I told her that I had voted against Proposition 8 on a technical and procedural issue which I always find compelling. I do not think a state’s constitution should be amended by a mere majority in a referendum. I think constitutional changes (as in the U.S. Constitution) should be more deliberate. If there was a demand for a super-majority vote (e.g., two-thirds) or a two-tiered process (first, a vote by the legislature with a super-majority and, then, a referendum with a super-majority to ratify it), I might have followed the California bishops’ advice but--as my caveat makes clear--the moral issue of protection of marriage involves prudential judgments about the political process and issues of procedural and not just substantive justice. The Catholic church’s teaching about the state, notoriously, is fairly silent on questions of procedural justice. While procedural justice does not guarantee substantive justice, theories of substantive justice that scout attention to procedural justice are also suspect. Justice must be done and be seen to be done.
My other conversation took place a week before the election with a bishop (I was doing a workshop for his priests and deacons). The bishop was quite unhappy that some 50 or so American bishops were rejecting the careful and nuanced argument of the collective bishops in their 2007 pastoral, " Faithful Citizenship," which explained their position on intrinsic evils, such as abortion, euthanasia, racism and, yet, allowed, for weighty reasons, voting for a pro-choice candidate. I told the bishop that I could and did defend "Faithful Citizenship" before our students at Loyola Marymount, but that I could never defend the positions of Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Bishop Finn of Kansas City or Joseph Martino of Scranton. My bishop interlocutor, then, said: "You know, even Catholics who agree with us on the issue might just vote differently because they resent bishops, equivalently, telling them how to vote." He was not even sure the California bishops should endorse propositions for a referendum. "Just teach our position and leave it up to Catholics to vote their conscience."
My questions for a follow up document to "Faithful Citizenship" are three. First, the bishops do a good enough job in distinguishing intrinsic versus non-intrinsic evils. Yet they fail to expound clear Catholic teaching about direct versus remote or more indirect cooperation with evil. In a sense, we all cooperate with evil, including intrinsic evils (often by mere inaction). Yet, as a seminarian I was taught that a taxi driver who drove a woman to an abortion clinic was not, as such, culpable in the action. Direct versus indirect or remote cooperation with evil seems germane to thinking through the issue of voting for a pro-choice candidate. I am truly grateful to Msgr. Martin Laughlin, the administrator of the diocese of Greenville, South Carolina for publicly reprimanding Rev. Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville for telling his parishioners that they needed to confess before communion if they voted for Obama! Such actions simply scandalize even good, practicing Catholics.
A second question involves asking the bishops to listen to any good traditional Canon lawyer explain Catholic canon law on issues involving sanctions or punishments, such as excommunication or the depriving of communion. Again, I was taught in seminary by an eventual President of the Canon Law Society of America that canons which deal with sanctions are always to be interpreted strictly (that is, narrowly). I continue to be scandalized by bishops, such as Robert Finn, who tell Catholic politicians such as Governor Sibelius of Kansas that they should refrain from communion if they are not willing, once again, to criminalize abortion.
The final question to the bishops in any revision of "Faithful Citizenship" is to ask them to make clear whether they, indeed, intend or desire, once again, to criminalize abortion. If the answer is yes, whom would they want sent to prison: only the woman who gets the abortion? Any friend or boyfriend who helps procure it? The doctor? All of the above? Perhaps others? This strikes me as a major stumbling block for many Catholic voters. They do not support abortion but they do not want to see it criminalized, again. The bishops owe us a clear answer to this question. Several years ago, when abortion was still illegal in Portugal, two bishops pleaded that a woman who had procured an abortion not be sent to prison!
John Coleman, S.J.