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The Pro-Life USCCB Voter’s Guide Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Thursday, 25 October 2012

Twice now I’ve published articles here arguing that: a Catholic with a properly formed conscience cannot vote for a candidate who favors allowing abortion over one who favors restricting it – any more than a Catholic with a properly formed conscience could have voted for a candidate who favored allowing slavery over one who favored restricting it

Several people since have asked about the USCCB voter’s guide: “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”  My answer: while I have rather strong reservations about some wording in the document, and although I think the approach the document takes eviscerates its rhetorical force, all-in-all, it’s hard to accuse the authors of not beating the drum against abortion. 

In a thirty-page document with very large type, abortion comes up no fewer than fourteen times – indeed, it shows up on nearly every page. You can’t read far before you find a sentence prohibiting abortion.  Permit me a few examples:  

  • “There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others.” (22)
  •  
  • "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.” (26)
  •  
  • “Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.” (27-8)
  •  
  • “Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. 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.” (34)
  •  
  • “The Holy Father, in a particular way, called on Catholic politicians and legislators to recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values, and urged them to oppose laws and policies that violate life and dignity at any stage from conception to natural death.” (39)
  •  
  • “A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.” (42)
Is that clear enough?

Some have faulted the USCCB document for equating abortion with other issues. That’s not entirely fair.  The document states repeatedly that “some issues involve principles that can never be violated, such as the fundamental right to life. Others reflect [a] judgment about the best way to apply Catholic principles to policy issues.” (63) The latter, admits the document, are matters “for principled debate and decision.” 

Above all, though, the document insists: “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.” (37) 

The document seeks repeatedly to affirm the priority of abortion while not diminishing the importance of the other important issues we face.  Doesn’t that make sense?  We can’t cease concerning ourselves with health care, concern for the poor, the debt crisis, and marriage and family issues until and unless the scourge of abortion is ended: “Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision,” says the document, “this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues.” (29) 

Of course not.  What if there were two pro-life candidates running against one another?  Can we just forget that election or the issues involved?  Absolutely not.

In that regard, however, consider this: What would happen if the pro-abortion party in the country – the one dedicated to keeping out any pro-life candidates or voices – were guaranteed to lose 90 percent of the Catholic vote given their stance on abortion?  There is an odds-on chance that the pro-abortion party might not remain entirely pro-abortion. 

We might finally have a real election again between two parties and candidates with roughly equal claims on our moral concern.  And then we could consider those other important issues. We’ll never get there, however, as long as some people keep bellying up to the bar with the guy we all know is a sad, dangerous, and self-destructive alcoholic who, when he gets a few drinks in him, kills babies.

Randall Smith is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, Houston.
 
 
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Comments (14)Add Comment
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written by Jack,CT, October 25, 2012
No issue has any importance when we
ignore the "culture of death.."
Jack
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written by Sue, October 25, 2012
What if the nominally-prolife party's platform is rejected by its nominee? Should we give any prolife cred to the candidate by virtue of a platform he rejects?

What if the head of the organization that publishes Faithful Citizenship contradicts the intrinsic-evil paradigm by dining with a pair of abortocrats?

I think each Catholic citizen query his own individual bishop about whether he should take the claims-to-be-Catholic of any given local candidates as true, if that candidate espouses non-prolife views. Also, they should query the local bishop about the correctness of voting for any non-Catholic politician supporting abortion, given the confusion occasioned by the Al Smith Dinner. Respectfully copying Cardinal Dolan.
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written by senex, October 25, 2012
Mr. Smith’s article is a good summary of the bishops’ voter guide. The major flaw in the guide, however, is that it does not provide a strong and clear practical guide for Catholic voters. The flaw in this statement is the qualification or ‘exception’ that is so broad that one could drive the proverbial Mack truck through it. It appears in the fourth bullet point: “if the voter’s intent is to support that position”. What this qualification says when all the brush is swept away is that, if the voter thinks that the pro-abortion candidate’s other social and fiscal policies, including expanding entitlements for the poorer classes and further redistribution of the wealth, are more important to him, it is ok to vote for the pro-abortion candidate, who actively pushes for, among other things, the HHS mandate for federal funding for, and requirements for health organizations to provide, abortions despite the reservations of the individuals affected.

