Friday, November 16, 2007

Fr. Frank Pavone on "Faithful Citizenship"

Fr. Frank Pavone of "Priests for Life" comments on the Bishops' document on "Faithful Citizenship."

The full document can be found here.

2 comments:

Terry Carroll said...

I wrote the following to Priests for Life this morning, as well as posted it to my blog:

I have a problem with one particular statement in your endorsement of the USCCB's document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility."

You say "The document does leave room for voting for a candidate who favors legal abortion if, for instance, the opposing candidate is even more pro-abortion than the one for whom the voter is voting."

Paragraph 36 in the Bishops' document addresses this dilemma and is, apparently, the basis of your statement:

"36. When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods."

Bishop Chaput was recently quoted, in an interview with John Allen of NCR, about the meaning of "proportionate reasons" when weighing whether one can vote for a pro-choice politician: "it means a reason we could confidently explain to the Lord Jesus and the victims of abortion when we meet them at the end of our lives, and we will meet them. I think there are legitimate reasons you could vote in favor of someone who wouldn't be where the church is on abortion, but it would have to be a reason that you could confidently explain to Jesus and the victims of abortion when you meet them at the Judgment."

Bishop Chaput's statement, or criterion of judgment, seems to have more clarity, even though it still leaves room for the reality and exercise of a malformed conscience, than either your statement or the Bishops' document.

If, as I believe and thought you did, human life is an absolute value, then there is no "middle ground." If human life not an absolute value, then it is a relative value. Once the value of human life is allowed to fall into the category of relative value, there is no end to the number of possible justifications for denying or rejecting a human life. Even Bishop Chaput's stronger and clearer statement of principle can allow a malformed conscience to justify what is objectively not justifiable.

I once heard from the pulpit that "conscience is the voice of God within you." This is, of course, true, but one needs to form one's conscience according to Truth, and this understanding was not presented then nor have I ever heard such from any pulpit anywhere. It's not unlike preaching St. Augustine's "Love God and do what you want" as an ethical principle, again true but in need of serious qualification if one does not wish to be understood as promoting license or, more commonly, "if you feel really strong about something then you are free to do it" or "it can't be wrong when it feels so right."

To vote for the "lesser of two evils," which is what your statement and the Bishops seem to condone, is still to vote for evil. How can it ever be justified to vote for evil? How can one candidate be more pro-abortion than another pro-abortion candidate and, therefore, justify voting for the candidate who is less pro-abortion? If we are, indeed, in the midst of a "modern holocaust," could we extend that analogy to Nazi times and say that since Hitler was in favor of exterminating all Jews, an opposing candidate in favor of exterminating fewer Jews is the better choice?

Perhaps I am becoming too extremist, but it seems to me that the morally correct choice is to not participate in an election at all if there are no morally acceptable candidates. That guarantees, of course, that only morally unacceptable candidates will be elected to office. I understand that it is tempting to vote for the candidate who would exterminate fewer Jews and to justify that vote by quoting paragraph 36 of the Bishops' document and your endorsement of it. But is that really morally justified?

If there are no morally acceptable candidates, then we must either become candidates ourselves or rally around a currently non-existent alternative party or slate of candidates. We must, at the very least, be vocal about having only unacceptable choices which, practically, disenfranchises us as voters. I don't think you do the pro-life cause any good by endorsing the notion that we can knowingly vote for an intrinsic evil simply because it is endorsed less strongly by one of the candidates. Where can any reasonable person draw such a line? Abortion enjoys "priority status" and is "not just one issue among many."

I understand that we cannot be "single issue voters," as in "anyone pro-life gets my vote" and "anyone pro-choice does not get my vote." Whether a candidate is pro-life or pro-choice still allows for a range of other desirable or deplorable policies. But if a candidate supports that which is intrinsically evil, how can anything else they propose provide an acceptable balance to allow us to vote for them? I've heard the issue of slavery used in this context: if an antebellum Southern politician supported slavery but endorsed humane treatment of slaves and numerous other unquestionably good policies, while his opponent rejected slavery as evil at its very foundation but had relatively weak or less desirable policies in other areas, could one vote for the supporter of slavery?

To me the issue of abortion is non-negotiable: if a candidate supports pro-abortion policies, I cannot vote for him or her, regardless of what else they support. On the other hand, I would rather vote for a pro-life politician with other weak policies, or choose not to vote at all. To vote for a candidate who rejects the foundation of all human rights and goods is just not acceptable. From the logic of the Bishops' statement and your endorsement of it, you would have to condemn Thomas More for not choosing the lesser of two evils so that he could at least have lived to fight another day and promote the common good. Or, even more extremely, one could condemn Jesus' willingness to die rather than live longer, accommodate more, and give His Truth a better chance to be heard and understood.

So, for half of the political equation, I am a "single issue voter:" if a candidate supports abortion, I cannot vote for him or her. If a candidate rejects abortion, I may or may not vote for him or her depending on the circumstances and the other policies involved. I'm happy that the Bishops allow for not voting at all if matters of conscience and intrinsic evil are in play.

On a related issue, too much attention is being paid to how we should vote and not enough about how we should act as Catholics. Since only a small percentage of Catholics are engaged in the political arena, it's easy to use them as poster children for the question of whether someone should be denied Communion. They are "others" and, like the "poor," we can speak about them abstractly without taking into account the state of our own beliefs and their consequences.

One usually knows whether a Catholic politician is for or against abortion, but one doesn't usually know whether the person in the pew next to you is for or against abortion. If a Catholic politician who supports abortion should refrain from presenting him/herself for Communion, then so should any other Catholic. Where do you ever hear THAT preached??!! People who reject Church teaching on that which is intrinsically evil have rejected the Church and are, therefore, "not in communion" with the Church any more than a similarly believing Catholic politician. Why, then, are they not so informed, and why are they admitted to Communion? If they are not so informed, their conscience can be said to be malformed but clean, laying blame for their ignorance at the feet of our pastors and shepherds who refrain from teaching sensitive and controversial and potentially offending Truth.

Finally, how can we allow public ministers, public representatives of the Church, be they clergy or lay people, to function as such in the Church? Why should it be allowed that a person who supports abortion rights may function as a Lector, or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, or teacher in religious education, or even as Priest or Bishop? Focusing, as we do, all our attention on politicians, we're failing to look in the mirror and judge our own complicity in the intrinsic evils which have become embedded in our society.

Have I said enough?

Thank you for listening.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Carroll,

You write:

"To me the issue of abortion is non-negotiable: if a candidate supports pro-abortion policies, I cannot vote for him or her, regardless of what else they support."

I couldn't agree more!