Ratzinger’s “Proportionate Reasons” & a Pro-Abort Vote

Ratzinger’s “Proportionate Reasons” & a Pro-Abort Vote August 26, 2020

This fall, I voted Democrat, not merely with a clean conscience, but under the conviction that if I do not do so, I sin against Almighty God in failing to fight the gravest domestic threat to my country since the Civil War. (former Catholic apologist — he himself disavows the title — and now mostly left-wing political polemicist Mark Shea, 11-5-18)
I will vote Biden with a clean conscience before Almighty God. (Mark Shea, 8-25-20)
What did Cardinal Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict XVI) mean by “proportionate reasons” for possible voting for a pro-abortion politician? Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin tackled exactly that question in a Catholic Answers article, dated 11-1-04 (also available in audio format at the link). He writes:

We might ask: What kind of reasons could there be to vote for a pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia politician?

Here is a clear case: Suppose that in a given election either Candidate A or Candidate B is morally certain to win, but it is not clear which will win. Candidate A’s only policy is that he supports abortion, while Candidate B has two policies: He supports both abortion and euthanasia. In this case, more harm will be done to society by the election of Candidate B, and so based on principles touched on by John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae 73, one may cast one’s vote in such a way as to limit the harm done to society.

In such a situation, casting one’s vote for Candidate A does not amount to an endorsement of his policies. It represents an attempt to reign in the greater harm that otherwise will result. . . .

Many suggested Cardinal Ratzinger was giving his blessing to voting for pro-aborts if there were enough other good things about them. But having a number of good points is not enough. As the Cardinal indicated, there must be counterbalancing reasons proportional to abortion.

Such reasons are not easy to come up with, particularly for candidates seeking offices that have the ability to impact abortion law significantly. These include the presidents who nominate Supreme Court justices and the senators who confirm them. One wants to weed out pro-abort candidates on the lowest level possible so that they can’t use their political track record to get elected to higher office. But the more impact the office has on abortion policy, the more weighty a reason must be to allow a vote for them.

What kind of reason would be needed to vote for a pro-abort candidate for president? Something unimaginably huge. . . .

At 1.5 million kids killed per year [note: these were the numbers in 2004, they are less now], that means that a pro-abort president would be responsible for extending the abortion holocaust to include six million additional murders.

When one takes into account the fact that about half of the recent presidents have had second terms, that would mean a pro-abort president would be responsible for extending the abortion holocaust to include approximately nine million Americans.

No other issue involves numbers that high. Nothing short of a full-scale nuclear or biological war between well-armed nation states would kill that many people, and we aren’t in imminent danger of having one of those. . . .

Jobs? The economy? Taxes? Education? The environment? Immigration? Forget it. We do not have nine million people dying in a typical president’s term of office due to bad job programs, bad economic policies, bad taxes, bad education, bad environmental law, bad immigration rules—or even all of these combined. All of them together cannot provide a reason proportionate to the need to end abortion.

Make no mistake: Abortion is the preeminent moral issue of our time. It is the black hole that out-masses every other issue. Presenting any other issues as if they were proportionate to it is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

