Before you read this long post, know that it is intended to answer the questions of those who doubt the legitimacy of Catholics being able to vote for Bernie Sanders in good conscience – it doesn’t discuss the worthiness of particular policies of prudential judgment. This post is also not an endorsement of Sanders, but simply answers objections to the possibility of a Catholic doing so in good conscience. It also seeks to explain what is required of a voter who decides to vote for any other candidate who supports positions that promote intrinsically evil acts and other grave evils. We have a rundown of previous posts from our brothers and sisters across the internet on whether voting for Sanders is acceptable. We have a short reference to socialism and Sanders before discussing whether Sanders’ position on Abortion is enough to necessarily disqualify him from the Catholic vote. In the end, with certain conditions met, we submit that it may be permissible to vote for Sanders this election cycle. We also have a list of Eight Signs of Faithful Citizenship for everyone who votes to use (as everyone is likely to vote for someone who supports a policy that promotes an intrinsic evil), that helps to concretize our determination towards actualizing what is good and opposing what is evil – something that is not optional and is particularly necessary when dealing with remote cooperation with evil.
As many will be discouraged by the length, I will republish this in parts in the short future.
Click the following anchors to go down to the sections you’re interested in, or read the whole, 9300 word post.
If you have questions or unanswered objections, or if this needs updates, let me know via my Contact Box at the top of this page.
- See the Post’s Summary Points
- See the Rundown of Posts on Whether Catholics can Vote for Sanders
- See Our Brief Treatment on Socialism
- See Our Section on Abortion
- See Our Lengthy Analysis based on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship
- Go Directly to Our Eight Signs of Faithful Citizenship
– A Catholic may, but is not required to, vote for Bernie Sanders under certain circumstances and for particular reasons.
– Catholics are not single issue voters, but cannot disregard policies that promote intrinsically evil actions.
– We must act, even if we disagree on how, to remedy other grave evils.
– As is the case for all candidates, a Catholic cannot vote for him or her if the intention is to advance a position that supports intrinsically evil actions – but may only do so for grave reasons.
– Verbally opposing intrinsically evil actions is not enough to secure the support of a Catholic.
– If rejecting a candidate for their support of an intrinsic evil, you’re likely to reject every candidate as they all support at least one intrinsic evil.
– You may, but are not required to, disqualify candidates based on their support of policies that promote intrinsically evil acts; but doing so consistently could lead one to choose not to vote for any candidate.
– Intrinsic evil is not the same thing as grave evil, and some grave evils could promote intrinsic evils.
– Socialism has not been condemned by the Church in every way, shape, or form it has manifested itself.
– There are dozens of intrinsic evils to consider.
– When confronted with only candidates that have positions which support intrinsic evils, as we are today, one may choose not to vote, or use prudential judgment in deciding to vote for one considered least likely to advance policies that promote intrinsically evil acts.
– One “should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.”
– Use the Eight Signs of Faithful Citizenship, especially when considering a licit vote for a candidate who supports policies that promote intrinsically evil acts.
Under certain conditions, a Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for the self-described socialist and 100% NARAL rated Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Several of our brothers and sisters on the internet, including here at Patheos, have shared their thoughts on whether a Catholic could vote for Bernie Sanders while remaining in good standing with the Church.
Most readers of the different blogs hosted at Patheos commented negatively and several decided to stop following Patheos content all together. For these readers, voting for someone who supports unrestricted access to abortion and/or describes himself as a socialist is completely unacceptable.
Indeed, most of the conversation (between readers and writers, and among writers ourselves) seems to focus on abortion and socialism when discussing the possibility of a Catholic vote for Sanders.
The Year 2015
On September 18 over at Political Theology, Matthew A. Shadle (Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia) published what seems to be the first piece on the question of whether a Catholic could vote for Bernie Sanders. Written before the updated/revised edition of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship was released by the US Bishops in November, Shadle focuses on the implication of Sanders’ socialism for Catholic voters. While I do not fully agree with Shadle’s assessment on socialism in Catholic teaching, I find that his reading is closer to the mark than most. In the end, Shadle properly notes that an evolution and nuance has taken place in the Church’s treatment on socialism and submits that Sanders is at least worthy of consideration, if not your vote. Whether you may ultimately vote for Sanders based on other life-realities is untouched in the body of Shadle’s work, leaving readers who care for a comprehensive treatment on whether or not one can vote for Sanders unsatisfied.
On September 25, Matt Lamb wrote a piece for a publication supported by ‘Turning Point USA’ on why he, as a Catholic, cannot vote for Bernie Sanders. He, like others below, fails to understand Sanders, and rejects him for reasons that are not based on Catholic teaching but on what some people would call libertarianism or conservatism – typically poor reasons as you’ll see in his post. Lamb submits, contradicting his inaccurate understanding of Sanders, that individual charity is the only way to go and that free trade is the solution to poverty. Maybe Lamb will decide to update his post with some revisions and by adding citations to some Catholic documents; otherwise it may be best to simply stop confusing people by saying things like “as a Catholic” when a document shows no connection to catholicism whatsoever.
The Year 2016
On February 3, Rev. Dwight Longenecker wrote that under certain conditions, a Catholic may vote for Bernie Sanders. What are these conditions? Only if Sanders were to end up facing Donald Trump in November. This alone angered many readers, but Longenecker may have missed the mark. Citing Cardinal Ratzinger, he properly submitted that the Church’s rejection of socialism is qualified and that Sanders’ use/understanding of socialism didn’t quite fall under the rejected kind. Where we see a difficulty in this piece, however, is in Longenecker’s failure to incorporate the US Bishops’ guide on Faithful Citizenship and deciding to resort, instead, to one of the many popular voting guides for Catholics that rely on a poor understanding, inconsistent with that of the US Bishops, on cooperation with evil, non-negotiables, and more. This may be why Longenecker wrongly concludes that, for a Catholic, you cannot vote for Sanders unless he is facing another, ‘worse'(?), candidate who also supports abortion – like Trump.
