I recently read a Catholic parish bulletin from the Diocese of Charlotte where the Pastor included the 2002 A Brief Catechism for Catholic Voters written by Fr. Stephen Torraco which was widely circulated before the 2004 election. I found the same guide published on the EWTN website.
Father Torraco uses a simple question and answer format to raise various issues. Among his statements he writes, “If a political candidate supported abortion, or any other moral evil, such as assisted suicide and euthanasia, for that matter, it would not be morally permissible for you to vote for that person… in voting for such a person, you would become an accomplice in the moral evil at issue.”
I do not know who Father Torraco is, or why his pamphlet is used in an official church bulletin. Should not parishes quote from texts recognized by the universal Church? I find it hard to understand why more pastors do not quote the text from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith which was published during the time that Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) was its prefect.
This 2004 document titled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles” states that Catholics may not propagandize in favor of abortion nor support laws permitting abortion. When addressing the possibility of voting for a candidate that favors abortion, the Congregation wrote:
“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”
Some argue this distinction of formal cooperation versus remote material cooperation is a farce. However, this is an important distinction. Without this distinction, everyone who pays federal taxes to the U.S. Government would be formally cooperating with evil because some of our tax money is in turn used to fund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in our country and throughout the world. If this distinction cannot be made, we would be forced to cease payment of taxes.
The document quoted above does not state what are the proportionate reasons that would make it permissible to vote for a candidate who is in favor of abortion. This is left to an individual’s own personal prudential judgement.
Note that my intention here is not to diminish the preeminence of abortion when it comes to voting. I am saying, as the Church says, that it is not automatically a sin when a person votes for a candidate who supports abortion. Some go further and state that voting for a candidate who supports abortion is a mortal sin that requires going to confession. That statement does not pass the simple moral theology requirements for a mortal sin. Mortal sin is always specific because it requires three things:
- The matter must be grave – something serious.
- It must be committed with full knowledge.
- It must be committed deliberately and with complete consent.
We cannot make a blanket statement that voting a particular way is a mortal sin because it requires an analysis of all three components as they apply to a particular person in a particular context. The most that could be said is that voting for a pro-abortion candidate may be a mortal sin, but it is not defacto a sin.
I believe that if a person for some reason finds it prudent to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, that voter better fight tirelessly for the pro-life cause. Especially because our two party system does not have a party that aligns with our religious beliefs, we will always have to make some kind of compromise, and fight for the things in the party’s platform that do not conform to our beliefs as Catholics.
If you vote for a Republican candidate, be an advocate for the end of the death penalty and the humane treatment of immigrants.
If you vote for a Democratic candidate, be an advocate for the unborn and for the strengthening of marriage.
Those who find my words troublesome or wish to argue against this, please, do argue against the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
Politicians on both parties wish us to be first members of a political party, and secondly to be faithful Catholics. We approach the Church with open hearts, wishing to think with the mind of the Church. A Catholic votes freely, informed and according to his or her conscience. Each person is free to vote as he or she best sees fit after being properly informed. I pray for greater unity, greater respect and dialogue, so that together we may move forward.