The bishops’ voter guide reflects the influence of the socially liberal bishops and staff who still rule the USCCB. The theoretical arguments in the guide are lost on the laity, by and large. The nuances of intrinsic evil and well-formed consciences are not well understood. They are looking for clear direction, not hedged theoretical pronouncements.

On the other side, let’s not disregard who the audience really is. Is it the whole 78 million American Catholics (according to the latest survey) or the + or – 20-25% of Catholics who are regular church goers? The 80 or so percent ‘cultural’ Catholics don’t have well formed consciences or they would be regular church goers. The 20-25%, or about 20 million US Catholics, is the true target audience to whom the bishops and priests should be directing their message, without disregarding the hope that others will also be enlightened. That is not happening.
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written by Manfred, October 25, 2012
My hat is off to Mr. Hanley and Senex for their excellent comments on this subject. This issue is deliberately confused by the hierarchy so each person is on his/her own. Example: Abortion and sodomy are both intrinsically evil. They can never be approved. Mr Obama publicly supports and encourages both, even to the point of infanticide. Mr. Obama is invited to the Al Smith Dinner with Mr. Romney, and their host, who is also the President of the USCCB(!), publicly describes both men as "honorable men". Is this not an endorsement of both men and their positions? Isn't the whole purpose of the Obama invitation meant to confuse? Is the batrayal of the Catholic Faithful really worth the $5 million Cdl Dolan?
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written by jsmitty, October 25, 2012
I think Senex is basically correct, Mr Smith. Everyone agrees that it is wrong to support a candidate because of his support for legalized abortion. The issue has always been about whether a vote can be cast for such a candidate in spite of that support.

Put differently, the issue is one of proportional reasons. Are the other issues put together more important than abortion when one considers that the GOP strategy against legal abortion has had very limited success over the last 40 years. There are a decent chunk of Catholics who basically agree with the GOP on abortion but tend to side with the Democrats on almost everything else. I just don't know how far you are going to get asking these voters to set aside everything else they think to cast a vote solely on abortion when the GOP has delivered very little in that area beyond party platforms, and rhetorical support. Yes I know about the quest for the fifth anti-Roe SCOTUS justice that's always just one presidential election away and has been for 40 years. Yes, the Democrats view on abortion makes them utterly unacceptable to me and to you and to most TCT readers, but the people who feel this way are already voting Republican and don't need an article like this to tell them why. But Catholics who disagree are not going to be persuaded by yet another article like this or another voter guide by the USCCB. The Bishops cannot do anything more than they have already done despite the fantasy you seem to harbor that a "better" voter guide is on the horizon that just says "Vote GOP unless the GOP candidate isn't pro-life and unless the Democratic candidate is; then and only then you are free to consider other issues of lesser importance." Yes a few bishops have said this, but you will never get the whole body to go along.

Maybe a new strategy is in order. Instead of hectoring Catholics into becoming single issue voters on the quixotic quest to deliver 90% of the Catholic vote to the GOP (which has never happened in the past and will never happen in the future unless the US Church becomes dramatically smaller than it is) perhaps you should be hectoring the GOP into making itself more palatable to these voters--i.e. voters who genuinely don't like abortion but also think that the GOP stands on economic and foreign policy issues are currently unacceptable.

Now that would be an interesting piece to see you write! But you could not write it. This is because in so doing you would be forced to abandon your conceit that every single Catholic who rejects your voting calculus does so purely through mental and moral lapses. Alas, voting decisions are more complicated than that!
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written by Achilles, October 25, 2012
Calculation and sophistry must be replaced by Christian simplicity and a proper use of our faculties: intellect, will, appetites, imagination and memory.
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written by Sue, October 25, 2012
"The bishops" have enough clout together, if they would use it, to support a new third party that was truly prolife and small-government, and therefore, pro-family. Instead, the USCCB is squandering the Catholic vote building up a big-government Leviathan (whether headed by Tweedle-dum or -dee) that will completely obviate and block any charity the Church might organize itself.