On February 5, I suggested here that Catholics should consider Bernie Sanders and – because I was out of town for a month – only left a small note as to why, promising a more elaborate treatment on the topic. I encouraged reading the Bishops’ Forming Consciences above any other guide claiming to be Catholic, and asked readers to look at the entirety of each candidates’ positions.
Later that day David Armstrong reposted his 2008 piece “Ten Reasons Why Pro-Lifers Vote 4 Pro-Aborts” in response to what I had written – which was a mere note. There, it seems to me, he fails to draw from what little the US Bishops have produced on voting, intrinsic evils, cooperation with evil, and the prudential judgment involved in this form of participating in political life, resulting in what I think is an inaccurate conclusion. He suggests that voting for Obama (in 2008) “is absolutely against Catholic moral principles” and probably believes that this is also the case for one who votes for Sanders. However, he doesn’t give us document to demonstrate the validity of this suggestion, and as others have pointed out, before and after this repost of his, the Bishops and Ratzinger do not seem to think he is correct.
On February 8, Religion News Service published Fordham University associate professor Charles Camosy’s piece “Yes, Catholics may vote for Bernie Sanders“. Camosy mentions Longenecker’s piece (Feb. 3) and seeks to add what is missing from Catholic teaching. First, he draws from Ratzinger’s memorandum which states, in part, “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 (with evil), which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons” (emphasis mine). Camosy continues: “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that we voters face a dilemma when ‘all candidates hold a position which is intrinsically evil’ — as is the case with positions on things like abortion, torture, assisted suicide, and usury…. In such cases, the bishops appeal to voters’ prudential judgement, which includes what they think of ‘a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.'” He then goes on to describe how that may play out in the prudential deliberation of the faithful conscience, leading some to licitly vote for Sanders while others, including Camosy, may choose another candidate, or perhaps decide to not vote for either candidate.
On February 9, Deacon Keith Fournier wrote a piece titled “No Catholic or other Christian Should Support the Candidacy of Bernie Sanders” for Catholic.org. Despite his many years of ministry, advocacy, law, and writing, Fournier’s piece mistakenly sees pro-life as synonymous with anti-abortion, and the Right to Life (and all that entails) with the Right to Not Be Aborted. Because of this, Fournier seems to believe, a Catholic cannot even consider Sanders. However, like others who would find themselves in agreement with him, Fournier fails to make proper distinctions between policies and candidates, licit and illicit cooperation, and anti-abortion with pro-life. Intrinsic evils, gravity of evils, and the many other considerations discussed in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship are also missing from his opinion piece.
On February 10, The CatholicVote‘s summer-intern, Kate Fugate, penned an “opinion” piece titled, “Catholicism and Socialism? Incompatible.” Fugate suggests, without making distinctions or considering the entirety of the Catholic Social Imagination, that all socialism, and any government that looks socialistic, is anti-Catholic and anti-USA. “In reality, Bernie’s highfalutin criticism of capitalism and praise of socialism is contradictory to much of Catholic Doctrine…”, she writes. And, after neglecting to share what she understands the role of government to be – from the Catholic perspective- , and by omitting comprehensive, critical, and contextualized references to the doctrine she is referencing – especially in regards to socialism and capitalism, and the differences between justice and charity-, we would say she wrongly concludes: “The socialism of Bernie Sanders is not Catholic Social Teaching on steroids, but a practice that if implemented, would render Catholicism, and it’s members, archaic.”
On February 11, Longenecker, after referencing Winston Churchill, decides to take a step back to offer an unqualified rejection of socialism – inconsistent with what the Church has offered. However, Longenecker rightly rebukes the greed of the rich and the treatment of workers and the poor while also defending the Church’s position that the government has a duty to “build up and maintain” the common good – which includes securing the many rights of persons (to life and life in dignity). (Longenecker also shows an unrefined understanding (lacking nuance) of socialism within the Catholic tradition here.)
On February 12, Cosmos the in Lost hosted a guest post by Joseph Antoniello,1 written in response to Fugate’s post at The CatholicVote (Feb. 10). Antoniello demonstrates that Fugate, not unlike many other persons commenting on Catholicism and Socialism, fails to distinguish kinds of socialism as different Catholic thinkers have, resulting in the inaccurate position that all socialism is condemned by the Church. Moreover, this failure to distinguish leads Fugate, per Antoniello, to wrongly lump up Sanders with Lenin and Stalin. (Antoniello earns bonus points by pointing out Sanders’ misuse of democratic socialism and referencing the founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, distributism, and The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.)
Later that day, Melinda Selmys built on Antoniello’s post to discuss “The Virtue of Socialism“. There, drawing from Paul VI and Benedict XVI, Selmys demonstrated that one argument against what is described as socialism – namely, that virtue is snubbed by government aid programs funded by forced taxation – is inconsistent with the Catholic position.
