Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

healthy & wealthy & dead

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 19, 2006

Well, U.S. elections are coming up next month, and that means another crop of Voter's Guides designed to give Catholics permission to yank the lever for pro-abortion candidates.

The latest to hit the market is called Voting the Common Good: a Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics. It attempts to disarm conservative criticism by grabbing its own skirts at the outset and dropping a curtsey to "key themes" that include "Life" and "Family" -- then goes on to explain why they can be safely ignored in the polling booth.

Voting the Common Good differs from its predecessors in aiming less to provide rationalizations for Dems to vote the party line, and more at supplying sound-bites for confounding pro-life and pro-family activists. So, whereas earlier voter's guides cited masters of Catholic social thought such as Joseph Califano and Saul Alinsky, the new model quotes Pope John Paul II three times and even Cardinal Ratzinger once. Clearly the heavy names are intended not to instruct the voter but to silence objections from believing Christians (renamed, in election years, "the Christian Right"). I got a kick out of VCG's Ratzinger-for-Rahm ploy:

Is it okay to vote for a "pro-choice" candidate? When confronted with this question in 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) responded that it could be acceptable for a Catholic to vote for a "pro-choice" candidate if "proportionate reasons" exist, and if the voter is voting based on those reasons and not the candidate's "pro-choice" beliefs. It is never acceptable to vote for a "pro-choice" candidate merely because of that candidate's position in favor of legal abortion.

The case Ratzinger was addressing in 2004 is that in which ALL the candidates are pro-abortion (such as obtains in most of Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois), and in which the Catholic is faced with the choice of voting for a pro-abort or not voting at all. In such a predicament the cardinal said it's licit to cast one's vote for the least pestilential candidate (e.g., the one who's willing to draw the line at partial birth abortion, if he exists). Voting the Common Good turns this permission on its head and does a classic Bernardin:

Many "prolife" candidates talk a good talk on ending abortion but don't produce results. On the other hand, there are candidates who don't believe in making abortion illegal, but who support effective measures to promote healthy families and reduce abortions by providing help to pregnant women and young children.

Sure, sure. And in 1943 there were good Nazis who, while they didn't believe in outlawing the gassing and cremation of non-Aryans, supported Reich-funded family clinics for hair-bleaching and rhinoplasty so as to reduce the need for race-based Sonderbehandlung. Back to the text:

Catholics must look at a candidate's position on other life issues. Can one really claim to be "pro-life" and yet support the death penalty, turn a blind eye to poverty, and not take steps to avoid war? Our Church teaches that the answer to this question is "no."

Seamless garbage.

The point is that homicide is not commensurable with temporal benefits the state may provide for or withhold from its citizens, and it is mischievous to claim the contrary. There are electoral races in which the rival candidates propose radically different and mutually exclusionary public policies on abortion: one policy exposes a disfavored class of human beings to unjust killing, the rival policy would protect the same class from that fate. In such races, you can use your vote to make a concrete endorsement or rejection of a fundamental human good. You can contribute to a beneficent outcome or contribute to a maleficent one.

But the situation does not obtain in the case of, say, welfare relief. The difference between Republicans and Democrats on ADC, school lunches, health care, social security, etc., is one of degree, not of kind. Perhaps the Dems want to devote 26% of GDP to social relief programs and the Republicans 19% of GDP. If their respective place on the spectrum makes the Democratic position the moral choice and the Republican position the immoral one, would a Green Party or Socialist candidate who proposed spending 33% of GDP on relief thereby make himself the only licit Catholic option, such that both the Republican and the Dem were immoral? Of course not. Unlike abortion, this kind of spending is a context-conditioned choice, and spending levels for which liberals now condemn Republicans were themselves proposed by the Democrats in the 1950s, for which they received the endorsement of bishops and moral theologians.

The choice before voters may determine whether a single mother gets only $320 per month in relief, as opposed to $400 per month. But abortion doesn't admit of this kind of sliding-scale alternative. It's not as if Nancy Pelosi wants to excise 80% of the fetus and Henry Hyde only 64%. It's a thumbs-up/thumbs-down acey-deucey decision. Moreover, the baby that doesn't make it out of womb in the first place -- thanks to the options the law lets her mother exercise -- is in no condition to receive any of wonderful "pro-family" benefits provided by voting for Barney Frank the common good. Again, think of the happy Jews who were able to take their family picnics in the Black Forest in 1946 thanks to Hitler's marvelous autobahns; if you can swallow that, you can swallow VCG's moral equivalency line. Not otherwise.

In case the readers of VCG didn't pick up the hint before, the veil drops in the discussion of true Catholicism.

In recent years we have witnessed an unfortunate trend of religious leaders abusing their positions by using politics to impose their faith on others. True Catholicism, however, calls us to propose policies that work to better the common good of all humanity.

Think they're referring to Mario Cuomo's veto (on religious grounds) of New York's legislation reinstating capital punishment? Neither do I.

Let me sum up Voting the Common Good for the use of Sunday homilists: "Sam Brownback may hold the Catholic position on abortion, but Hillary Clinton embraces the US bishops' policy on wetlands reclamation. So go with your heart." You have to wonder why they even bother to fake it at this stage. You'll be edified to learn that the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities has distributed VCG to its 28 American campuses, but in the long run it would be simpler to pass around a bag of Valium-flavored Tootsie-Pops on election morning. The purpose, after all, is to numb the conscience, not to quicken it.

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