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…”

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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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Categories:Featured Politics

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

  1. Brian A. Cook says:

    Pray that God, in His mercy, would bring to justice those that seek to do harm and delight in evil. Ecclesiastes 12:14

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