On February 13, Brietbart published a piece by Thomas Williams (permanent research fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture, Notre Dame University) strongly rebuking Camosy’s article (Feb. 8). While the rebuke was strong, the argument was seemed to be lacking. The piece’s lack of weight is probably a result of a poor reading of Camosy’s article and an insuffienct Catholic moral theology. Most of the article consists of Williams accusing Camosy of sophistry and fallacious thought, and yet, it ultimately turns out to be one giant exercise in sophistry and fallacious thought. It seems to me that Williams was given an inaccurate summary of Camosy’s piece by a colleague and never managed to read it himself. Because of this, responding to Williams is pointless for our own Rundown as we would simply take various lines in William’s post and point to what he missed/misread in Camosy’s.
On February 19, Marc Barnes suggested Sanders’ socialism “is almost a non-issue” and used the US Bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship to green light a vote for Sanders that was not intended to advance policies supporting intrinsic evils when done so for grave reasons and when faced with opposing candidates – all but Ted Cruz, per Barnes – who had policies supporting intrinsic evils, usually torture.
On February 22, Rachel Lu’s piece “Should Catholics ‘Feel the Bern’?” was published by Crisis magazine. Lu repeats many of the mistakes of our brothers and sisters above on the topic of types of socialism and what it is that Sanders actually embraces. Moreover, references to the Church’s teaching (beside a quick note on Ratzinger) is regretfully absent in Lu’s work, while appeals to ignorance and emotion seem prevalent.
On February 25, the National Catholic Reporter published Millenial co-founder, Christopher Hale’s piece “Bernie Sanders is wrong: Pope Francis is no socialist.” Hale’s piece is quite disappointing in that what seems to be an inconsistent use of the description ‘socialist’, many are to be left confused and, perhaps, in opposition to Sanders and his capitalism-lite (not really socialism, as Antoniello discusses). If a socialist is what Sanders describes, you have one thing. If a socialist is one who takes an embraces an ideology that clashes with the faith, you have another. Yet, even after Hale draws from Ratzinger’s 2004 address-turned-essay – which he incorrectly cites as an essay of Benedict XVI published by First Things in 2006 -, he goes back to criticizing one kind of socialism without making distinctions (for us readers) necessary to refine our understanding. “Of course,” he writes “socialism isn’t without its limitations. There are strands of socialism, particularly in Europe, that too often value the collective good of society over the well-being of individual persons. In the Christian worldview, those are false dichotomies.” So, there are other strands, too, no? Hale’s essay concludes with the same disappointing lack of distinctions being made half-way through, and in the work of other writers above:
Socialism’s shortfalls play out, in particular, in questions related to the protection of human life. Most socialists claim to support progressive policies that promote full human equality, but fail to practice it. From the purely secular, materialist economic perspective that undergirds socialism, some lives matter more than others. But from a Christian worldview, assisted suicide is not progressive; abortion is not progressive. These are things that devalue human life. From a secular economic perspective, you could argue assisted suicide adds value for society, as those who are viewed an inefficient burden are discarded. There is no room for that in Christianity. In Christianity, you will never value the totality of humanity over and above a single human person. They are in tandem.
Unfortunately, one might take this and think Hale is referring to all socialism as he writes, “Socialism’s shortfalls” not “The shortfalls of some socialisms.” He also confuses us when the following sentence discusses the claims of “Most socialists”. Are we discussing socialists or socialism, if so, what kind, Mr. Hale? Do most Christians/Capitalists/Conservatives/Republicans claim to care about the poor? Plainly, we’re seeing a connection between socialism and socialists that doesn’t seem to follow – perhaps most socialists are bad at being socialists. Maybe not all socialisms – so we can’t say “Socialism’s shortfalls [in itself and every possible manifestation]” – are the same. Perhaps it would be good to know that some socialists are also very much against abortion, for example. Hale and others would benefit from learning about a contemporary example of these anti-abortion socialist and anti-abortion socialism by reading the Spanish Solidarity Party’s “Rechazamos el aborto porque solos de izquierda” from 2004. The link has the piece in English for those who need it. For your pleasure, here’s an excerpt:
We therefore proclaim that associating the left-wing with abortion´s “legitimacy” is first and foremost a lie, and in addition, it directly contradicts the values that the Left vindicates.
We are left, socialist, because we categorically and unequivocally defend the socialization of means of production, because we fight against any form of exploitation of human beings, because we are against the oppression of the people by any imperialist power. But also because we defend human life as a supreme value, and we claim that nobody, in anybody´s name, can put an end to it. Moreover, we believe that it is a distinctive feature of the Right to find arguments and excuses to eliminate human life.
Of course, making things more difficult for Hale would be Blessed Paul VI’s allowing for distinctions on the kinds of socialism in his 1971 letter to Cardinal Maurice Roy. What I find interesting is that the letter, Octogesima Adenines (see par. 31), allowed for distinctions – prior to Ratzinger’s address, of course – after several members of the Hierarchy suggested that not all socialisms are the same, and that, perhaps, “true socialism is to be found in Christianity.” More on this at the end of the next section.
Many continue to think that Sander’s brand of socialism is enough to disqualify him for Catholics. It should be clear that this is not the case.
Matt Lamb, Dwight Longenecker, Keith Fournier, Kate Fugate, and Thomas Williams and Christopher Hale may be read as suggesting otherwise, yet they would only be correct if what they submitted was nuanced and allowed for historical contextualization as the Church does. The impoverished discussions on socialism and the Church are plentiful. It is difficult to find decent work on the topic online.
I’ve been sent several pieces on Catholicism and socialism from different brothers and sisters. Every piece, so far, has failed to do what others have failed to do: make distinctions and consider the historical context. With even greater sorrow, some people think they can put a collection of quotes online – some not even referring to socialism by name – and declare that the Church has rejected socialism in every way, shape, and form.
