We count in our numbers as Catholic literally millions of people who will put Jesus in second place on election day – behind their political party and its candidate. I hope for the sake of their eternal salvation, that their actions are mitigated by true ignorance or deep confusion sewn by highly heterodox groups (e.g. “Catholics” for Choice).
For the rest of us, our choice will be based upon true Catholic moral teaching and understanding the difference between intrinsic evil and prudential judgement.
Intrinsic evils are moral choices which are always wrong and unacceptable. Abortion is the most important example of this because it involves life itself. The destruction of innocent lives is such a heinous act that it must be given priority above all else. Note that direct involvement in abortion automatically incurs latae sententiae excommunication whereas the murder of an older person, while also an extremely grave mortal sin, does not. Such is the weight given by Holy Mother Church in the name of our Lord.
Some other examples of intrinsic evils include so-called “gay marriage,” suicide (including physician assisted), embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning.
Prudential judgment reflects our personal choices on competing (moral) positions. For example: the most effective means of helping the poor, how to make healthcare more accessible to more people, immigration reform, when a specific war is just, when the death penalty is justified, the proper balance between solidarity and subsidiarity, specific government programs, tax plans, and so on. Often the choice is not between “right” and “wrong,” but between competing solutions to recognized problems. It is therefore debatable, among Catholics of good faith, which candidate’s or political party’s position will ultimately be most helpful to the poor, providing healthcare, creating jobs, defending the country and so on.
However, intrinsic evil must always be given precedence over prudential judgements. Therefore, no matter how much better we judge a candidate’s position on aid to the poor, healthcare, immigration, war, death penalty, etc. – if they embrace intrinsic evils, then that fact must be given the greatest moral weight. In this presidential election, it is NOT debatable which candidate fully embraces abortion or unnatural marriage (both grave, intrinsic evils).
When your bishop or priest speaks of the importance of voting a properly formed conscience, he is referring to one rooted in true Catholic moral teaching. He is NOT referring to some fuzzy feeling you may have or some emotional attachment to one party or candidate. For a number of reasons, he unfortunately can not simply tell you “therefore, in this election it would be highly immoral to vote for candidate so-and-so.” Do not interpret that to mean there are not disqualifying, immoral positions.
In this presidential election, neither candidate is perfect but one candidate alone embraces several positions which are intrinsically evil and alarmingly to the maximum extent possible. No faithful Catholic with a well formed conscience will vote for Barack Obama. We may vote for his challenger, Mitt Romney, for a third party candidate or if necessary for no candidate – but we can not vote for Barack Obama. We may even admire his vision, his social programs and his character – but we can not vote for Barack Obama. To do so makes us personally complicit with his gravely sinful positions.
The same moral requirement of well formed consciences must guide our votes not only in the presidential election, but for every race.
This video presents Catholic moral teaching, as applied to voting, very well:
Cardinal Raymond Burke (Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and Archbishop Emeritus of St. Louis), has presented an excellent pastoral letter on voting that also addresses these points. Here (with my highlighting) is the Catholic News Agency’s (CNA) coverage from two years ago (he was Cardinal-designate at the time):
Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke stressed to Catholic voters in a recent interview that they have a “very serious” obligation to uphold the truth of “moral law” in the upcoming mid-term elections. He specifically cited protecting unborn children from abortion and defending traditional marriage.
The American Vatican official, who was recently named by the Holy Father as a future cardinal, spoke on Oct. 20 to Thomas McKenna, president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, just hours after the Pope’s announcement.
Cardinal-designate Burke opened his remarks by saying that “as a bishop it’s my obligation, in fact, to urge the faithful to carry out their civic duty in accord with their Catholic Faith.” Clarifying that he does not endorse particular candidates, the prelate also spoke of his duty to relay “principles” to the faithful to help inform their vote.
Speaking on the contentious topic of abortion in the upcoming mid-terms, Cardinal-designate Burke said one “can never vote for someone who favors absolutely the right to choice of a woman to destroy a human life in her womb or the right to a procured abortion.”
“You may in some circumstances where you don’t have any candidate who is proposing to eliminate all abortion, choose the candidate who will most limit this grave evil in our country,” he explained, “but you could never justify voting for a candidate who not only does not want to limit abortion but believes that it should be available to everyone.”
The Vatican prelate also addressed the issue of same-sex “marriage,” asserting that maintaining the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman is not unjust discrimination.
“Where there is unjust discrimination – “for instance, where you say that a fellow human being, because of the color of his skin, is not a part of the same race as someone, say, who is a Caucasian, that is a kind of discrimination which is unjust and immoral,” he said.
However, he added, “there is a discrimination which is perfectly just and good, and that is the discrimination between what is right and what is wrong.”
“Between what is according to our human nature and what is contrary to our human nature. So the Catholic Church, in teaching that sexual acts between persons of the same sex are intrinsically evil, are against nature itself, is simply announcing the truth, helping people to discriminate right from wrong in terms of their own activities.”
In his interview, Cardinal-designate Burke also urged Catholic politicians who have caused “scandal” by endorsing positions contrary to moral law to repent through a “genuine reform of heart.”
“That’s done through the Sacrament of Penance,” he said, adding that political figures must publicly “renounce” their errors, recognizing and recanting the “evil” they have promoted.
Fans of Father John Zuhlsdorf (I am one!) may also wish to read his recent comments on the above. Cardinal Burke’s full interview, upon which the above text from CNA has been transcribed, is here:
As a voter, you may exercise free will in every election. In this election, you are presented with one clearly immoral choice. Bishop David Ricken (Green Bay) warns: “To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally ‘complicit’ with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.” Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Springfield) similarly warns: “a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.“
The last word goes to Father Daniel Doctor: “to attack life at any stage of development is to attack God Himself as the Creator – and then to call this a right or a freedom – is the most absurd of lies.”