I have just finished reading an extraordinary document
that was sent to me over the weekend. I have only just now come to it as I was catching up on my email correspondence. It is a two-page bulletin insert issued by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas and Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth.
The Dallas website
already has a note claiming the joint letter has "generated much discussion", but the bishops respond that they intended only to "clarify Catholic doctrine", not endorse or rule out specific candidates.
But what they have
said is so clear
, however, that either
they must be reprimanded and/or contradicted by subsequent bishops/competent Church authorities or the claim made by some, that one may vote for a pro-abortion politician even when there is a pro-life politician in the race ... is false,
at least in the concrete situation of America today.
Don't believe it? Let's follow what the document says, point-by-point. If I had to describe it in a phrase: "game changer."
[It should be quickly noted, as well, that the bishops are being attacked for this statement. Local reports say people have walked out of the churches where this letter was read
, one person claimed
"My bishop basically told me that if I vote for Barack Obama, I will go to hell", others have suggested
an IRS audit and said "you’ve got feet; don’t be afraid to use them."]
Points one and two summarize the continued teaching of the Church that "not all issues have the same moral equivalence" and the destruction of the unborn "undercuts the basic human right to life ... [and] also subverts and distorts the common good."
Point Three, ellucidates these claims (all formatting, by the way, is in the original document):
"Therefore, we cannot make more clear the seriousness of the overriding issue of abortion – while not the “only issue” – it is the defining moral issue, not only today, but of the last 35 years. Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, more than 48 million innocent lives have been lost. Each year in our nation more than one million lives are lost through legalized abortion. Countless other lives are also lost through embryonic stem cell research. In the coming months our nation will once again elect our political leaders. This electoral cycle affords us an opportunity to promote the culture of life in our nation. As Catholics we are morally obligated to pray, to act, and to vote to abolish the evil of abortion in America, limiting it as much as we can until it is finally abolished."
Now here is where the rubber begins to hit the road. Point Four anticipates a common response to the above position, and rules it out:
"As Catholics we are faced with a number of issues that are of concern and should be addressed, such as immigration reform, healthcare, the economy and its solvency, care and concern for the poor, and the war on terror. As Catholics we must be concerned about these issues and work to see that just solutions are brought about. There are many possible solutions to these issues and there can be reasonable debate among Catholics on how to best approach and solve them. These are matters of “prudential judgment.” But let us be clear: issues of prudential judgment are not morally equivalent to issues involving intrinsic evils. No matter how right a given candidate is on any of these issues, it does not outweigh a candidate’s unacceptable position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion or the protection “abortion rights.” (Italics original)My summary:
Matters of prudential judgement - including health care, the economy, concern for the poor and the war on terror
- do not equal matters of intrinsic evil, and it does not matter how right a candidate is on the former if he opposes the latter.
That's what this document teaches. Prudential matters, even many of them, do not outweigh the intrisic evil of abortion in America today.
Point Five responds to the "but I'm not
voting for this candidate because they are pro-abortion, I'm voting 'despite' their position on the issue of abrtion" (the most - and indeed really only -common counter-argument proposed by Catholic thinkers today):
"Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, in paragraphs 34-37, addresses the question of whether it is morally permissible for a Catholic to vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil – even when the voter does not agree with the candidate’s position on that evil. The only moral possibilities for a Catholic to be able to vote in good conscience for a candidate who supports this intrinsic evil are the following:
a. If both candidates running for office support abortion or “abortion rights,” a Catholic would be forced to then look at the other important issues and through their vote try to limit the evil done; or,
b. If another intrinsic evil outweighs the evil of abortion. While this is sound moral reasoning, there are no “truly grave moral” or proportionate” reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.
To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or “abortion rights” when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil – and, therefore, morally impermissible."
I can't say it more clearly than they have. I've said it before, but I can apply it to the debate. Here is the shift
in the debate the Texas bishops are proposing: "As Catholics, one must prove there is not
a morally acceptable alternative to voting for a pro-choice politician." In other words, one must claim it is not even morally acceptable to refrain from voting for that candidate!
It is possible, I admit, that the Texas bishops are presuming
that one will vote one way or the other, in which case the shift still remains: one must prove how there is no
moral alternative to actually voting for a pro-choice candidate. This is, of course, a very
tall order, indeed - because the document has said that in the situation of America today there are no issue which can outweigh abortion.
Again, that is what the document says. I admit I could be missing something - in which case I'm waiting to have it pointed out. But if I am right, then either the Texas bishops are wrong about Church teaching, or a common argument claimed by some Catholics is wrong
. I don't see how the two positions can co-exist in the situation as it exists in America today for catholics.
Point Six moves further still, reminding Catholics that voting is never morally neutral:
In conclusion, as stated in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the decisions we make on these political and moral issues affect not only the general peace and prosperity of society at large, but also may affect each individual’s salvation. As Catholics, we must treat our political choices with appropriate moral gravity and in doing so, realize our continuing and unavoidable obligation to be a voice for the voiceless unborn, whose destruction by legal abortion is the preeminent intrinsic evil of our day. With knowledge of the Church’s teaching on these grave matters, it is incumbent upon each of us as Catholics to educate ourselves on where the candidates running for office stand on these issues, particularly those involving intrinsic evils. May God bless you. (underlining original - bolding mine)
Does this mean every Catholic in every election in America will vote the same way when there is a pro-abortion politician running against a pro-life one? No, it doesn't. It does
mean, however, that a common argument used to justify
voting for the pro-abortion option has been thoroughly ruled-out by this statement.
I don't see how they can be any more clear.
It goes without saying that I applaud and thank the bishops for the gift of this clear teaching. I would claim that it agrees in substance with the position I have been arguing for months in my writings. But I do not speak with authority - they do. One can ignore my arguments and conclusions, but a Catholic is bound to listen to the guidance and arguments of his shepherds. I find myself agreeing with both.
What do you say?
Labels: 2008 presidential race, bishop backbone, breaking news, catholic controversy, catholicism and politics