The American Enterprise Institute has a post that lacks context and a comprehensive reading of the subject here. The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property has their own post with the same shortfalls here. Our Sunday Visitor has a post that starts sour, becomes sweet, and ends in disappointment here. Catholic Culture has three disappointing posts – also lacking distinction and contextualization – here, here, and here, among other places. Even Robert Barron, before becoming Bishop, sided with capitalism against all socialism here – improperly claiming that the Church has done the same. (Well, some in the Church have – e.g., Cardinal Dolan – but not necessarily the Church in its teaching.)
That said, some of the other posts on Sanders do offer a refreshing addition on content for people to find online.
But, there is more!
As Barnes said in his post, the socialism thing “is almost a non-issue”. People have a hard time understanding the distinctions. Consider, again, Antoniello’s treatment. Consider the Bishops, Cardinals, Popes, and holy men and women who have said no to capitalism and yes to some form of socialism. Also consider those who have inspired them.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon can be considered a socialist, left of Marx. Properly speaking, his socialism was expressed in anarchism. Peter Kropotkin (described anarchism as “the no-government system of socialism”) and Nicholas Berdyaev (separating himself from a materialistic socialism considered a form of socialism “which unites personality and the communal principle” as one that could “satisfy Christianity”) followed Proudhon in their anarchism/socialism. Who else joined them? The Servant of God Dorothy Day and the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, Peter Maurin – if we take Day at her word when she said that her anarchism comes from Proudhon and Kropotkin (which was a form of socialism). Moreover, this anarchist-socialism (left of Karl Marx), according to Day, was called something different, but embraced by other leading Catholic writers of the early 20th century: Chesterton and Belloc. For Day, distributism was the British name for what she called anarchism – which is why she identified with both interchangeably (see Day’s The Long Loneliness, page 56).
The list continues…
Servant of God Dom Helder Camara said no to capitalism and yes to a Christian form of socialism. Heinrich Pesch said no to capitalism and his solidarism was said to be (by Ludwig von Mises) socialism lite. Recall Patriarch Cardinal Maximos IV who said true socialism is to be found in Christianity at Vatican II in 1965. What about Blessed Oscar Romero? He was no friend of capitalism. Thomas Merton was disgusted by capitalism, too. Francis, Benedict XVI, John Paul II: not fans of capitalism. The Bishops of Peru once said that Christians ought to opt for socialism. Look at this effort to contextualize those lists of Pope quotes contra-socialism, leaving anti-socialists in sorrow, presumably. What about Barron’s siding with capitalism and rejection of socialism: we have a response for that one here. Do we have a long list of people who were either socialists are at least anti-capitalists? Yes we do. Is Pope Francis’s recent encyclical an invitation to move beyond capitalism? Yup, got you covered.
At the end of the last section, I noted Paul VI’s 1971 letter to Cardinal Maurice Roy and the discussions on socialism before the letter was released. We have several, interesting examples below.4
There is more, but I’ll spare you. Whether it’s because you’ve made capitalism your idol or simply think all socialism is rejected by the Church that you’re disqualifying Sanders – know your position isn’t the Church’s, lived nor written. (Besides, Sanders is really a capitalist-lite, and is center-right in the European context and compared to those recently championed by Francis in front of the US Congress: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Martin Luther King, Jr.)
(This post isn’t intended to discuss the merits of alternatives to capitalism and the intrinsic perversity of capitalism. More on capitalism and socialism is linked above. Here we simply seek to show that one can, with nuance, support some socialism as a Catholic. Though as we discussed, whether Sanders is a socialist, even a democratic socialist, is yet to be established – see Antoniello, above.)
Catholics may disqualify any candidate who supports intrinsic evils – but do not seem to be required to. When people disqualify candidates who support an intrinsic evil, they often do so inconsistently and do not consider the many intrinsic evils that policies could promote – often policies embraced by the right. Not only that, Catholics often fail to realize that some policies, not directly related to intrinsic evils, end up promoting intrinsically evil acts – this is often he case with GOP policies.
Many will resort to mentioning “non-negotiables” without understanding what that entails. You’re okay, though – many writers and guides do a poor job of explaining what that means. Every intrinsic evil is a non-negotiable. This talk of non-negotiables leaves people confused and in a position do allow great harm to be done in the world – otherwise preventable, indeed. Even Francis stepped away from the language of non-negotiables in an interview last year. Life is the non-negotiable (not to be minimized to abortion).
Additionally, drawing from Benedict’s 2003 address and his 2002 not as prefect of the CDF, Barnes offered us a delightful post last summer on the poorly composed, incomplete, and disappointing voter’s guides offered and used by our brothers and sisters around the country. You may be familiar with their lists of so-called “5” or “3” non-negotiables that are presented as make it or break it criteria for Catholics as imposed by the church – while this isn’t really the case. Barnes addresses the erroneous presentations, format, and content of the Catholic Answers guide, the EWTN guide, and includes “The CatholicVote“‘s use of the same inadequate work. Review Barnes’s piece on these “non-negotiables” for more. Again, these guides do not come close to explaining what is the case. Even though there is much that is true in them, the lack of nuance and depth make them practically useless – especially when we have the USCCB’s Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship at our disposal.
Back to the question: Is abortion enough to disqualify Sanders?
Yes, direct abortion is an intrinsic evil. Is it the only intrinsic evil? No. There are many more. Take torture, for example. Is that an intrinsic evil? Yes. Lying is intrinsically evil, too. Are some evils more grave than others? Yes, but we’re discussing intrinsic evils.
