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M. Cathleen KavenyNovember 01, 2010

May a good Catholic vote for a political candidate who is pro-choice? In the last two presidential elections, some Catholics, including a few bishops, argued that it was always wrong to do so, at least if a pro-life candidate were running in the same election. In making this claim, however, they were being more rigorist than the current pope, whose answer to this very question was not “never” but “sometimes.”

In 2004, in his capacity as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger dusted off the old moral theological framework of “cooperation with evil” to address the question of voting for pro-choice politicians. That framework was developed in order to assist confessors in evaluating the complicity of penitents in the wrongdoing of others. Although the technical terminology can be frustratingly abstruse, the underlying distinctions continue to be useful.

Cardinal Ratzinger states that a good Catholic cannot vote for a candidate because he or she is pro-choice. In traditional terms, such a vote would constitute formal cooperation with evil. Because it is a type of intentional wrongdoing, it is always morally impermissible. But what about voting for pro-choice candidates despite their stand on the life issues? According to Ratzinger, “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, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

To understand this statement, three points need to be kept in mind. First, and most important, unlike formal cooperation, in cases of material cooperation the cooperators do not intend to further the wrongdoing of other agents. Instead, they act for their own legitimate ends, foreseeing but not intending that their action will facilitate that wrongdoing. Second, while formal cooperation is always prohibited, the permissibility of material cooperation is determined on a case-by-case basis and depends upon a variety of factors. How grave is the wrongful act in question? Does the act of the cooperator overlap physically with the act of the wrongdoer? If not, how much distance is there between the two acts in terms of time, space and causal connection? Will the wrongful act take place anyway, regardless of whether the cooperator goes forward with the act of material cooperation? Is the cooperation an isolated act or an ongoing pattern of involvement? Will my cooperation cause “scandal”?

Third, holding one’s nose and voting for a pro-choice politician (or any politician who publicly advocates immoral policies) falls under the subcategory of “remote material cooperation.” It is remote because it is extremely removed in terms of time, space and causation from the wrongful act in question (enacting permissive abortion laws), and even further removed from the underlying wrong (the act of abortion itself). As Cardinal Ratzinger indicated, remote material cooperation can be justified by “proportionate reasons.”

Some Catholics have argued that nothing is proportionate to the great evil of abortion, functionally turning the cardinal’s qualified permission to vote for pro-choice politicians into an absolute prohibition. This approach, however, misapplies the criterion. In assessing proportionate reason, the focus stays on the particular act of cooperation and its particular consequences; it does not migrate to the global evil with which it is associated. We cannot simply set 1.5 million annual abortions on the negative side of the equation as if they are entirely caused by one vote. A single vote for a pro-choice politician is not likely to make any significant difference to any particular woman’s decision for or against abortion, given that abortion is currently a constitutionally protected right in this country. In fact, we might well judge that voting for a candidate who supports a large safety net for mothers and dependent children would be a better way to increase the number of children brought to term, especially at the state level.

In response, some pro-lifers might argue that while a vote for a pro-choice politician may not cause many new abortions, a vote for a pro-life politician, particularly a pro-life president, is the way to prevent them. Even here, however, the causal chain is tenuous. A president may not have the opportunity to make appointments to the Supreme Court; if he/she does, no president has control over how justices vote once they are seated. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, many states will legalize the procedure on their own. It is not at all clear that voting for a pro-life president will prevent abortions in any significant number, particularly if other executive policies make it harder for women facing crisis pregnancies to have children. They can simply travel to a state where abortion is legal.

Finally, pro-life groups might argue that whether or not electing pro-life politicians is sufficient to outlaw abortions, much less to reduce their number significantly, it is certainly a necessary step. Given the constitutionally protected status of abortion, the pro-life movement must convince a majority of voters not only to oppose abortion, but to make opposing it in a coordinated, disciplined fashion a top political priority.

