Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Catholic World News News Feature

Fraud: What Ratzinger didn't say September 15, 2004

If you live anywhere in the United States, you probably saw news stories this past week, reporting that Cardinal Ratzinger had issued a new statement, saying that Catholics can vote for a candidate who promotes legal abortion-- as long as they're casting that vote for other reasons.

Cardinal Ratzinger said no such thing.

In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger didn't issue any new statement on the subject recently!

The story that has spread through the American press this week is a complete fraud.

Frankly, the rapid spread of this thoroughly phony story reminds me, once again, of why I founded Catholic World News. If you want informed, reliable coverage of Catholic affairs, you just can't count on the secular media-- especially during an election year, when politicians and pundits are both willing to bend the facts to suit their own partisan purposes.

So what is the real story about Cardinal Ratzinger's statement?

Back in June, the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to the US bishops, offering some guidance on how Church leaders should respond to Catholic politicians who promote abortion. Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to whom the letter was addressed, chose not to share it with the other American bishops, and so Cardinal Ratzinger's statement did not come to light for several weeks, until it was leaked to an Italian journalist. (You then probably read about it for the first time right here on CWN.)

The Ratzinger letter is still readily available, and if you read the full text, you'll be left with absolutely no doubt about what the cardinal is saying: that Catholics should not vote for a candidate who supports abortion.

Quoting Pope John Paul II, the cardinal observes that "in the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propoganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it.'"

Is abortion just one among many moral topics that voters should consider? Cardinal Ratzinger answers that question clearly: "There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

At the bottom of his letter, Cardinal Ratzinger inserted one explanatory footnote. And now suddenly this footnote-- rather than the full text of the cardinal's argument-- has become the focus of media attention. So let's take a careful look at it:

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.

Take careful note of those last two words: "proportionate reasons." Cardinal Ratzinger, a careful moral theologian, is telling us that a faithful Catholic might vote for a candidate who supported abortion if there were another moral issue as grave and as clear as the abortion issue. But keep in mind that in the text above this footnote, the cardinal made it quite clear that there is no such commensurate issue.

Last week the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked Archbishop Raymond Burke to comment on the argument in Cardinal Ratzinger's footnote. Archbishop Burke responded with what he clearly thought was a rhetorical question:

The sticking point is this-- and this is the hard part," said Burke. "What is a proportionate reason to justify favoring the taking of an innocent, defenseless human life? And I just leave that to you as a question. That's the question that has to be answered in your conscience. What is the proportionate reason?"

Unfortunately, the Post-Dispatch missed the archbishop's point entirely (and, one suspects, intentionally), and carried a headline suggesting that Archbishop Burke, too, was "softening" his position on the issue. He was not. Like Cardinal Ratzinger before him, Archbishop Burke was trying to be strictly accurate-- trying to educate the interviewer about Catholic moral reasoning-- and his honesty was punished.

In an election year, with political parties ready to exploit any fragmentary statement and drive a truck through any available loophole, it's difficult to educate Catholic voters. But any fair reader should be able to understand Archbishop Burke's point. It would-- theoretically-- be justifiable to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, if the candidate's opponent supported a policy as clearly, gravely wrong as the deliberate slaughter of innocent children. But there is no comparably evil policy-- no proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.

In a statement released on August 11, Bishop Rene Gracida clarified matters:

Since abortion and euthanasia have been defined by the Church as the most serious sins prevalent in our society, what kind of reasons could possibly be considered proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for a candidate who is known to be pro-abortion? None of the reasons commonly suggested could even begin to be proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for such a candidate. Reasons such as the candidate’s position on war, or taxes, or the death penalty, or immigration, or a national health plan, or social security, or aids, or homosexuality, or marriage, or any similar burning societal issues of our time are simply lacking in proportionality.