So can Sander’s position on abortion lead a Catholic to disqualify him? Catholics can disqualify anyone they want – whether or not they embrace policies that support intrinsic evils. The question is, what is our criteria, where do we get it from, and do we abide by it consistently? (No, we haven’t arrive at the question of policies (say of prudential judgment, perhaps) that aren’t directly related to extrinsic evils (evils that are not intrinsic evils) but that could promote intrinsically evil acts.
That said, we should consider what intrinsic evils are discussed by the US Bishops and what that means for disqualifying candidates.
But a short and not yet final answer to your question on whether abortion is enough to disqualify Sanders:
Abortion is enough to disqualify Sanders because it is an intrinsic evil, which is why every other major candidate also merits disqualification. Why? The most basic example is torture. While Barnes gives Ted Cruz a pass on torture, because Cruz says he is absolutely against it, he is also for water boarding, which he distinguishes from torture legally, and his moral reasoning follows from it. However, embracing policies that support intrinsically evil acts do not necessarily and automatically disqualify a candidate from receiving a Catholic’s vote.
And before we continue, please remember that pro-life and anti-abortion are not the same thing. We must all be pro-life. Perhaps one would also benefit from John Medaille’s recent “Pro-life or anti-abortion?” piece at The Distributist Review. Don’t make the mistake Fournier and others have made. Of course, Rebecca Bratten Weiss expands on what it means to be pro-life here.
Let’s take a closer look at the Bishops’ document.
Keep the following paragraphs from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (FCFC) in mind if you have not yet looked at the whole document:
34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.
35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.
36. When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, 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.
37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching. (Emphasis is my own.)
Let’s consider the first requirement for Catholics who may vote for a candidate who supports policies promoting intrinsic evils by looking at the list of intrinsic evils offered (as examples) and by adding a few others we can think of.
The US Bishops include: (direct) “abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior” (FCFC, 34).
An earlier paragraph (23), includes some intrinsically evil acts mentioned above along with some others:
Similarly, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, and other acts that directly violate the sanctity and dignity of human life are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life, such as genocide, torture, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Nor can violations of human dignity, such as acts of racism, treating workers as mere means to an end, deliberately subjecting workers to subhuman living conditions, treating the poor as disposable, or redefining marriage to deny its essential meaning, ever be justified.
John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor started us off with the following list from Vatican II, which can be seen as a starting point for what is in the Bishops’ document above:
“Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”.
Perhaps we could also add: adultery, calumny, injustice to foreigners, injustice to orphans and widows, lying, masturbation, pedophilia acts, polygamy, pornography production, pornography use, rape, sex with animals, sexual abuse, sodomy, usury, using artificial contraception, or a war of aggression.2
Even still, these lists are not exhaustive, though they are exhausting to consider for some. Moreover, they help us see that many (if not all) candidates support, condone, or will not oppose more than one intrinsic evil. Condoning intrinsically evil acts is also unacceptable for the US Bishops who write, “[Intrinsically evil acts] must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned ” (FCFC, 22).
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 21, 2015
While the language of intrinsic evils can be helpful, there are many difficulties related to proportionalism that are tied to it. However, since most Catholics have been exposed to such language, and as the US Bishops use it in their document, we’ll move forward without considering the difficulties – at least not directly.
Keeping in mind the intrinsic evils offered above – a list, as we said, that is not exhaustive – let’s re-read the first consideration when it comes to voting:
A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act … [pick an intrinsic evil, any intrinsic evil] … if the voter’s intent is to support that position. (FCFC, # 34)
Because Sanders is the candidate at hand, we’ll ask: “Can I vote for Sanders if my intent is not to support that position (promoting the intrinsically evil act of direct abortion)?”
First, this supposes you’re not intending to support a position that promotes any intrinsically evil act. If you are voting for a candidate to support a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, you’ve already taken a wrong step: “a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil” (FCFC, # 34).
Now, if you’re not intending to support a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act by your vote, the next paragraph leads us to our next consideration:
There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil (FCFC, # 35).
The first sentence implies plenty of the second. There’s more that you could discuss on the second sentence, such as party allegiance (and how parties and candidates are distinct). What does “ignore a fundamental moral evil” mean? Could it mean that we’re voting for a candidate, who supports unacceptable position x, in order to ignore fundamental evil y? I think so.
Additionally, we should look at the last sentence of paragraph 34, which we haven’t discussed:
At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. (FCFC, # 34)
Taking the “ignore a fundamental moral evil” portion with this last sentence of paragraph 34, let’s jump over to paragraph 36.
When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, 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 (FCFC, # 36).
Now with the last sentence of 34, all of 35 and 36, we’re in an interesting position that I’ve seen few people discuss.
Remember that this is a matter of voting “reasonably” (FCFC, # 35). Let’s agree that consistency is required when acting reasonably or logically. By being consistent, we’re put in that situation which requires of us the determination to choose and help materialize what is good and deny what is evil – along with not throwing stones at others who, taking this guide and voting reasonably, votes for someone you disagree with who, probably with you, is regretfully voting for someone who supports positions that promote evils that are intrinsic and/or grave.
The end of paragraph 34 opens up the possibility that we may vote for someone who supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act, even when the opposing candidate doesn’t support a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act, because supporting a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act can merit disqualification for Catholics, but not necessarily so.
Let’s say you decide you will not vote for a candidate who supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act – this is a suitable option for a Catholic. Paragraph 36 speaks to this when we’re faced with the reality that every candidate supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act (and remember, there are many intrinsically evil acts and the Bishops do not reserve disqualification to a particular intrinsically evil act). So what can you do in this situation:
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 (FCFC, # 36).