This argument might work as a pro-life political strategy. It is, however, largely irrelevant to the traditional matrix of cooperation with evil. The point of that matrix is negative; it aims to identify the actions that must be avoided in order to avoid sinning. It is not meant to provide the positive engine for a program of social reform. Still less is it meant to use the threat of sin and eternal damnation in order to promote the coordinated action necessary to overcome systemic injustice.

But that’s not the end of the story.

An Emerging Problem in Moral Theology

Not only does the traditional category of cooperation with evil offer little assistance in addressing the question of voting for politicians who favor abortion rights; it also does not help us evaluate other questions, like whether we should shop at big-box stores, whose goods are less expensive because they are made in sweatshops. It is also not very useful in thinking through the issues involved in paying taxes that support an unjust war. Do these examples mean that the actions involved raise no moral problems? Absolutely not. Rather, it means we need to develop new ways of analyzing the involvement of individuals in systemic structures of complicity.

Of course, the idea of structural complicity is not new to Christian thought. The doctrine of original sin has long pointed to the common human plight of failing to live up to our obligations to God and one another. St. Augustine, Pope John Paul II and liberation theologians have all examined how individuals can be caught up in social practices marred by entrenched sinfulness. It seems to me, however, that individual involvement in structural wrongdoing has garnered more attention in the present era. Why? For one, residents of developed countries are enmeshed in increasingly complicated webs of production and consumption. We buy goods made on the far side of the globe. We ensure our safety not only by deploying U.S. soldiers but also by forging alliances with other nations and private contractors. Our network of relations is increasingly pluralistic. We do not share the same values with all members of our political community, still less with those in our global economy. Finally, thanks to the Internet, ordinary individuals know far more about these political and economic relationships than in the past. Coordinating action, including boycotts and other protest campaigns, is far easier than it used to be. In short, individuals are not isolated agents. Nor are they totally immersed in their own families or churches or communities. They are networked agents.

How does the “networked self” experience moral responsibility? Catholic moral theology has done a good job analyzing the actions of individuals and small groups, on the one hand, and the social structures that contribute to just and unjust societies, on the other. There needs to be more reflection, however, on the intersection of these two realms: How should we think about the actions of individuals and small groups in relation to larger social structures? Can we say anything more helpful than that it is “remote cooperation with evil,” justified by “proportionate reason”? Making progress on these questions will require more sophisticated theoretical treatment of three issues.

1. Aggregated agency. Remote material cooperation is a large category. It describes the citizen voting for a politician who supports unjust policies, a big-box store customer buying cheap goods made by slave labor and a worker paying taxes, some of which will go to support an unjust war. It also covers taxi drivers delivering drunk passengers from the airport to the Las Vegas strip. What sets the first three cases apart from the last one, however, is the pressing problem of aggregated agency that they raise. Taken by themselves, my individual vote, my isolated purchase and my tax payment are largely inconsequential. But taken together, the actions of voters, consumers and taxpayers have a significant effect on the practices they facilitate.

When should I think of myself primarily as a member of a class in evaluating my action, and when do I take into account my own particular needs and desires? This question is relevant for two distinct purposes. The first has to do with the development of my own character and the characters of others for whom I am responsible, like family members. What sort of barrier should I set between myself and the large social evils of our time? How can we express solidarity with those harmed by those evils? If we need to shop at a big-box store because of the prices or location, is there any countervailing action we can take to offset complicity, like donating to an organization that combats child labor? If we vote for a pro-choice politician, can we find time to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center?

The second purpose is related to bringing about social reform by coordinated action. What means should be used to bring about change? Letter writing or something stronger? In essence, the bishops who tried to forbid all Catholics from voting for any pro-choice politician were trying to organize a political boycott. A boycott is a legitimate method of agitating for social change, as Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous boycott of the segregated bus system in Montgomery, Ala., demonstrated. It is not always, however, an appropriate or successful method, as Dr. King found out a few years later in Albany, Ga., when his broader and more diffuse protests not only failed to produce the changes he sought, but also engendered frustration and violence. When is a boycott a legitimate method to protest injustice, and when are its ancillary costs, including harm to innocent parties, too great?

