Every four years the Catholic bishops publish a document entitled “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
No substantial edits have been made to this document since the 2008 version. The 2008 version of “Faithful Citizenship” contained several passages (Sections 34-37) that are capable of overly broad interpretation. Groups like Catholics United and Catholic Democrats cherry-picked the following passage from Section 35 for prominent display on their web sites and in their printed materials.
“There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.” [emphasis added].
This passage was also cited in discussions of “Faithful Citizenship” held across the nation’s parishes in both 2008 and 2014 and is being used presently in the 2016 election. Anyone who objected to the implication of this passage could have been met with an equally confusing citation from the previous paragraph, Section 34, which states:
“A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.” [emphasis added]
In other words, a Catholic could vote for a pro-abortion candidate as long as he or she did not intend to support his pro-abortion position. What is a person to say to that? No one is capable of judging another person’s intention. The practical consequence of this statement is clear: Catholics can vote for any pro-abortion politician they want — all they have to do is have the right intention.
“The following passage, Section 36, adds to the confusion about whether or not a Catholic voter can or cannot vote for a pro-abortion politician:
“When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation,may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.” [emphasis added]
A Catholic voter, therefore, can vote for pro-abortion politicians as long as they do not “advance” that “morally-flawed position” but would “pursue other authentic human goods.” Could it be more obvious that this a loophole that completely subverts any obligation a Catholic might feel to avoid supporting a pro-abortion candidate?
These sections contain three loopholes allowing Catholic voters to support pro-abortion politicians:
1) If they do not intend to support that position (34), or
2) if there are offsetting “morally grave reasons” (35), or
3) if a candidate will pursue “authentic human goods” rather than the “morally-flawed” position he holds (36).
After positing these loopholes, how can the bishops expect Catholic voters to make sense of the following paragraph, Section 37:
“In making these decisions,it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.” [emphasis added]
Why should a Catholic voter feel the weighty obligation to oppose “intrinsically evil acts” when the bishops themselves provide three different loopholes to put that concern aside?
There is one question the bishops should have answered in the 2016 version of “Faithful Citizenship” but did not:
What are the “grave moral” or “proportionate” reasons that would justify a Catholic voting for a pro-abortion candidate?
Since the bishops have republished the 2012 version of “Faithful Citizenship” without changes, they are providing Catholic voters another carte blanche to cast their vote for any pro-abortion candidate they want. The incoherence of Sections 34-37 do not serve the building of a culture of life in our nation.