So, if you decide to disqualify candidates who support a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, and every candidate supports a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, you may choose not to vote for any candidate at all.
This is not about which intrinsically evil act is most grave, but about consistently choosing to not vote for a candidate that supports a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act.
So, can you disqualify Bernie Sanders on abortion? Yes. Is it reasonable to do so, claiming it is out of a desire to not vote for any candidate that supports policies that promote intrinsically evil acts? Only if you also disqualify every other candidate that supports torture – for example -, an intrinsically evil act.
Therefore it would seem that those who disqualify Bernie on direct abortion out of that desire just mentioned would end up disqualifying everybody and not voting for anyone.
This is the “extraordinary step” in paragraph 36.
What is the other option, the non “extraordinary step”? The voter, “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” (FCFC, # 36).
This would consider candidates who support policies that promote intrinsically evil acts – and doesn’t specify which acts other than that they’re intrinsically evil. So even if you would, at first, even though you’re not required to, disqualify any and all candidates who embrace policies that support intrinsically evil acts, you may, after being thoroughly disappointed, do as paragraph 36 instructs. Of course, this supposes you’re disqualifying those candidates who support policies that promote intrinsically evil acts – which, it seems, is not necessitated by what is taught (per Ratzinger’s memo, Paul VI’s HV, JP II’s EV, and the USCCB’s FCFC).
We must heed Pope Francis’ call to put compassion at the center of our immigration policy. https://t.co/17jgI5cX00
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 18, 2016
This position is further supported when the Bishops reiterate that if you have a candidate who supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act, “a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support” (FCFC, # 42). Again, the Bishops write “may” disqualify, which is different than “ought to” or “must” disqualify.
This can be confusing because it requires consistency and a fervent desire for the common good.
So, you say you will disqualify any candidate for supporting a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act. Okay, you can do that. However, it seems you’re not required to.
Turns out every candidate supports a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act. Okay, you can choose not to vote for any candidate or (in most cases), “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” (FCFC, # 36).
That’s tough to work out in the voting booth, but it requires that we consider more:
These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue (FCFC, # 37).
We should also consider the political climate, where the people of society are in their ability to accept a movement towards a good or at least accept not bringing about more evil, and our ability and willingness to do some good somewhere if unable to bring about more good nationally (or prevent more evil nationally).
A voter who chooses not to vote for any candidate supporting a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act is consistent if the voter disqualifies all candidates supporting a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act. Of course, you don’t have to be consistent, but condemning others to embracing your lack of consistency is more emotional than reasonable.
A voter is not required to disqualify a candidate solely because the candidate supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act. (But this doesn’t seem to apply in our current political arena, so let’s not spend too much time on it.)
For the most part, US Catholics are in a position where they will either choose not to vote 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” (FCFC, # 36).
Catholics may say “No way I’m voting for Bernie” for many reasons, but aren’t required to do take that stance. This position would be most reasonable and consistent if the same Catholics said “No way I’m voting for any candidate because I do not want to vote for anyone who supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act.”
Should Catholics, in general, rebuke other Catholics who decide to vote for Bernie?
Is the standard Catholics are using (the ones doing the rebuking) whether one supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act? If so, then no. It isn’t a requirement for Catholics to disqualify candidates who support a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act – however, they could do so, but should do so consistently.3
What if the one doing the rebuking is not voting for anyone, because all hold those kinds of positions? No, a Catholic would be taking an “extraordinary step” in deciding not to vote for anyone, and while he may decide not to, he is not forced to.
Pope Francis: “The quality of a society…is also judged by how it treats elderly people.” pic.twitter.com/aSuZ3HsjXb
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 8, 2015
What if the person voting for Bernie wants to advance Bernie’s positions that promote intrinsically evil acts? Then that person is no longer voting properly and is formally cooperating with evil.
Must a person who votes for Bernie do so for morally grave reasons? Yes – as must anyone who votes for any candidate that supports a policy that promotes an intrinsically evil act: “after careful deliberation, [a Catholic] 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” (FCFC, # 36). Grave reasons may not end up referencing intrinsic evils themselves, but policies that could remedy some intrinsic and/or grave evils, too – even if they contradict a candidate’s policy that is itself one that promotes intrinsically evil acts. Some may consider the following: Sanders voted against war in Iraq – did it lead to many intrinsic evils? Sanders opposes high-volume slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – besides the undeniable exploitation of the earth for wealth, division of communities, increased illnesses and miscarriages, are we not faced with evils that are grave?
Moreover, Catholics must oppose the policies that support intrinsically evil acts, even if they’re voting for candidates that hold those policies for morally grave reasons and not “to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” (FCFC, # 34) or “to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FCFC, # 35). And remember, “Both opposing evil and doing good are essential (not optional or accidental) obligations” (FCFC, # 24).
Today, as we welcome Pope Francis to the US, I hope that Congress will heed his call for social and economic justice. #PopeInDC
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 22, 2015
How does this play out for Catholics practicing faithful citizenship?
We haven’t spent much time (at all) addressing extrinsic evils, grave evils that are not intrinsically evil. We also haven’t considered the many intrinsic evils that are possible. This all contributes to the reality that focusing on intrinsic evils alone makes thing very difficult, especially since, as mentioned, we haven’t touched on other injustices we’re dealing with here and around the globe.
What if you’re a single issue voter? The US Bishops say:
As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support. (FCFC, 42; emphasis my own.)
