In many races around the country, faithful Catholics are asking themselves the same question:
Can I vote for a candidate who is not fully pro-life?
It’s an important question, and Thomas Peters does an excellent job answering it in this insightful post, which looks at the issue in the context of the Colorado race for U.S. Senate. If you’re one of the many Catholics faced with the lesser-of-two-evils dilemma this election, I strongly urge you to read what Thomas has to say.
It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that Thomas’s conclusions find full support in the teaching of the Catholic Bishops of the United States. In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops specifically address the issue of voting in the case where neither candidate’s position is in full agreement with Church teaching on the sanctity of life.
You may not have the time to read the full document, but the following paragraphs (34-37) speak directly to this issue, and will only take a few minutes to read. Not only are they worth reading, but I would say they are required reading for any Catholic who plans to vote on Tuesday. And as Thomas points out, that should be every Catholic.
The answer, by the way, is:
Yes, you can vote for a candidate who is not 100% pro-life.
However – this does not provide cover for Catholics to vote for a candidate who is staunchly pro-abortion, simply because they agree with where the candidate stands on other issues. Rather, in situations where the voter is faced with two less than perfect candidates, but one is a champion of unrestricted abortion and the other is, say, against abortion except in cases of rape and incest, the bishops state that Catholics “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.” Or as Thomas Peters puts it, “it’s not hard to figure out which candidate is more actively going to do harm to the weak and vulnerable.”
In short, you can’t use the bishops’ nod to the role of prudence and conscience as an excuse to cast a vote for a sworn enemy of the unborn. Or as Bishop DiMarzio of Brooklyn put it, “those who voted for President Obama bear the responsibility for a step deeper in the culture of death.”
But hear it from all the bishops:
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 takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, 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 may 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 in favor of an intrinsic evil, 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 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.
Read the full text of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship here.