Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Quadrennial Problem For Catholics


All these horrors I've heard of during the Nurnberg process, these six million Jews, other thinking people or people of another race, who perished. That shocked me deeply. But I hadn't made the connection with my past. I assured myself with the thought of not being personally guilty. And that I didn't know anything about the enormous scale of it. But one day I walked by a memorial plate of Sophie Scholl in the Franz-Joseph-Strasse. I saw that she was about my age and she was executed in the same year I came to Hitler. And at that moment I actually realized that a young age isn't an excuse. And that it might have been possible to get to know things. (Traudl Junge in the movie Downfall)

At the time of this writing, there’s 47 days left until the US Presidential elections. At different times, I’ve referred to this as the “silly season” or even the “stupid season” because of how we Catholics tend to irrationally let our political values replace our Catholic moral teachings in governing how we live. We tend to act as if “our” candidate is the next best thing to the Second Coming, and “the other” candidate is the coming of the antichrist. As a result, whoever—even a bishop—speaks of “our” candidate in less than glowing terms, or concedes that “the other” candidate is right on an issue is accused of standing with the forces of darkness. The Catholic teaching “our” candidate is strong on or “the other” side is weak on is considered vital. The Catholic teaching “the other” candidate is strong on, or “our” side is wrong on is considered as less important.

That’s not to say that values are relative or that we can’t vote for any candidate at all. But what it does mean is we have an obligation to understand Catholic teaching properly so our consciences will be properly formed by the Church. From that, we are required to look at the candidates running and honestly assess whether a vote for one of them is morally justified. This is entirely different from the tactic of “looking for excuses to justify how we were going to vote anyway.” Nor can we conveniently weigh the Catholic teaching in a way that suits us.

The Church does indeed make the Right to Life the first right. Without it, the rest of the rights are “illusory” as St. John Paul II put it. However, the Church defines what is part of that right more broadly than partisan Catholics do. St. John Paul II wrote, citing Gaudium et Spes:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: “All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”. (Christifideles Laici #38).

Let’s face it. Under this definition, neither party can honestly be called “pro-life.” We can only argue over which party causes the greater evil, and whether there is a proportionate reason to vote for the party that violates the Right to Life in a less evil way. But as we argue, we need to remember that God is the final judge, and He knows how honest we are being with ourselves.

Because the Right to Life is first and foremost, any party that chooses to violate it in some way is supporting grave evil, whether it involves an intrinsic evil (such as abortion) or an evil intention or consequence with an act that is not intrinsically evil. Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that failure to help those in need is also damnable after all. Unfortunately, in the election years, we will inevitably see some Catholics argue that the other policies of a pro-abortion candidate will reduce the need for abortion… downplaying the fact that their candidate advocates the legal support for abortion, downplaying the fact that the Church lists it next to murder and genocide. Meanwhile, other Catholics argue that “the stakes are too high” to rebuke a candidate who supports the unjust treatment of migrants and the use of torture. Both sides declare that their candidate is the only moral choice, even though neither choice is moral.

Catholic supporters of both of these candidates will need to ask themselves whether they are prepared to face those who were made victims of the policies at the final judgment and honestly say that the suffering they enabled was not as bad as the evil they sought to oppose. I don’t mean making that decision in a tsk, that’s rough but what could I do? approach where we don’t look too closely at the evils we enable. I mean, are we prepared to honestly say before God and the victims that our vote was literally intended to stave off a worse evil?

And, if we are prepared to say this honestly before God and the victims, are we prepared to show our sincerity by speaking out against the evils our vote enables if that candidate gets elected, fighting tooth and nail to overturn that evil in our party?

Because if we’re not, if we’re prepared to stay silent for the next four years over those issues, the odds are we’re not being honest about our “proportionate reason” either.

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(†) If one takes those arguments and replace the word “abortion” with murder or genocide, these arguments sound demonically evil. 

3 comments:

  1. The citation to the Ratzinger memo's "proportionate reason" is also an attempt to evade the clear and strong teaching by the US bishops in Faithful Citizenship: "35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably 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." The burden of proof is thus much higher than mere "proportional" -- what could possibly be a "truly grave moral reason" to justify voting for a person who thinks it should be legal to dismember unborn children?

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    1. I agree. As I’ve written in other blogs, the fact that Gaudium et Spes #27 lists abortion next to genocide shows how seriously the Church takes it. However, I’m inclined to think that choosing the other side in our dualistic system also requires a proportionate reason.

      This doesn’t mean that the only Catholic choice is a 3rd party of course. But we do need to be careful not to be blind to our personal preferences distorting our interpretation of the Church teaching.

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    2. And, to make it clear, I personally cannot in good conscience vote for a pro-abortion candidate. I do not believe that the “proportionate reason” for doing so exists in this time, and it’s hard to imagine what might be one.

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