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Politics and Moral Complexity: God’s Law Comes First

by Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    In this article, which appears in the diocesan newspaper, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield (Illinois) defends and explains his recent statement that “a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”
  • Larger Work:
    Catholic Times
  • Publisher & Date:
    Diocese of Springfield, October 21, 2012

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

"God doesn't hate Democrats!" These were the words that greeted me from an irate fan at a recent SHG football game.

"That's right," I agreed.

The person seemed surprised. "You agree?"

"Yes," I replied. "Why would you think otherwise?"

"Well, because of what you said recently."

So I asked, "Did you read my whole column or watch the entire video recording of it?"

"No," was the honest reply. "I just saw a snip of it."

There's the problem. While I have received many positive and supportive comments from people about my Sept. 23 column in the Catholic Times, there have also been quite a few angry and negative reactions. Unfortunately, a sizeable number of hateful e-mails and calls have been obscene and verbally abusive of my staff members who have fielded them.

Due to the volume of calls, letters and e-mails, it has been impossible to respond to most of them personally. But to those with whom I have spoken, like the football fan mentioned earlier, my first question is usually to ask if they have read the whole column or watched the entire video recording of it. The answer is usually no. They read a few excerpted sentences out of context, watched a pirated video with a brief clip accompanied by someone else's spin on what they thought I said, or saw an editorial in the local secular newspaper that distorted and misrepresented my words. So it would help for people to read the whole column or watch the entire video recording of it before reacting.

It might also help for me to explain more fully the moral reasoning behind my conclusion that "a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy." That sentence has many complex concepts behind those carefully chosen words.

"Promote" means much more than simply being a member of the party that officially endorses abortion and same-sex marriage. One must distinguish between the party platform and the members of the party. As I pointed out, there are pro-life Democrats who disavow and disagree with their party's endorsement of abortion. To "promote" involves active support for legislation, regulations or the appointment of judges that would facilitate intrinsic evils and grave sins such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Some Republicans do this too.

"Intrinsic evil" refers to something that is inherently offensive to God by its very nature. It is "serious sin" if it violates the two-fold commandment to love God and neighbor in such a way that it mortally ruptures our relationship with God.

"Morally complicit" is perhaps the most complex and difficult concept to explain and understand in this context. Moral complicity means that one cooperates as an accomplice to bring about an evil. This cooperation can be either formal or material.

"Formal cooperation" refers to sharing the same intent for the evil to be brought about, such as the boyfriend who pays for an abortion. This would also include voting for a candidate because you want to make it easier for people to obtain abortions.

"Implicit formal cooperation occurs when someone denies intending the wrongdoing of the principal agent, but participates in the action directly and in such a way that it could not be done without this participation. It is not morally permitted to engage in either implicit formal or formal cooperation in evil. Politicians who claim to be "personally opposed to abortion" but then support laws that make abortions possible fall into this category.

"Material cooperation" means that you don't share the intent but your actions nevertheless are instrumental in bringing about the evil outcome. Without getting into all the layers of complexity in defining "material cooperation," suffice it to say that, as a rule, Catholics should avoid voting for candidates that would involve them in cooperation with the wrongdoing of politicians. Voting for a candidate who promotes public funding for abortion makes you morally complicit in the grave evil of killing some of our fellow human beings. Not every case of material cooperation with evil is unjustifiable, but every case requires us to think about whether it is justified, and this is acutely important with a widespread grave injustice such as abortion. As indicated earlier, it is not a simple analysis.

Some who try to navigate this labyrinth of moral analysis simply rationalize their way to a desired conclusion, for example, by saying that voting for a pro-choice candidate is justified by their support for other "social justice" causes. But such people should apply the Golden Rule by placing themselves in the shoes of the people who are going to be killed by abortions. Would these voters really think it is more "just" to vote for the "pro-choice" candidate if they or their own children or their brothers and sisters were going to be deliberately killed – along with 1.3 million others? Not very likely, is it?

Perhaps the phrase that most rattled people, though, was saying that there are actions that could place "the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy." All of us, myself included, must diligently cooperate with God's graces to be saved. To presume that one will be saved no matter what we do here on earth is called the sin of presumption. But neither would I presume to declare that someone is or is not going to hell. I leave that to God's judgment.

Does God love Democrats? Does God love Republicans? Yes, of course he does. God loves Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, in short, God loves everyone. But that's not the question at issue here. The key question is whether we love God more than a political party or candidates that promote intrinsic evils and serious sins. The first commandment is that we not worship false idols. That means God comes first and his moral law trumps politics.

May God give us this grace. Amen.

© Catholic Times

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