If Akin is right (as I believe he is), I don’t think Cardinal Ratzinger  was referring to a scenario of a pro-abort and a pro-lifer running against each other: where the pro-lifer (inexplicably) votes for the pro-abort candidate.
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Colin Donovan, STL, writing about “proportionality and voting” in 2016, makes basically the same argument that Akin made (one can vote to oppose an even worse candidate). See also Fr. Roger J. Landry.
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Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his magnificent encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (1995):
73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus 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. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. “They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: “the midwives feared God” (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev 13:10).
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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 favour of such a law, or vote for it”
Eminent bishops have expressed their informed opinions on this issue:
I do not see how a Catholic could, in conscience, vote for an individual expressing him or herself as favoring abortion. (John Cardinal O’Connor)
A proportionate reason for voting for a pro-abortion candidate has to be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our decision, as we someday will. (Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.)
Grace D. MacKinnon, in her article, “Voting Pro-Life” (Catholic Exchange, October 2002), observed:
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? . . .
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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.
Karl Keating made some excellent analyses on my Facebook page (11-6-18):
I voted by mail some time ago, so I can’t say I voted “today,” but I can say that, in each of the races in which I cast a vote (some I left blank because of lack of information about the candidates), the candidate I voted for was a Republican.
Not because I like Republicans or am a Republican (I’m not: I’m registered as an independent), but because the Republican candidates either appeared to be opposed to abortion and similar evils or appeared to be less ideologically in favor of them (and thus potentially convertible on the issues).
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In Rebecca Bratten Weiss’s estimation [in a screenshot that seems to have been deleted], this makes me a multiple “enemy of life.” Had I voted for the Democratic candidates in each of these races (all of them being strongly pro-abortion, so far as I could determine), apparently I would be a “defender of life,” by her lights.
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I find this worse than bizarre. With her and the others, I don’t think it’s merely a reaction to Trump. If one of the other 2016 GOP primary candidates had won the general election, I think she and her compatriots would be saying the same sort of nonsense.
But “nonsense” isn’t really the right word. What her comment and the comments of others allied with her suggest is an intellectual and ethical hysteria that leads toward the abandonment of reason itself.
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Like most people, I don’t vote “for a party.” Everyone I know votes candidate by candidate. If I come across a Democrat or Libertarian or Green Party candidate that seems better on the life issues than does the Republican candidate, I vote for that other-party candidate.
I vote “straight pro-life” as well; always have, since 1982.
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Related Reading
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GOP & Pro-Life Supreme Court Justices: Revisiting the Facts [10-11-16]

Reply to “Left-Wing” Pro-Lifers (Crisis Pregnancy Centers, the Supreme Court, and “Old” Pro-Life Efforts to Help Struggling Pregnant Women) [10-24-16]

Dialogue with Deacon Steven Greydanus on Voting & Pro-Life [11-8-16]

“New” Pro-Life? Only Spiritual Revival Stops Abortion [1-23-07 and 1-16-09; revised with additions on 12-2-16]

“Trump Ain’t Really Pro-Life” [1-24-17]

“Lessen Evil” Votes for Hillary? [note: Mark Shea did not vote for Hillary, but he urged people in swing states to do so] (vs. Mark Shea) [4-7-17]

Debate: Do Liberal Social Policies Lessen Abortion & Poverty? [4-12-17]

Debate: How Pro-Life is the Republican Party (Especially the Leadership)? [5-8-17]

Simcha Fisher’s “New” Pro-Life Critique of “Old” Pro-Lifers (+ vigorous Facebook discussion) [8-2-17]

Are “Old” Pro-Lifers Racists & “Anti-Woman”? (vs. John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe) [8-30-17]

“New” vs. “Old” Pro-Life Strategies (vs. John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe) [8-31-17]

What “Single-Issue” Pro-Life Activism Means & Doesn’t Mean [9-16-17]

On Being a So-Called “Single-Issue” Pro-Lifer [National Catholic Register, 1-25-18]

Do Democratic Presidents Cause Fewer Abortions to Occur? [National Catholic Register, 2-28-18]

Debate: SCOTUS & GOP in Relation to Abortion Rates [11-15-18]

Dialogue on Conservative vs. Liberal Pro-Life Voting [2-9-19]

Explaining the Pro-Life, Christian Vote for Trump Yet Again [4-30-19]

Abortion Declines Under Trump (Surprise, New Pro-Lifers!) [1-10-20]

Liberal & Conservative Pro-Life Outlooks: A Dialogue [1-18-20]

Dialogue w Never-Trumper: Is Trump Really Pro-Life? (vs. Scott Eric Alt) [1-24-17; expanded on 2-9-20]

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(originally 11-6-18)
Photo credit: Studies of the Foetus in the Womb (c. 1510-1513), by Leonardo da Vinci [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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