2. Currents of action. How should we think about broad causal patterns and our place within them? Systemic injustices cannot be analyzed by looking solely at the actions of individuals. We are dealing with the actions and reactions of corporate agents, including nations, transnational regulatory bodies and multinational corporations. Moreover, these do not always act independently; they respond to incentives and pressures created by the others. Corporations, for example, move production facilities abroad when they cannot continue to make a profit for their shareholders at home.

The Catholic moral tradition has done a very good job analyzing the practical reasoning and deliberations of individual moral agents. More work, however, needs to be done both on the manner in which corporate agents can be said to “act.” In particular, we need to consider how to evaluate the “wake” of the actions of corporate agents—the manner in which they shape the context in which other agents, both corporate and individual, plan their own actions. We need to think about how corporate agents affect the common good not only directly, but also indirectly by creating incentives for other agents to act.

3. The inbreaking kingdom of God. As Catholics, we know that the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection; we also know that it will not be fully realized until the end of time. Until then, Christians need to keep two values in creative tension by honoring the insights of two groups of devout Catholics, which I call the prophets and the pilgrims.

Prophets emphasize the importance of clear, unambiguous witness to the transformative power of the inbreaking kingdom of God. They believe that the purity of their witness to those values will be compromised if Catholics, especially Catholic institutions, appear resigned to the great systemic evils of our time. Consequently, in evaluating questions of complicity, they are likely to stress the need to maintain significant distance from the wrongful acts of others, particularly if significant portions of the population do not agree that those acts are wrongful—for example, abortion or extramarital sex.

In contrast, pilgrims are acutely aware of just how far human society still remains from the kingdom of God and how difficult the journey continues to be. The consequences of sin and the sting of death are still all around us. The only way to ameliorate those consequences is by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. It is not enough to avoid sin; we have to love and serve our neighbors. Ameliorating injustice and practicing the corporal works of mercy often involve contact with, and sometimes cooperation with, wrongdoers. We cannot expect to avoid such contact until the end of time. Until then, as St. Augustine reminds us, the wheat and tares will grow together.

The different eschatological sensibilities of prophets and pilgrims account for their different judgments on such issues as whether it is permissible to provide condoms in developing countries to prevent H.I.V. infection or whether Catholic hospitals may ensure their financial stability by affiliating with systems that perform sterilizations. In the best of circumstances, the tension between prophets and pilgrims can be creative, pressing us to think more deeply about both requirements for following Jesus Christ. But we must guard against allowing creative tension to become mutually assured destruction.

Theologians and other scholars respond to M. Cathleen Kaveny.

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John Walton
13 years 8 months ago
Please to name a big box store selling goods made with slave labor.
Bert Monster
13 years 8 months ago

What is particularly disturbing about this article is that it manages to avoid the supremacy of ‘freedom of conscience’ as provided under the Pastoral Constitution on the Modern World, and Canon Law 748.1.  Every Catholic is of course required to make moral or ethical decisions with an ‘informed conscience’ based on Church teachings.  However, based on John 14:26, is it not more important to encourage and teach the faithful to find, seek and value God’s wisdom from within?  The maturity of this kind of adult faith avoids the unhealthy co-pendency that currently exists between the two co-operators, i.e., clergy and laity.   

13 years 8 months ago
This article was not meant to avoid the supremacy of freedom of conscience, but to help assure that the supreme freedom to practice the dictates of the conscience will result in morally correct behavior according to the instructions that the current pope took the time to elucidate.  
Bert Monster
13 years 8 months ago
Paul Dion

". . . correct behavior according to the instruction that the current Pope . . .?

That takes us back to the point I was trying to make. Freedom of conscience, et, al, has supremacy even over the present pope! 

