Voting Pro-LifeGRACE D. MACKINNON
Dear Grace: In this election, many candidates seek our support. As Catholics, how can we support politicians who mix their stands and thus make it difficult to determine whether thay truly represent our beliefs as Catholics? Should we vote? And is it a mortal sin to vote for a candidate who is pro-choice when his opponent is pro-life?
It is true that sometimes it seems as though no particular party or candidate fully reflects our moral values, which makes it a challenging task for Catholic Christians to vote. But the fact that there are obstacles in our path does not mean that we should back away from our responsibilities as citizens.
In their 1999 statement titled Faithful Citizenship, the United States Catholic Bishops wrote the following: "As bishops, it is not only our right as citizens but our responsibility as religious teachers to speak out on the moral dimensions of public life. As members of the Catholic community, we enter the public forum to act on our moral convictions, share our experience in serving the poor and vulnerable, and add our values to the dialogue over our nation's future. Catholics are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the moral wisdom anchored in Scripture and consistent with the best of our nation's founding ideals. Our moral framework does not easily fit the categories of right or left, Democrat or Republican. Our responsibility is to measure every party and platform by how its agenda touches human life and dignity."
They went on to say, "For Catholics, public virtue is as important as private virtue in building up the common good. In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. Every believer is called to faithful citizenship, to become an informed, active, and responsible participant in the political process. We encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power" (United States Catholic Conference, Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, no. 34).
On October 20, 2000, just before the last presidential election, the Bishops of the four Roman Catholic dioceses in Massachusetts issued an election statement calling on Catholics to exercise their "moral obligation" to vote and to recognize the "absolute centrality" of the protection of human life when choosing candidates on Election Day, Tuesday, November 7, 2000. The truth of their statement has not changed and still holds today.
The following is part of their statement: "We all have a responsibility to become informed about the candidates and the issues so that our choices will be based on the truth and will reflect the principles of our faith and our nation. We wish to underscore the absolute centrality of the protection of human life. Support and promotion of abortion by any candidate is always wrong and can never be justified. We will never cease to denounce abortion and euthanasia and teach all Catholics that to support those positions is to support death over life."
The Massachusetts bishops concluded by stating, "It is our responsibility to vote for candidates who will promote life and the culture of life over the culture of death. Such persons will care for all the people of this country, including the poor. Such leaders will support families in their choices and encourage communities to take up responsibility for bettering their own neighborhoods. Such leaders will show the world that we are a nation of peace and that we live in solidarity with all peoples and nations of this world. As Catholics, we stand for life. As citizens, we can do no less than vote for candidates who stand with us."
I hope that reading these statements from the U.S. Bishops will help clarify the serious responsibility we have to make our vote count. More than anything, we must protect and defend human life and support those who do. It is what God calls us to do always and everywhere. When we walk into the voting booth, we do not walk in alone. Christ walks in with us.
In some political races, Catholic voters will be faced with a difficult moral decision. Is it a mortal sin to vote for a political candidate who is pro-abortion when there is a choice of voting for a candidate running for the same office who is pro-life?
In this particular situation where you have two candidates for the same office and one is clearly pro-life while the other is clearly pro-choice, then yes, it would be sinful to vote for the pro-choice candidate. Certainly no Catholic in good conscience could or should vote for such a candidate. But would it be a mortal sin? Let us look at that.
Our Holy Father John Paul II has stated that "abortion and euthanasia are crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it." (The Gospel of Life, no. 73) [emphasis added].
Thus, we see that politicians who vote in favor of laws that legalize the crimes of abortion or euthanasia are guilty of committing a gravely immoral act. In fact, they can even be denied Holy Communion by a bishop or priest for obstinately taking such a stance. In order for an immoral act to be considered a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. (1) It must be serious matter (2) with knowledge of its seriousness and (3) done freely and willfully. Therefore, if he or she does so knowing that it goes against the law of God and it is done willingly, then he or she is guilty of mortal sin. Surely we can say that most Catholic politicians know that a public pro-choice position goes directly contrary to Church teaching.
Some pro-choice politicians and voters who support them would like to take the "lesser of two evils" approach by reasoning that some pro-life candidates are not in support of laws to protect the poor or the elderly, as if those issues are more important than the pro-life issue, but as John Paul II makes it quite clear: "it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) — even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general" (Veritatis splendor, nos. 71-83).
Now, where does that leave us as voters? Are we guilty of mortal sin if we vote for these people who clearly and openly state that they are pro-choice and intend to vote that way when in public office?
Let us look at how John Paul II explains what it means when we cooperate in evil actions. "Such cooperation [in evil] occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself" (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12) (The Gospel of Life, no. 74) [emphasis added].
So, it would seem that if we share knowingly and willfully in the immoral intention of a lawmaker who openly and freely promotes the killing of innocent unborn children or sick or dying persons, then we run the risk of being guilty of mortal sin. It is scandalous to think that any Catholic, or Christian for that matter, could vote for a pro-choice candidate when there is another in the same race who is pro-life. And yet, they do. Why is that happening?
Often we find that Catholics are not informing themselves properly before going to the polls. Sometimes even our own church bulletins have been used to promote pro-choice candidates. We need to read more carefully. Become informed! It would be different if there were two pro-choice candidates. In that situation, we must vote for the one who comes closest to living the full Gospel of life, but when it is a matter of choosing between two, where one is pro-life and the other pro-choice, then we must always choose pro-life. There is no escape from this moral responsibility before God. At present in our country, abortion takes the lives of over 4,000 unborn children every day and over 1.5 million each year. When we stand before God, will we want to say that we took any part in that? Think about it when you go to vote.
A new online pro-life voting guide, Pro-Life Voter's Guide from LifeNews.com, points our community toward this election's pro-life candidates and makes all the candidates' positions on life issues crystal clear.
Grace D. MacKinnon "Voting Pro-Life." Catholic Exchange (October 2002).
Reprinted with permission of Grace MacKinnon.
Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. She is the author of Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith published by Our Sunday Visitor. Order online by e-mail at email@example.com or call 1-800-348-2440.
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