The Merit of Limiting Evil (And the Problem With Not Voting)

Stephen Krason, Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies at Franciscan University, tackles the moral question of voting for a candidate who doesn’t have a perfect pro-life position:

The central question for Catholics is this: Is it morally acceptable to vote for a candidate like Romney who supports abortion rights in some cases when his opponent is a supporter of sweeping abortion rights? After all, didn’t both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the U.S. bishops in their documents on Catholic citizenship and political participation say that, “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals”?

The answer can be discerned from a statement in John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (#73), which is repeated in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (#570), about the moral obligations and restraints on legislators. Since legislators are the ones who are most directly involved in lawmaking, what is said about them applies a fortiori to the voters selecting them and other public decisionmakers: “when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law…”

[ ... ]

In his 2004 pastoral letter when he was Archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond L. Cardinal Burke—who is now the Prefect of Apostolic Signatura (the Church’s equivalent of the Supreme Court)—directly addressed the question of the moral obligations of the Catholic voter. He said that a Catholic who “is clear in his or her opposition to the moral evil of procured abortion could vote for a candidate who supports the limitation of the legality of procured abortion, even though the candidate does not oppose all use of procured abortion, if the other candidate(s) do not support the limitation of the evil of procured abortion.” (#41) This is exactly the situation in the Romney-Obama contest. In fact, Cardinal Burke also affirmed explicitly what I have suggested: the standard of Evangelium Vitae for the legislator is applicable to the voter.

This isn’t very satisfying to most of us, but the moral principles are sound. We have the option of allowing the expansion of government-promoted destruction of human life to go unchecked, or the possibility of limiting that harm without eliminating it. Despite all my misgivings about Mitt Romney, for me that choice is clear.

Still, I understand those Catholics who say that the movement of Republican presidential politics has gone too far left, and that they will vote third party if they have a candidate who they can, in good conscience, support. What I don’t understand, and can’t support, are those who will choose during this election not to vote at all. The sense of futility they feel is duly noted, but I humbly suggest that it is also illusory.

Krason also notes that Cardinal Burke has something specific to say about those who, in a contest like this, choose to opt-out of voting (my emphasis added):

Some might ask, given the fact that neither candidate in an election like the current presidential one is against all abortion, whether Catholics should just refuse to vote. They might consider the fact that few U.S. political candidates say they are against all abortion (they will at least claim the life of the mother exception). That means that such Catholic voters would probably have to sit out every election, or at least all the ones for federal offices. I can hardly think of a better way to minimize the influence of faithful Catholic citizens in American politics.

Cardinal Burke framed the decision to not vote in a circumstance where there is a less than ideal pro-life candidate in moral terms: “the Catholic who chooses not to vote at all, when there is a viable candidate who will advance the common good, although not perfectly, fails to fulfill his or her moral duty.” (#43) The CDF document emphasizes that Catholics may not delegate their political responsibilities to others, which is effectively what happens when one chooses not to vote.

The situation we are faced with is far from optimal. But as Edmund Burke famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

If we are good men, let us do something.

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18 thoughts on “The Merit of Limiting Evil (And the Problem With Not Voting)

  1. abadilla says:

    For “Catholic” Mara and all the trolls who support abortion in the name of Catholicism:

    The Didache (Circa 70 AD)

    “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one
    that has been born”

    From Pius XI

    Casti Connubii (1930)

    63. “But another very grave crime is to be noted, Venerable Brethren, which regards the taking of the life of the offspring hidden in the mother’s womb.”

    From Gaudium et spes, one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, ” (1965)

    The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an
    “unspeakable crime.” (citing Gaudium et Spes, 51.)

    Some translations call it an “abominable” crime.

    From the 1974 “Declaration on Procured Abortion” by the Sacred Congregation on the Faith.

    “The problem of procured abortion and of its possible legal liberalization
    has become more or less everywhere the subject of impassioned discussions.
    These debates would be less grave were it not a question of human life, a
    primordial value, which must be protected and promoted. Everyone understands
    this, although many look for reasons, even against all evidence, to promote the
    use of abortion. One cannot but be astonished to see a simultaneous increase of
    unqualified protests against the death penalty and every form of war and the
    vindication of the liberalization of abortion, either in its entirety or in ever broader indications.”

    From Blessed John Paul II on “Evangelium Vitae”

    The first passage, in Evangelium Vitae § 57,concerns murder:

    Therefore,by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion withthe Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This
    doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason,
    finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture,
    transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and
    universal Magisterium.

    The second, in Evangelium Vitae §§ 58, 61-62,
    concerns abortion:

    58.
    Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has
    characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second
    Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an
    “unspeakable crime.” (citing Gaudium et Spes, 51.) .

    63. But another very
    grave crime is to be noted, Venerable Brethren, which regards the taking of the
    life of the offspring hidden in the mother’s womb.

  2. SFS Staff says:

    How does this line up with the USCCB, who say in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” that it is perfectly acceptable, even moral, to choose to not vote? (Note: it is actually listed above voting for the “lesser of two evils”.)