Leonel Martinez
13 years 8 months ago

It does not disturb me that some bishops believe Catholics cannot vote for pro-choice political candidates and remain in good standing. I respect their opinion although I disagree with it.

It disturbs me that they present this as the only legitimate Catholic stance.

They do more harm than good.
Colin Donovan
13 years 8 months ago

I do not believe the professor's analysis correctly represents the statement of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who did not invent the position he enunciated in his letter to the bishops but simply restated the moral theology tradition. He wrote:

"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, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."

This could be restated as:
1. One cannot vote for someone because they are pro-choice (or pro-homosexual marriage, or pro-name any intrisinsic evil here)

2. One cannot vote for a pro-choice candidate simply because of his good positions on other issues

3. One CAN vote for a pro-choice candidate IF there are reasons proportionate to the evil which would have to be tolerated, in this case, abortion, homosexual advocacy etc..

What possible good can be proportionate to these evils, in Catholic moral theology  at least, as opposed to in proportionalist moral theology? As Cardinal Ratzinger points out in his letter to the bishops: none of the policy issues which involve prudential judgements, EVEN war. A sidebar that contained the entire text  would have been helpful to the reader. 

Also, while one may not know with certainty whether a particular president, or other elected official, will be able to advance the evil they favor, one can be reasonably certain that they will advance it in their policies where they can, especially in our interest-group charged political culture.

I do not think, therefore, that the Cardinal/Pope, or the tradition, intends us to make God-like predictions of the future, but reasonably certain ones. Irrespective of how a particular president's Supreme Court appointees MIGHT vote, no reasonable person could possibly claim ignorance that an ardently pro-choice candidate would, from day one, advance abortion at ever turn. In the case of the current presdient, he has done exactly that, in foreign policy, in the military, and in health care. Willful ignorance of the foreseeable consequences of an action, in this case, voting, does not excuse. To remove one's knowledge of what a politician will Colin Donovando to some remote possibility as a fig-leaf for material cooperation in evil is, in the case of most pro-choice politicians today, entirely self-serving.

Tom Maher
13 years 8 months ago
It is very disturbing when Catholics scholars give examples about how the world works or how things are that are not ture in order to justify their theological point they are trying to make.    Arguments should be made without ficticious conditions that do not exist in real life and without exaggerations, distortions and half-turths.  The moral end of making a moral point does not justify the means of distorting or falsefying realitiy.   Inventing new evils that do not exist is moralzing without basis in reality.  This makes people crazy and should be avoided so people are not misinformed that a fiction is real.  Moral arguments need to be firmly and rigorously based on reality.  We have plently of real moral probelms.  We have no need to invent moral problems that do not exist. 

The idea that shopping at a big box store has some kind of cosmic moral  implication is great poetry worthy of a English major but does not havea solid basis in reality.  Examples like this are false or at best highly exaggerated and should not be used to advance moral argument because the example itself distorts reality.  The false example create a alternate universe that has to advanced along with the moral argument.  This creates nonsense, misinformation and confusion.

Moral arguments need to stay strickly within the bounds of reality. 
13 years 8 months ago
This is the kind of article that makes it worth subscribing.  I am just as interested in the cause of pro-life and Joseph Ratzinger's statements, but:

The usage of slave labor in global supply chains is more common than you think.  There is no need to pick on big-box stores alone.  It is more difficult to name sellers that we are assured do NOT sell good made by slave labor.  Probably most American have bought products that were made with slave labor.  For example, Brazil manufactures car parts that are made from steel that is made from charcoal that is made with slave labor.  In the manufacture of cell phones, often rare minerals are used, like tantalum, which are mined by slave labor in the Congo. The manufacture of rugs from South Asia is notorious for the use of child slave labor.  Cotton in central Asia is picked with slave labor and ends up as clothes in America.

The U.S. department of labor has a global report that is available on the web that names products from each country in the world which have been made with slave labor.