What we’re submitting here is that, based on what is available in the Bishops’ document, a Catholic, under certain conditions, may vote for a candidate who supports a policy that promotes intrinsically evil acts, whether or not other candidates also support a policy that promotes intrinsically evil acts.
Can I vote for a pro-torture candidate? Torture is an intrinsically evil act.
Have you deemed the candidate, compared to others, “less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” (FCFC, # 36)? Was this done after “careful deliberation”? Also, did you remember that “These decisions should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue” (FCFC, # 37)? You understand that this could only be done for grave reasons, and and not “to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity” (FCFC, # 34) or “to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FCFC, # 35)? Don’t forget: “Both opposing evil and doing good are essential (not optional or accidental) obligations” (FCFC, # 24).
Faithful citizenship requires a lot out of us. If we are in a situation that leads us to reasonably vote for a candidate who supports a position that promotes an intrinsic evil, we should, if we’re intending on voting as Catholics, materialize our regret and opposition to those (and other grave) evils. In order to do so, consider the following eight signs of Faithful Citizenship we’ve put together.
- When voting for a candidate who supports policies that promote an intrinsically evil act we must continue our work towards good and against evil – especially those promoted by positions held by the candidate we vote for – after we’ve left the voting booth.
- Catholics should always be praying for their elected officials to convert towards a greater respect for all life – imprisoned, reborn, in poverty, or migrant, etc.
- Catholics should pray for their the conversion of candidates and all people towards the same end.
- Voting shouldn’t exhaust our sense of responsibility. We should contact candidates and elected officials encouraging them to reconsider their positions, or consider taking a less damaging position, on policies related to intrinsic and other grave evils.
- We should be working towards making political parties better, as well as considering the introduction of new movements, or parties, that promote the dignity of all life.
- We should work together, across political, religious, ideological, and religious lines, to bring about the most good and oppose evil wherever it may be.
- We should prudently make our objections to intrinsic and grave evils known, to avoid scandal and encourage conversion of heart.
- We should act to promote good and oppose (intrinsic and grave) evil in our daily lives.
Without doing the above, it is difficult to concretize our justification in voting for someone who supports policies that promote intrinsic evils. Indeed, we risk being soft on what it is we’re actually intending, or demonstrate that we’re ultimately ignoring or are condoning certain evils – which is unacceptable.
That list of Eight Signs of Faithful Citizenship extends to GOP candidates, and to voting for candidates who do not support policies that promote intrinsic evils, but are wrong on other grave (and prudential) matters.
This lengthy post should lead us to conclude that one may ultimately decide to vote for Bernie Sanders (or any candidate supporting policies that promote intrinsically evil acts) given the above considerations, but is not required to vote for Bernie Sanders or any candidate when each one supports some policy that promotes intrinsically evil acts as a result of a particular voter’s decision to disqualify candidates with those positions. We should be mindful of the Eight Signs of Faithful Citizenship above, as it would solidify our intentions and demonstrate our will for good and against evil. Not all evils are intrinsic evils, and though “the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions” (FCFC, # 37), other grave evils require our attention and action and could lead one to regretfully vote for a candidate who supports policies that promote intrinsically evil acts for morally grave reasons and after careful deliberation (see FCFC, # 24, 33-37, 39, 51, 68, and 85).
While “the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions” (FCFC, # 37) does not require that we immediately disqualify candidates with those policies, it does require that we continuously act to oppose those policies, considering the use of the Eight Signs of Faithful Citizenship to do so.
Pope Francis is clearly one of the important religious and moral leaders not only in the world today but in modern history.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 24, 2015
At this point, if you want to disqualify Sanders because of his position on Abortion, but not other candidates who support policies that promote intrinsic evils, know that the Church doesn’t require that of you or of others. This does not mean that direct abortion is any less heinous (or grave), nor that Sanders supporters accept his position on direct abortion, but, after careful deliberation, and with various other considerations as expressed above, may have sought to bring about the most good.
Seeing as we haven’t discussed poverty, welfare, campaign financing, political versus economic equality, trade, migration, capital punishment, human trafficking, federal aid, foreign aid, unemployment, underemployment, wages, marriage and family life – and how capitalism and other conservative socioeconomic policies are against the dignity of marriage and family life -, health care, repressive governments, persecution, inter religious dialogue, pay discrimination, education, culture, our duty to protect creation, peace, arms, property, inequality, foreign relations, economic models, an openness to beauty, truth, and goodness, education, and much, much more, I’ll end this post and hope it is realized that there is a lot of work to do – as 2,700+ pregnancies end in abortion each day in the USA, as 21,000+ innocent children die from poverty related causes around the world each day, as thousands are expected to die due to causes related to climate change each day, and as a scandalous amount of money is spent on this election alone to buy politicians in a nation with false political equality. Thank God we’re not utilitarians and do not believe life can be reduced to “issues”. We simply cannot put lives lost (intrinsic evil category) to lives lost (extrinsic evil) category, or pleasure and pain points, into a formula. There are many realities to consider, as noted above, and we must work together to end all assaults on life and addresses the causes of many evils in our society.
When it comes to voting, you know that Catholics, at this point, with the above considerations having been satisfied, may vote for a candidate with positions that support intrinsically evil acts. This will upset many people.
However, what should be most disturbing is the lack of unity and solidarity among Catholics necessary to dialogue, accomplish good, and work to stop having to choose between lesser evils or partial goods, but, instead, mobilize to bring about a culture of life and an economy of love.