I watched the Augustine movie tonight and was struck by the parallels with our time, each on the cusp of a Dark Age. In this case, however, the Church is bound up like Gulliver by government regs, and prevented from spreading its caritas around the world in the face of the barbarians. Not for nothing do they say that the homeschools are the new monasteries.
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written by Randall B. Smith, October 25, 2012
The Author Replies:

I cannot guarantee that Catholics will vote one way or another any more than any bishop can or would. What should be clear by now is simply that the Church's very pointed and very clear teaching on the issue is this: a Catholic with a properly formed conscience cannot vote for a candidate who favors allowing abortion over one who favors restricting it. It's not that the other issues don't matter, it's simply that there is a qualitative difference between the other issues and abortion.

As for "hectoring" the GOP, I've not mentioned either party in any of my articles. I take it, quite frankly, that I have made the same point for candidates from BOTH parties: "Support abortion, and you should expect no support from Catholics, whether you're pro-business, anti-tax, pro-gun, or whatever." (Now, granted, since many Catholics care more about other things, whether it's gun rights or Obamacare, more than they care about abortion, in direct contradiction to the teaching of their Church, my threat is essentially meaningless.)

But look, I don't know how much clearer I can make this: if a politician actually CAN get the trains to run on time, but he or she supports abortion, Catholics should vote against him or her on principle, even if it means worse train service, higher taxes, more regulation, terrible food, bad service at the toll booths, potholes in the roads, restricted hours at the Smithsonian, or whatever. Catholics should be willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary by way of private comforts and public services to end the evil of abortion. The Church's teaching is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways: against pro-abortion Republicans or Democrats.

I have expressed the wish that our current struggle against abortion not be divided along party lines, but readers themselves identify pretty quickly which of the two parties is the "pro-abortion party." I wish it were not so. Our politics would be healthier if it were not.

As for the Cardinal Dolan thing, I'm sorry, but I've never considered an invitation to dinner to be a public proclamation of one's approval of a person's views. If it were, I'm certain I would have received a lot fewer invitations to dinner.

Think about it: I invite you to dinner with me, therefore I must approve of your views. So when I invite my Muslim friends to dinner, now I'm a Muslim? When I invite my intellectual opponents on my campus to lunch to discuss matters with them in a civilized manner, I'm "giving in" to them and "betraying" my side? Who thinks such strange things? Only people who never engage in conversations with people who disagree with them.

By the way, I also have dinner with gay people. They aren't at all unclear that I am in complete agreement with the Church's teaching on the matter of homosexual acts. We meet; we eat; we disagree; we learn to live together and understand each other better. If you think the Church teaches that Catholics shouldn't have dinner with people who disagree with the Church, then (A) you're wrong, and (B) you haven't read the Scriptures and noticed the part about Christ dining in the houses of sinners and tax collectors.

So get over it. Dolan had both Obama and Romney to dinner. Romney was funnier. No one should be unclear about (and indeed, let's be honest, no one IS unclear about) what Dolan's views on abortion are. He was polite and cordial, but he also made his opposition to abortion clear.
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written by Manfred, October 25, 2012
The Author Replies: These comments just eviscerated your entire column as your points make the previous points irrelevant. Obama never had to say a word at the Dinner-all he wanted was the photo of him and the Cardinal. I don't know how old you are, but could you imagine Cdl Von Galen of Muenster, who warned his flock of the true nature of Naziism, in 1935 inviting Dietrich Bonhoffer and Adolf Hitler to a Catholic-association dinner? Do you realize the editors of TCT, Robert Royal and Brad Miner, did not attend the Dinner, preferring to celebrate a true Catholic politician, James Buckley? I will wait for Hadley Arkes comments on the Dinner as I understand he visited it briefly after the Buckley affair. BTW, most Catholics do not attend Mass so this whole subject must be irrelevant to them as well.
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written by Sue, October 25, 2012
The problem with the get-over-it it's just dinner argument is that I don't think you would apply it to someone like Hitler, for instance, certainly you wouldn't hand him the podium. The catch-22 is that I'm not allowed to invoke Hitler as an analogy, that's sacrosanct territory. Even if Obomney promises an ugly stab-in-the-back partial birth, left-in-the-hospital-closet-to-die of neglect, starve -to-death-in-the-nursing-home, cookbook-embryogenesis-making-gov-the-real-parent solutions , these are nevertheless so much more technologically sophisticated, therefore more "acceptable" compared to Hitler's oafish gas chambers.