News story: http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/department_of_labor_releases_list_of_slave-made_goods

The 194 page Dept of labor report from 2009 is here: http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/department_of_labor_releases_list_of_slave-made_goods

Every year, there are instances in the U.S where people are arrested and
convicted for using slave labor, for picking fruits and vegetables, and as maids and housekeepers.   We recently had a conviction in N.J. for the use of a slave hair dresser.

As consumers, we are all stuck in this sticky web of globalization.  One moral thing that we can do to help make the world a better place is to only buy that are certified to be free of slave labor.  Goods that are classified as Fair Trade are one such example of slave-free goods.

A consumer can help to achieve a measure of social justice just by choosing to buy goods that are slave free.

FYI, I am a volunteer with an organization that promotes goods that are made slave free, as part of its mission.   www.nominetwork.org and www.buyherbagnotherbody.com
Tom Maher
13 years 8 months ago
One of the definitions of a corporation is an entity without a soul to save or an ass to kick.  Graduating from this simple fact of life about a corporation in capitalistic terms or the "collective"  in socialist terms is a radical concept of collective guilt and innocent.   This is a throwback to the old Marxist dialectics and analysis - "good people"  are being harmed by "bad people" is the certral truth and explaination of all history but inevitably the good people will have utitlitarian salvation.   The individual or a supreme being has no role in collective justice.   The state is the arbiter of who is good and who is bad.  Moraity is defined by the state.  The state determines everything. What and who is good and bad.  A lot of power that can easily be abused.  Given human limitations were are the controls to prevent abuse? 
Very tricky stuff being arbiter of all the universe even as part of a big collective such as a Catholic college.  So how does the state acquire and control the enormous power needed to be arbiter of everything? 
Assigning guilt and innocent to groups is a bogus concept beyond human capability.  What ever happened to humility?  A sense of limitation? Or do we just need to feel guilty about something new?   Or are we just iegaging in "conscieousness raising" like the Protestants to keep up our standing in the world?    

An example of the harm of group guilt is the Repairations imposed on Germany after being defeated in World War I. Repairations created new evils that lead greater harms which in turn lead directly to World War II.  So collective guilt and punishment by collectively "good"" nations is one of the worse human disasters in the name of justice ever created.  Nations tried to be like gods exceeding their human limitations and authority over other human beings.  The authors ideas are loaded with likely hazards.  Have the author's ideas ever recieved critical review?  Or have they been tested or evaluated for viability? Or are Catholic scholars exempt from reality?

Where do people get these mega ideas to run the universe?

Chris Brune
13 years 8 months ago
I thank the Professor for providing this thorough analysis of Catholic moral teaching and  guidance for the conscientious voter. In light of her article, I offer this:

1. Everybody thinks that, if only we could appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices, Roe v Wade would be overturned and abortion would go away. See where this foolishness has gotten us: Citizens United; more decisions against a just economic system; justifying the execution of mentally retarded people.

2. The Professor rightly points out that, were Roe overturned, the states would simply allow abortion. As Justice O'Connor noted, people have become accustomed to having this option available and it would be in some way wrong to now deprive them of it.

Here is the reality: You can pass laws until you are blue in the face. People are still going to sin. Period. So, how do we as Catholics deal with that reality, especially as it applies to women facing crisis pregnancies? I offer some steps that we can take as Catholics:

1. Do not condemn. Stress that there is forgiveness, comfort and help from the Church for women who have made unsuccessful decisions.

2. Continue to state that the fetus in the womb is a human being. This is nothing more than reliable current science, so we are on solid ground here. Once the humanity of the fetus is established, many minds are changed. Human beings, at least in the United States, are entitled to 14th Amendment protections.

3. Offer hope to the women and make it possible for them to keep their children. I hear a lot of vilification of the Obama healthcare reforms. I wonder how many women would make a different decision if they knew they would have healthcare for themselves and their children?

