrong. This, by the way, is the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.

The problem today is that many politicians and the voters that elect them assume a kind of moral equivalence among such issues as abortion, unemployment insurance, food stamps, same-sex marriage, taxation, national defense, medicare, immigration policy, along with dozens of other issues facing our legislators. Our vice president typified this attitude in the recent debate. Most of these issues are open to a multitude of approaches. We can safely and morally disagree on the efficacy of the food stamp program or the income tax. But this is not so when it comes to something that is intrinsically evil. Archbishop Lori of Baltimore said it well when he addressed the Knights of Columbus annual convention in August:
“The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.”
In 2004, before his election to the papacy, Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this capacity he wrote the following in a Letter to Cardinal McCarrick:
"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
Today, then, approaching an election with a properly formed conscience might well force the Christian voter to question his usual party affiliation. Having lived many years in Massachusetts where candidates from both major parties often held similar and morally unacceptable positions on such issues as abortion or same-sex marriage, on several occasions I could not in good conscience vote for either candidate. In every instance I wrote-in a candidate, voted for an acceptable third party candidate, or left that line of the ballot blank.

In that same letter to Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Ratzinger added as a postscript:
[N.B. 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 considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.] 
I, however, could never come up with what I believed to be "proportionate reasons." Even when two acquaintances, both moral theologians, suggested that I could morally vote for the "lesser of two evils," I could not bring myself to do so. The faces of millions of slaughtered innocents were far more persuasive than the words of the theologians. A "lesser evil" is still, after all, evil.

This isn't just a Catholic issue. It crosses religious and denominational boundaries. And it doesn't relate only to one political party. Timothy George, writing in the Baptist Press, agreed that Archbishop Lori's concerns apply to all Christians and went on to say:
"There is a difference between Christian discernment and partisan politics. The Kingdom of Christ cannot be equated with any political party. Our current president, a Democrat, is the most pro-choice president in American history, and yet Supreme Court justices appointed by Republicans gave us Roe v. Wade."
And just last month, during his apostolic journey to Lebanon, Pope Benedict told a gathering of government and religious leaders that "The failure of upright men and women to act must not permit evil to triumph. It is worse still to do nothing."

We should, therefore, carry out our civic duty and vote responsibly and morally. We must not abdicate this duty, but neither should we profane it by supporting that which is evil.

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