All the same to me. And all the same progenitors as well. What is astonishing is how long we have allowed the eugenics cartel to thrive in the past two centuries.

Get over it? Not until I can honestly explain to my kids how we can grin with Obomney but not with Hitler. The Church has the beautiful teachings to equip us to speak up; we've just got to find our voice.
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written by Other Joe, October 26, 2012
"Whatever you do to the least of these...you do to me." Uh oh.
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written by Joe, October 26, 2012
The issue of a candidate's position on the moral and legal appropriateness of abortion takes on aspects that are complicated and confusing to many. Take, for instance, the current situation which finds one candidate, Mr. Romney, who does not find it objectionable to kill innocent unborn children who happen to have been conceived in some horrific manner, and his running-mate who must go along with that even though it offends both his conscience and his persona. The Catholic voter must decide whether such a ticket is less morally objectionable than one that consists of two avidly pro-abortion candidates. Well, that example truly isn't complicated or confusing.

Take another truly puzzling example: Your bishop speaks at Mass about the wonderful examples of Catholics in public office -- one of whom is present at that very liturgy. The bishop speaks long and eagerly about how Catholics have an opportunity and a mandate to keep such glowing examples of merit and morality in office. The bishop had been assured by said officeholder that he was a family man and had given signs that he was the last one who would support abortion. The bishop had neglected to consider that said officeholder was a Democrat and that in order to for him to remain in office he had to toe the abortion line. Hence, in that same election cycle, Mr. Officeholder comes out for abortion, etc., etc.; but Catholics had already heard how great he was and had been prompted to keep him in office. Just how red could any bishop's face be?

What I am trying to say is that even bishops can be fooled (the above is a true story) and we must do our own due diligence and not rely on anyone, even a bishop, to tell us how we should vote, except that any pro-abortion candidate must be considered in the light of the other candidates. Once in a while, it will be impossible to know the true mindset of a candidate and we cannot let that tear us up. If, after doing our utmost to determine how a candidate stands on the subject of abortion, we must vote for the one we have decided for ourselves is the better one, and then pray that our decision will put into office someone who will join the cause of protecting unborn life.
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written by Randall B. Smith, October 26, 2012
The Author Replies One More Time:

From one side, I've been criticized for (supposedly) comparing Obama to Hitler. From the other side, I'm criticized for not realizing that inviting Obama to dinner is like inviting Hitler to dinner. Let's stipulate: President Obama is not Hitler. He has not taken over the government by force; he is not the single source of all power and authority in the regime. He is an elected official, and those who don't like his policies can vote against him in the next election and vote against senators and representatives who will support him. Given that those policies support abortion on demand, it's rather important to vote against them.

As for Cardinal Dolan, one is certainly permitted to critique his decision on prudential grounds. But inviting someone to dinner is not the way in which official Catholic teaching is promulgated. The Church's teaching is promulgated in official documents, and the documents are clear. The question is simply whether Catholics will form their consciences according to that teaching.

Those who have ears, let them hear.
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written by Marion (Mimi) Palmer, October 26, 2012
My family for as long as I can remember were hardcore Democrats...period! By the late sixties I had 7 children and knew to my bones life had to be protected. I spent that time going to the state capital many times for rallys , we even picketed Gov Rockefeller's mansion! I changed to Republican and never in my life regretted it.
Abortion was legal after 1973 in the whole country...in 1976 I by then worked full time and became pregnant for my 8th child 10 years after the 7th child...The Dr. said, "I don't do abortions, I send my girls to Vermont." I answered..."no thanks we adjust." Martin was born at 2 am in the front seat of the car...on the way to the hospital. Today he is the "MA watcher" all the others call him, he is my God send! What newborn is not precious...What child is NOT a GIFT?!

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