4. Women choosing abortions? Have we forgotten that it takes "two to tango?" We now have DNA testing to accurately identify fathers. How many men would be more careful about having irresponsible sex if they knew that their wages were going to be docked for child support until any child conceived through their participation is 18 years old?

In our democracy, you never get the complete package from any elected official. The best you can hope for is a candidate with whom you mostly agree. Yes, President Obama is a pro-choicer on abortion. But who can deny that the health care reform is a very pro-life effort with the promise of healthcare for the ooor and disenfranchised? The Obama campaign also held out the possibility of extracting ourselves from two morally questionable wars and is doing so, abeit somewhat clumsily. And what about the regulations on the financial services industry with their promise of increased economic justice? The efforts to create jobs? Improvements in our relations with other countries around the world? These are positive, even pro-life, things that should be weighed in contrast to the abortion issue. Many candidates use their opposition to abortion to appeal to pro-life voters while endorsing policies that do great damage to society. If the Professor's article tells us one thing, it is that a Catholic cannot be a one issue voter. People joke about "Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibiliy" but it's true; if you want to follow the Catholic path, you have to think.

One final point: I believe that President Obama is a decent man at heart who is amenable to persuasion. I don't notice these traits in his opponents who claim to be pro-life. As one commentator described them, those ". . . whose right hand is filled with gifts, their left hand is filled with iniquities."
13 years 8 months ago

In Professor Kaveny’s article "Catholics As Citizens", America Magazine Nov. 1, 2010, I was struck not by her analysis of Ratzinger’s theological casuistical remarks on "cooperation with evil," but rather her distinction of "two groups of devout Catholics" she calls "prophets and the pilgrims."

From my experience as a lifelong Catholic, I was always impressed by the "prophet" emphasis of the Church’s teaching and promotion of a life style that "emphasize the importance of clear, unambiguous witness to the transformative power of the inbreaking kingdom of God."

It is traditionally taught by the Church that this approach to spirituality is the model associated with the saints and martyrs. I do not know of any saints or martyrs held up for veneration by the Church identified with the "pilgrim" group as described by Professor Kaveny. And if she could make a case for some, that aspect of their life is certainly not emphasized for emulation.

The first group, i.e., the "prophets" (including many Catholics and Bishops) believe that any form of "cooperation with evil," formal or remote, on significant issues, i.e., abortion or extramarital sex, compromises the "purity of their witness" to their values. The "prophet" group, from this perspective, "is likely to stress the need to maintain significant distance from the wrongful acts of others,…." i.e. from those who participate in any form of either formal or "remote material" cooperation. This attitude can and does foster attitudes of division within parishes etc.

This then brings us to the ethical question of Cardinal Ratzinger’s "remote material cooperation which can be justified by the presence of proportionate reasons" as an emerging moral issue discussed within the context of Professor Kaveny’s discussion of "systemic structures of complicity" in her article.

Her reference to "original sin" as being an idea of "structural complicity" and pointing to "the common human plight of failing to live up to our obligations to God and one another" and "how individuals can be caught up in social practices marred by entrenched sinfulness," cf. St. Augustine et alii, seems to me as coming down on the side of a theological position that is moot within the context of "structural complicity." Aside from the question of whether or not the concept of "original sin" is even meaningful outside of the halls of religious authority, social practices within the context of and authorized by the laws of a nation or state whose jurisdictional authority extend to all who are subject to those laws are considered good practices for the civic citizen. From this civic perspective, good citizens are those who enforce and obey the law. This applies to everyone including bishops.

The President of the United States, for example, takes an oath of office to uphold the constitution and all statutory laws and failure to do so is grounds for impeachment. Any President (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or otherwise) who refuses for religious or other personal reasons to cause to be enforced a particular law or amendment to the Constitution and its court determined application, i.e. Roe vs. Wade, can be impeached.

Another way of stating it is that such President would not be considered a good citizen or leader of his/her country by refusing to take the oath of office even for the above reason.