    How about finding someone who doesn’t support intrinsic evils, limited-to-none non-intrinsic evils, and applies prudential judgement faithfully, and not to everything else?

    Joe Schriner of Ohio is solid.
    Maybe even Wendell Berry.

    Obama and Romney are two sides of the same rotten coin.

  3. Goode is Good says:

    Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party is a good choice for president. Anti-abortion all the way. No need to cooperate with evil of any kind. See for yourself: http://www.goodeforpresident2012.com/

    1. God is Better says:

      CV is just scared that people maintaining the integrity will not gain them the Romney vote. They have wasted so much time trying to justify him, that they cannot stand anyone voting their true conscience.

    2. Joe M says:

      But, of course, you are voting for Obama.

  4. Who Cares about FU? says:

    Quoting a Franciscan University professor on “what the Church teaches” and all you get is that SOMETIMES THE END DOES JUSTIFY THE MEANS.
    Vote for the one who lies about his supposed “pro-life” position, and who will not do anything to end abortion, and feel good about it – even when you dismiss almost everything else the Church Teaches about Social Justice and being a Faithful Citizen.
    Vote for the Republican who wants to cut funding to many Catholic Service Organizations and Charities, and feel good about being fooled by the GOP at CV.
    Anyone dumb enough to follow the CV logic should not be instructing anyone on good Catholic thought and teaching.
    No one thinks of FU as a stong leader in Catholic thought or as a great academic school. It is however, a great place for the truly paranoid to hide and be taken advantage of by corrupt folks at CV.
    It is a good thing that no one is using CV to develop their rationale for voting. Those that are misguided enough to trust CV “instructions” have already decided on how they will vote. Everyone just visits here to see the bloggers get more crazy day by day, especially when they actually think that they have something others want. The saddest think is when they quote each other and think that people will be “impressed” with their “research.”

    1. Troll Hunter says:

      If being a Christian means being a troll like you, no wonder there are so many atheists.

    2. Joe M says:

      “Those that are misguided enough to trust CV “instructions” have already decided on how they will vote. ”

      If you believe that, why continue to post your propaganda here?

  5. AuthenticBioethics says:

    I thoroughly agree with the thrust of this article. While I’m not totally happy with Romney as a candidate, I feel it is certainly permissible for a Catholic to vote for him in good conscience. It is a matter of prudential judgment in terms of choosing whether to vote for Romney or for a third-party candidate whose positions better align with an authentic pro-life position. I personally hold that if you are going to vote anyway, and wish to vote pro-life, that it is strategically better to vote for Romney than for a third-party candidate (it going without saying that voting for Obama is out of the question). However, for someone who is eligible but not likely to vote at all, it is better to vote for someone, anyone suitable at all, rather than not vote. If every eligible person who refuses to vote went to vote and cast a ballot for a third-party candidate, even if it doesn’t change the outcome in terms of the election, the winner will go into office knowing that 60% or maybe more of the voters voted against him. And that could change the way he goes about his job once in office.

    1. Vote Approval or NOt says:

      You missed what the pope was saying completely. But nice attempt at justification of your invalid position. Rationalization is fund to watch, as the writer squirms to only touch the truth briefly with the hopes that no one will see the bigger lie.
      ALMOST, but close only counts in horseshoes and spandex shorts.

      1. Troll Hunter says:

        You must be a very lonely person if your whole reason for existence consists in being a self righteous irritant to decent folks you don’t even know.

        1. All Glory to God says:

          Actually not lonely at all and my whole existence is to praise God. You may have missed your catechism on that as well.
          I am righteous by Christ, no longer me, but Christ in me. (sorry, but this is more basic Catholicism.)
          As for being an irritant, I will admit that I will contiue to irritate those who promote the lies that are blogged here. I would hope you would want to see the truth as well.

          1. AuthenticBioethics says:

            If what you do is praising God no wonder there are so many atheists.

          2. Joe M says:

            I don’t buy it. I’m convinced by your comments that you are an atheist and have a liberal agenda posting on this site.

            Does it bother your conscience to be that dishonest?

      2. Joe M says:

        You don’t have an actual argument do you?

    2. MARA says:

      I don’t agree. Not voting or voting for a 3rd party candidate makes a significant statement and will have an impact on the way our country is run. Our two party political system needs fixing. It’s driven by money and special interest. Not voting says, “I’ve had enough of this system and it needs to be fixed before you get my vote.” Voting for a 3rd party candidate who matches your ideology not only improves the political system in the future but allows you to truly vote with your conscience without compromising yourself. Either of these actions makes a powerful statement and will have a positive impact in the future. Voting for someone because you don’t want the other candidate to win is a compromise of yourself and undermines what America stands for.

  6. youknowwhoiam says:

    This also negates the arguement against voting for someone like Gary Johnson – who despite being soft on early term abortion is steadfast on other pro-life issues – like war and the growth of government which threatens so many lives.

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