On Voting, Sin, and Spiritual Abuse

On Voting, Sin, and Spiritual Abuse August 22, 2020

I don’t like blogging about the presidential election very much. I want to write about other things. But there’s something very important that I have to say first. If I don’t make this absolutely clear, I think I’m committing spiritual abuse. And if I don’t correct the mistakes I see being made by other Catholic internet personalities, I feel that I’d be letting them get away with spiritual abuse.

So I want to state without question that you will not go to hell, just for voting for someone I don’t think you should vote for. And if someone else tells you you’ll go to hell for voting against their preferred candidate, they’re lying as well.

The Catholic Church does not tell you who you must vote for.

I’m taking this quote from my friend Sean p. Dailey’s recent blog post because that’s where I read it most recently. But it’s not a quote from Sean, it’s from Pope Emeritus Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger:

N.B. 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 favour 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.

If I were to vote for Joe Biden because I thought it was awesome that he wants people to have access to a legal abortion, I would be sinning. But, if I voted for Biden for another proportionate reason even though I didn’t like his stance on abortion, that would be fine.
It works the other way as well, of course. If you vote for Trump because he’s a racist and you hope that will translate to racist policies, that’s a sin because racism is intrinsically evil. But if you vote for him because you think he’ll do a better job than Biden in spite of the racism, or because you think he’s not really a racist, you don’t sin.
You and I can have polar opposite ideas about who will do the most good or cause the least damage as president. We can feel extremely strongly about those ideas. We can view the other as nuts and dangerous for thinking differently. One of us can be right and the other turn out to be dead wrong. And yet, neither of us sins by voting the way that we do– as long as we’re not voting for our pet candidate because of an evil he promotes. Having a dumb idea about what might be practical is not a sin. Choosing to do evil, including to do evil so that good might come of it, is a sin.
I’ve already made clear what I plan to do in November, but if you come to a different conclusion, that’s not a sin. Personally I don’t think you’re correct in your assessment, but I’m not God. I don’t decide what’s a sin.
As we come closer to November, you’re going to find many Catholic internet talking heads such as myself expressing their opinions on how to vote. That’s what we do. We are Catholic internet talking heads, and we express opinions. We argue vehemently about whether the opinion is right or wrong.
But if we tell you that a personal opinion of ours, which is different or more specific than the teaching of the Church, binds you on pain of sin– that is a lie, it’s spiritual abuse, it’s manipulation, and it’s grossly wrong.
If some Catholic sourpuss with a book about the evils of divorce tells you that it’s a mortal sin to vote for Biden and you’ll go to hell– that woman has set herself against the CDF and Pope Emeritus Benedict, and the teaching of the Catholic Church. Ignore her. She’s being a bully and spiritually abusing you. If she realizes that’s what she’s doing instead of just being mistaken, she’s in sin.
If a dubious priest with a long history of disobeying his prelate tells you it’s a sin to vote Democrat and he won’t give you absolution if you do, that priest is grossly misusing his position as a priest. He’s spiritually abusing you. He’s in sin and you’re not, provided he’s actually sane enough to have a conscience in the first place.
If I forget to speak plainly, or if I lose my temper and deliberately attack someone and tell them that it’s a sin to presume the Republicans are really serious about being pro-life and vote for Donald Trump– that’s wrong of me. I would be sinning to do that. I try to be clear about which are my opinions about how to put faith into action and which things I’m saying are the Faith itself. If I don’t, I sin.
Someone who abuses you into thinking you’ll go to hell for voting Democrat, is the same as the nasty old woman at church who tells you you’ll go to hell for using NFP to put off a pregnancy for just reason, or the fake visionary who tells you you’ll go to hell if you don’t listen to this or that private revelation. They’re spiritually abusing you. Forgive them, pray for them, and stop listening.
There simply is not a candidate running for president of the United States, who stands a snowball’s chance of winning, who isn’t deeply problematic according to the teachings of our faith. I don’t think there ever was. That doesn’t mean they’re both the same or will get into the same mischief. We have to pray to the Holy Ghost for wisdom and make our must prudent guess about how much good we can do and how much evil we can prevent, but we also have to realize we might be wrong.
I have very strong opinions about which candidate will kill the most people if he’s allowed to have his way. The thought of him winning scares me to death. I beg you to hear me out and think about it. If you decide I am mistaken, I will be mad at you. But you won’t be sinning.
Misrepresenting Church teaching for political gain, scaring and hurting people so that you can manipulate them into getting your way: these are sins. May God help us not to fall into them.
This is hard enough without spiritual abuse.

Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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