Now, is a President, who also is a Roman Catholic and who refuses to enforce the law giving women the right to abort, formally cooperating with evil or only materially cooperating with evil according the Cardinal Ratziznger guidelines? The President could refuse to take the oath of office on grounds of conscience knowing that he would be in grave violation of his conscience according to Roman Catholic moral teaching on abortion– in which case that would be grounds for impeachment. Or, he could take the position that he personally does not condone abortion but because of a "proportionate reason," i.e., his skills and leadership will result in much good in many other areas that are consonant with his beliefs, he is in the position of only remotely cooperating with evil by causing to be enforced abortion laws and attendant funding. Legislators might ask themselves the same question.  Clearly, this moral issue was not an insurmountable obstacle to taking the oath of office for current and past Presidents, Catholic or otherwise or legislators. Many who voted for President Obama took him at his word that he was personally against abortion. Is this an instance of material cooperation by the "pilgrims" if they voted for him?

Now what about the bishops and their followers who try to boycott a pro-choice politician by not so veiled statements and encouraging the position that voting for a pro-choice President will threaten the souls of those who do with the threat of sin and eternal damnation because it will be a formal cooperation with evil. Don’t they realize that any person elected President will have to enforce the abortion laws or become a conscientious objector and be subject to impeachment? To elect a pro-life President does not change the outcome on that issue.

There is no teaching from the Bishops concerning the issues of guiding the faithful "pilgrims" in ways to be involved in the political process in our systemic structures of complicity as described by Professor Kaveny. Professor Kaveny makes a good observation that all of us "must guard against allowing creative tension to become mutually assured destruction."  This article should promote discussion of everyone concerning their responsibilities in the political and social process as interfacing with their value systems.

13 years 8 months ago
Surely no one votes for a candidate based on what that candidate says they will do; that would be gullibility in the extreme.  Rather one votes based on what one foresees the candidate can or will deliver.  There is a personal prognostication that enters into the decision.  To illustrate the same point slightly differently: how am I as a faithful Catholic to vote when I judge that the pro-life candidate is unlikely to be able to deliver much of anything in the way of a reduction of abortion (I may even be convinced that they are cynical in their pro-life stance) whereas the pro-choice candidate is almost certain to deliver a significant advance on the social justice front while in no way likely to exacerbate the abortion rate (if that is even possible)?  One cannot simply say that abortion as the greatest of all evils trumps every other consideration and therefore I must vote for the self-styled pro-life candidate.  Surely for myself as a moral individual the primary consideration is my own judgement of the good or evil that will actually result from my vote.
Daniel Fink
13 years 8 months ago
Ms. Kaveny requires 21 paragraphs to instruct us of the greyness in ethically confronting abortion, which can best be approached by the contribution of both "prophets and pilgrims". Pope John Paul II implies the complexity of applying the "Gospel of Life" by his 105 paragraphs in the encyclical of the same name, but forsakes the pilgrim in order to cite the prophet when urging us to "call things by their proper name"..."Woe to those who put darkness for light" (Is 5:20). In heeding Isaiah, John Paul II calls abortion "murder" (para. 58), while also addressing God's forgiveness for offenses against the gospel of life. He leaves no doubt that all other social issues are dependent on the defense of the "most innocent". 

For Ms. Kaveny, does the description of abortion as murder qualify it as an offense against the unborn's civil rights? Or did John Paul fail to get in touch with his "pilgrim"? Could she see herself validating the candidacy of a legislator in 1966 who saw the civil rights of blacks as merely a sectarian, Catholic issue on which she may not impose her views, while instead waiting on safety nets, ala Congressman David Obey?