1. One person who goes by “Pete” has a blog where he tries to offer commentary from a Catholic position – sometimes – out of a diocese in Illinois. Pete rejected Antoniello’s piece on grounds that were plainly emotional and not worthy of being discussed above. But, Pete’s sentiments, and lack of understanding, are not uncommon. I’ve seen little development in his work but hope he continues to learn and read more in Catholic thought before suggesting that what he is writing should be taken seriously. Really, read the piece and note how he fails to engage with Antoniello or make an actual argument. I wouldn’t censor the man, however, if he’s trying to actually enter into conversation – everyone deserves to have their word. ↩
3. We’ve brought up this example quite a few times, of consistently disqualifying people who support policies that promote intrinsically evil acts – whichever they may be. I am told by many that they simply cannot vote for Sanders because of abortion – even after admitting that the GOP at the federal level is a disappointment on abortion and reckless on almost everything else. Why is this? I wouldn’t think it was emotion conquering reason if voters like these decided not to vote for any other GOP candidate (all of whom have ultimately been disqualifiable on policies promoting intrinsically evil acts) at all. While in our current context I don’t find it reasonable, let alone required in Faithful Citizenship, some end up going this route and should, at the very least, work to remedy the many other grave evils in solidarity with our brothers and sisters while using the rest of the Eight Signs of Faithful Citizenship as a guide to oppose those evils supported or condoned by the candidates they support. ↩
4. Paul VI making room for distinctions in his 1971 letter to Cardinal Maurice Roy didn’t come out of the blue. It also shows a shift in the socialism is understood and discussed at the highest levels of the Church. Ratzinger’s address to the Italian Senate was nothing new when he said democratic socialism “was and is” close to Catholic social teaching.
In 1962, during his homily while in Rome for the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Tchidimbo of Conakry said “Tomorrow, for certain, there will be talk of African Socialism as an existing reality. It will grow together and in tune with our African land, and will be unlike all other forms of socialism except in name. African socialism will have God at its centre; and not only the physical, but also the spiritual welfare of man will be respected.” He was later made a Cardinal.
You can re-consider Patriarch Cardinal Maximos IV’s 1965 invocation at the Second Vatican Council, where he professed “Let us show that true socialism is Christianity integrally lived in the just sharing of goods and the fundamental equality of all.”
Or Carlos González of Talca who explained, “It is not possible at the present time to ignore that right of Christian laity to search for a form of modified socialism, a socialism whose goal would be to construct a society based on mankind, human values, and with the dear aim of transforming people as human beings and children of God.”
In 1969, Bishop Parrilla-Bonilla of Puerto Rico said, “The capitalist system with its characteristic of unlimited profit, its distressing compromising of spiritual values, and its absolutist character of property without social content must step aside for a popular socialist system of democratic making in which man and society will be primordial.”
Bishop Valencia Cano of Buenaventura in 1970 wrote, “We cannot remain indifferent to the capitalist structure which condemns the people of Colombia and Latin America to the most agonizing frustration and injustice … I am definitively a socialist and revolutionary.”
In Dom Helder Camara: the Violence of a Peacemaker (1970) the Archbishop rejects capitalism as a solution to the poverty of the Third World. “Personally,” he says, “I am not convinced that capitalism or neocapitalism represent anything good for us in Latin America.” Focusing on the United States, he continues, “The United States is a living demonstration of the internal contradictions in the capitalist regime… The U.S.A. manages to arouse fratricidal conflicts between the whites and the blacks; with the pretext of anticommunism, but in fact out of a thirst for prestige and expansion of its sphere of influence; it conducts the most shameful war the world has ever known.”
What about socialism? The Archbishop did as many in the Catholic social tradition do and make distinctions when it comes to socialism. Socialism can be considered.
He rejected the USSR model, as anyone should, but wasn’t so quick to dismiss Marx. “I think,” he said, “we might profit by the Marxist analytical method which is still viable today. If we leave aside the materialistic concept of life and history bound up with that method in the beginning, we could complete the Marxist analysis with a true vision of Christianity which presents no obstacle to human advancement, but quite the contrary.”
He was certain that we could say yes to socialism, but not “the socialism practiced in Soviet Russia and Red China.” Instead, “What we need to find for Latin America is a line of socialization adapted to Latin American needs.”
Whereas today we hear many Distributists afraid to to be identified with the word, Câmara asks “Why not recognize that there is no such thing as a unique type of socialism? Why not demand, for the Christian, the free use of the word socialism? It is not necessarily linked with materialism, nor does it have to designate a system that destroys the individual or the community. [Socialism] can designate a regime that is at the service of the community and the individual.”
The Church should play its role in advancing justice for the oppressed – true liberation. If socialism is considered an option, then the Archbishop makes it known that “we Christians can offer socialism a mystique of universal fraternity and incomparable hope far more comprehensive than the narrow mystique of historic materialism.”
Of course, in 1971 the Bishops of Peru insisted: “Christians ought to opt for socialism. We do not mean a bureaucratic, totalitarian, or atheistic socialism; we mean a socialism that is both humanistic and Christian.”
The tradition goes back, of course. It’s easier to find Catholics repulsed by capitalism (see the link to our list above) online, but consider this aged remark by Father Franz Hitze (1851-1921): “It is not state socialism we want, but guild socialism.”
Our note and the materials hyperlinked in our section on socialism are only part of the discussion. For now, let it suffice to say that today – at the very least – we can agree that not all socialism contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ proposed and defended by the Catholic Church.↩
* Thanks to colleagues and friends, my brothers and sisters who commented on the earlier drafts of this piece.