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Abortion and "proportionate reasons".

In Canada the Catholic pro-life stand about pro-abortion politicians is that they have disqualified themselves from office simply by being pro-abortion.

In Catholic circles this view was spelled out in a 1977 pastoral letter by the late Bishop of Saskatoon, James Mahoney, and in 1978, in letters from Bishop Adam Exner, now retired Archbishop of Vancouver.

In the United States this issue has become confused. In discussing whether Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion should be allowed to receive Holy Communion, a number of bishops have said no, they should not. They are backed by Vatican Cardinals Francis Arinze and by Joseph Ratzinger, who wrote a letter in mid-June 2004 about the general principles on the "Worthiness to receive Holy Communion" (Full text, C.I., Sept., 2004, p. 23).

At the very end of that letter Cardinal Ratzinger added a Nota Bene about whether Catholics could vote for such politicians.

This Nora Bene contained the following sentence: "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."

One Catholic author, Father Andrew Greeley, immediately published a column claiming that Cardinal Ratzinger's "proportionate reasons" justified voting for candidates who may be pro-abortion but who are in harmony with Catholic teaching on economic social justice issues. Nothing could be further from the truth.

American voices

Let me quote first from Austin Ruse's column Culture & Cosmos, Sept. 21, 2004, where he states this: "The question of whether or not Catholics may vote for pro-abortion candidates in light of a note by a prominent Vatican cardinal has continued to gain steam in the last week. One American Archbishop published a column in a national newspaper saying that in practical terms no issue exists today that would trump the issue of protecting the unborn [Archbishop Myers in the Wall Street Journal, Sept. 17]. And at a major conference in Washington, DC addressing the same question, several prominent Catholic scholars emphatically declared abortion and the protection of human embryos to be the pre-eminent issue for Catholics voters." Austin Ruse continues:

As noted last week, "many media outlets have reported that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a recent memorandum addressed to US Bishops, gave approval for voting for pro-abortion candidates as long as the voter agreed with the candidate on other serious issues. The debate hinges on the proper definition of the phrase 'proportionate reasons,' a term used in the memorandum that has specific meaning within Catholic moral theology. Ratzinger, the Vatican's leading theologian, said any vote for a pro-abortion politician is cooperation in 'evil.' But a person who votes for a pro-abortion politician may receive communion if he voted that way for 'proportionate reasons.'"

Newark Archbishop John Myers, in his Wall Street Journal article, meanwhile, emphasized that abortion could not be spoken of in the same way as other social justice issues. "Certainly policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate."


Ruse also mentions that the Ave Maria School of Law also sponsored a gathering of scholars on September 16 to address questions surrounding Catholic politicians and abortion at the National Press Club in Washington DC. With well over 300 in attendance, Father Richard John Neuhaus, the publisher and editor of First Things, made a pointed statement on the priority of abortion: "Is it permitted to vote for someone like a Kerry? Rome and the bishops have been abundantly clear that abortion is not one of many issues. This is singular and it does have priority.... Any well instructed Catholic has had it repeatedly, insistently, persuasively, winsomely, lovingly put on his or her conscience that we have a moral obligation to positively protect innocent human life."

Princeton University professor Robert P. George, also speaking at the conference, offered an in-depth critique of attempts by Catholic politicians like former New York Governor Maria Cuomo to justify their proabortion position. George stressed that promoting the pro-life position is not an imposition of one's religion because it is a position derived from natural law. "The Church teaches that the right to life is a fundamental norm of justice and human rights that can be understood even apart from divine revelation and Church authority." (Culture of Life Foundation)

Bishop Gracida

Finally, another bishop, Rene Gracida, retired Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, wrote a clarifying statement that is helpful:

"There is only one thing that could be considered proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for a candidate who is known to be pro-abortion, and that is the protection of innocent human life. That may seem to be contradictory, but it is not. "Consider the case of a Catholic voter who must choose between three candidates: candidate A who is completely for abortion-on demand; candidate B, who is in favour of very limited abortion, i.e., in favour of greatly restricting abortion; and candidate C, a candidate who is completely against abortion but who is universally recognized as being unelectable. "The Catholic voter cannot vote for candidate A because that would be formal cooperation in the sin of abortion if that candidate were to be elected and assist in passing legislation, which would remove restrictions on abortion-on-demand. "The Catholic can vote for candidate C, but that will probably only help ensure the election of candidate A. Therefore the Catholic voter has a proportionate reason to vote for candidate B, since his vote may help to ensure the defeat of candidate A and may result in the saving of some innocent human lives if candidate B is elected and introduces legislation restricting abortion-on-demand. In such a case, the Catholic voter would have chosen the lesser of two evils, which is morally permissible under these circumstances."
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Author:de Valk, Alphonse
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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