Pope Benedict XVI recently restated to African bishops that abortion is not a human right. He also stated that "culture and models of behavior are nowadays more and more shaped by the images set forth by the communications media." One of those images is that of shaping a theological argument to fit a preconceived politicization of the "Gospel of Life".
13 years 8 months ago
Two remarks apropos Professor Kaveny's distincition between prophets and pilgrims:
1. Even prophets remain and ought to acknowledge that they are also first and foremost pilgrims.
2. True prophets are never self-selecting or self-certifying as prophets.
Robert Klahn
13 years 8 months ago
..."A single vote for a pro-choice politician is not likely to make any significant difference to any particular woman’s decision for or against abortion, given that abortion is currently a constitutionally protected right in this country. In fact, we might well judge that voting for a candidate who supports a large safety net for mothers and dependent children would be a better way to increase the number of children brought to term, especially at the state level.

Click Here!


"In response, some pro-lifers might argue that while a vote for a pro-choice politician may not cause many new abortions, a vote for a pro-life politician, particularly a pro-life president, is the way to prevent them. Even here, however, the causal chain is tenuous."...

This is exactly the reasoning I use when considering why I am a democrat. Though, add to your further point that a president may not be able to change things, that he may not chose to change things.

The republican party has had the power to do a great deal over the last 32 years, and has appointed most supreme court judges in that time. Yet they have not ended abortion. And, as Nancy Reagan demonstrated with her support of fetal stem cell research, their dedication to life may be vanish when it's convenient.

I do not believe ending abortion is a high priority for the republican party as a whole, and I am absolutely convinced pro-life overall is not a principle they support. So, as Cardinal Maidera of Detroit once said to a Catholic politician there, if you can't end an evil your duty is to mitigate it as much as possible. I support politicians I believe will mitigate the evil of abortion as much as possible.

It is often said we live in a culture of death. I do not believe abortion brought us the culture of death, the culture of death brought us abortion. That is what we have to change.

Which is why I am lucky that my congressional representative is a pro-life democrat, Marcy Kaptur.

Robert Klahn
13 years 8 months ago
To:Stephen M. Bauer, thank you for the links. They led me to other links adding up to a good bit of information. I am saving it for quoting.

Frank Bergen
13 years 8 months ago
Kaveny's article makes good reading.  I'm puzzling over the contrast between prophet and pilgrim, since I think of myself as a bit of each and truly believe that the prophet is "acutely aware of just how far human society still remains from the kingdom of God", and attempts to speak and act prophetically out of that realization.

My more significant reaction to the essay, read 48 hours after watching election returns, is that the [false] prophets who have advocated voting based on candidates' and parties' stances on abortion have contributed mightily to a polarized electorate and the ascendency for the moment of the party of no.  Bishops who have all but demanded their people vote Republican in the past few election cycles now witness a Republican party that not only Teddy Roosevelt but even Eisenhower and Nixon would not recognize.  And they wonder why they can't get bipartisan support for just and humane comprehensive immigration reform to be brought to the table in the halls of Congress. 
Monica Doyle
13 years 8 months ago
I am not a scholar.  I do not hold any degrees in  theology. I am bumbling along, tying to be a conscientious Catholic.

The insert from NY State Bishops in last weekend's bulletin clearly stated the legal right to life outweighs every other issue.

What does that mean for all my family members who belive in their hearts that a Democrat, who may be pro-choice, may better help create a society making it more conducive for women to give life to their babies?

Are their souls in immortal danger for thinking that way ?

I need clarity on this.  Again I am not a moral theologian nor a trained ethicist.


PS Are there no third party candidates who embrace ALL the Church's moral postions ?
13 years 5 months ago
for Monica d: See the articles in response to the Kaveny article in the Feb 13, 2011 issue of America - especially the third.
Brooks Imperial
12 years 5 months ago
Morality attaches to the decision one makes in choosing between a right object or a wrong object.  You can dilute the object, call it too remote to be compelling, but that doesn't change the nature of the object or the existence of one's connection to it, and it does not erase the decision.  The National Socialists in Germany used similar logic to excuse themselves.  I don't buy it.  I think it's a corruption, a repugnant equivocation, and this kind of moral parsing damages the Catholic religion.

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