Abortion cannot be lumped in with every other issue in this election. It is the killing of the most vulnerable on an unimaginable scale.
Pope Francis rightly says that these babies, as the least among us, have the face of the Lord. I agree with Fr. John Lankeit that our country’s reprehensible abortion practices mean that prenatal children must be a primary concern in this election.
How that plays out, however, can be complex, especially from the perspective of Catholic teaching.
I’ve mentioned this before in a previous Crux piece, but because there appears to be so much confusion on these matters it bears mentioning again. Catholic teaching — from the U.S. bishops to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — does not categorically forbid voting for a pro-choice candidate.
Indeed, here is the reasoning of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who in his previous role as head of the CDF said:
“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.”
Most bishops have supported this teaching, offering guidance with regard to the factors the faithful must weigh in making their choices this election cycle.
A minority of bishops, however, are saying things which risk causing confusion among the faithful.
For instance, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Center, NY recently claimed, “Support of abortion by a candidate for public office…is reason sufficient unto itself to disqualify any and every such candidate from receiving our vote.” And Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI, said faithful Catholics should “never vote for any candidate, of any party, who supports abortion.”
Bishops, of course, have a proper role in giving their personal views on what — using the words of Benedict — constitutes “proportionate reasons” for voting for a pro-choice candidate. And the faithful should give their views due weight.
But according to the U.S. bishops’ own teaching, the views of an individual bishop on these matters cannot be considered binding on Catholics.
Indeed, the U.S. bishops insist 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.”
These kinds of judgments are “complex,” and require the faithful to employ “a well-formed conscience aided by prudence.”
Here are just a few of the questions and factors that a faithful, individual Catholic voter will have to consider and weigh when making their voting decisions:
- Which candidates’ proposed policies are likely to save the lives of prenatal children?
- Are the candidates telling the truth when it comes to their views on abortion?
- Are the candidates likely to accomplish their abortion-related proposals?
- Could the pro-life movement recover from Donald Trump becoming its de facto leader?
- Could the pro-life movement recover from Hillary Clinton’s judicial nominees and genuinely pro-abortion Democratic leadership?
- What should we make of the fact that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton support intrinsically evil acts?
- How should the likely relative outcomes with regard to abortion be weighed against the likely relative outcomes with regard to, say, the threat of nuclear war? The freedom of Muslims and other religious minorities? The separation of powers and the stability of our Republic?
The Church, in her wisdom, knows that the wild number of possible permutations involved in thinking about these judgments and weighing these factors mean that it is not something about which she can have a teaching.
Ultimately, the faithful Catholic voter — though obligated to listen respectfully to their bishop — has the final say.
Father Mark Goring may claim that the blood of the unborn is on your hands if you vote for Hillary Clinton. George Weigel and Robert George may claim Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be President of the United States.
Though we should obviously show respect for the views of fellow Catholics on these matters, the teaching of the Church is clear: faithful Catholics may vote for Hillary Clinton. They may vote for Donald Trump. They may vote for a third candidate or not vote at all.
And let me close with a final important point: Catholics cannot “win” this election, and we must stop thinking and talking like we can.
The fact that both major candidates are horrifically flawed may serve as a good reminder of where, as Catholics, our true loyalties should lie. We are a pilgrim Church on a journey to a Kingdom that is not of this world. We need to be in solidarity with each other as fellow pilgrims—for what binds us together is far more important than what divides.
To think otherwise falls victim to the trick of the Evil One. To quote Gandalf, “The laughter of Mordor will be our only reward if we quarrel.”
Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars: a Way Forward for a New Generation.