Catholics & the 2004 Presidential Election - Collected Readings & Resources

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Cardinal Ratzinger, Bishop Burke and "Proportionate Reasons" 

Posted by Christopher Blosser at 9:21 AM

A commentator posted a link to this article this morning. Since the commentator attempted to post the entire content of the article and did so anonymously (that is to say, lacking the courage to associate the opinion with himself), I was obliged to remove it. However, I'll take the liberty of responding to it here.

According to Ms. Montemurri of the Detroit Free Press ("Catholics allowed pro-choice vote" Sept. 7, 2004):

In essence, a vote for a pro-choice politician is not necessarily sinful if a Catholic, who is also against abortion, believes the candidate's other positions outweigh the politician's support for abortion rights, Ratzinger said. He heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a longtime Vatican observer and Jesuit priest who edits America magazine, said:

"If the voter says 'I like this candidate only because he or she is pro-abortion,' that's clearly a no-no. If, on the other hand, the voter says, 'and I like this candidate because he or she supports everything I like, but is wrong on abortion, and I've decided to vote for the person on these other issues,' that's alright."

This is the typical liberal spin that has been put on the last paragraph of the Ratzinger memorandum that "when a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour 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." It is also the kind of spin that is placed on the recent clarification by Bishop Burke, which has been characterized as a "softening" of his previous stance, or an entirely new one altogether).

It is understandable that Democrats and supporters of Senator Kerry's presidential campaign are spinning this for all its worth -- after letting his battle with the Swift Boat Veterans dominate the headlines (culminating in a call from President Clinton to Kerry requesting he simply shut up about Vietnam) and evidence of increasing resistence by faithful Catholics challenging Kerry's stance on abortion, the Kerry campaign is desparately clawing for support.

Consequently, the spin of Ms. Montemurri of the Detroit Free Press is similar, or identical to, that of Fr. Andrew Greeley, Ono Ekeh, and self-described "progressive Catholic" blogger JCecil3: Catholics may freely choose between President Bush and Senator Kerry, and the moral crime of abortion is not -- or should not be -- the chief issue in influencing such a choice.

However, it must be questioned whether their interpretation of Cardinal Ratzinger and Bishop Burke's commments are accurate. Following are some articles which might cause one to differ in their understanding of the circumstances that permit Catholics to vote for a pro-choice candidate:

  • In late August, Barbara Kralis published an interview with three bishops who challenged the underlying theological premises of Fr. Greeley's assertion that Catholics should have no qualms about voting for Kerry. According to Bishop Robert Francis Vasa, M.Div., J.C.L.:

    "While it is an interesting intellectual exercise to debate whether Catholics, under certain very limited circumstances, may or may not vote for candidates who favor procured abortion, the more important practical question is whether practicing Catholics should, in fact, vote for a candidate who openly, consistently and even aggressively defends the killing of pre-born children when there are Pro-Life alternatives."

    Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs asked "How do we balance out the murder of more than one million babies each year with any good or series of goods?" and noted that Greeley's reading of Ratzinger stood in contradiction to other magisterial teachings.

    And Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, D.D., S.T.D. criticized Greeley's "tragic indifference to abortion," dismissing his "shallowness of mind akin to a harlequin."

  • Writing for, Michael J. Gaynor compares Cardinal McCarrick's lukewarm assurance in an interview with Zenit that "it is always important to continue supporting the principles that define Catholic morality" and that a "respect for life . . . [is not] the only value of reference," but must be considered with "a responsible policy in regard to peace, social justice and aid to the poor" with the astute observations of Bishop James T. McHugh and Bishop Emeritus Rene Henry Gracida of Corpus Christi, TX, on what does (and more importantly, does not) constitute "proportionate reasons".

    According to Bishop McHugh:

    In many cases Catholics will have to make hard choices, not for the clearly acceptable candidate but for the lesser evil. When faced with two candidates, one of whom is unalterably pro-abortion and the other who does not support a pro-life agenda without exception, the voter can (a) vote for the pro-abortion candidate; (b) vote for neither; or (c) vote for the candidate who does not support a full pro-life agenda. Clearly, the choice should be (c), the lesser evil.

    Bishop Gracida elaborates:

    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.

    There is only one thing that could be considered proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for a candidate who is known to be pro-abortion, and that is the protection of innocent human life. That may seem to be contradictory, but it is not.

    Consider the case of a Catholic voter who must choose between three candidates: Candidate A, who is completely for abortion-on-demand, Candidate B, who is in favor of very limited abortion, i.e., in favor of greatly restricting abortion, and Candidate C, a candidate who is completely against abortion but who is universally recognized as being unelectable. The Catholic voter cannot vote for Candidate A because that would be formal cooperation in the sin of abortion if that candidate were to be elected and assist in passing legislation which would remove restrictions on abortion-on-demand. The Catholic can vote for Candidate C but that will probably only help ensure the election of Candidate A. Therefore the Catholic voter has a proportionate reason to vote for Candidate B, since his vote may help to ensure the defeat of Candidate A and may result in the saving of some innocent human lives if Candidate B is elected and votes for legislation restricting abortion-on-demand. In such a case the Catholic voter would have chosen the lesser of two evils which is morally permissible under these circumstances.

  • And informs us that Bishop Burke Has Remained Consistent on Voting Pro-Life Despite Media Misrepresentation, taking the Associated Press to task for omitting Bishop Burke's reference to "proportionate reasons" in claiming that he had "softened his stance":

    "If the reasons are really proportionate, and the person remains clear about his or her opposition to abortion, that can be done," Burke said. The Archbishop was at pains to point out that in reality the question is not one of the fine points of moral theology, but of immediate reality. "What is a proportionate reason to justify favoring the taking of an innocent, defenseless human life? That's the question that has to be answered in your conscience. What is the proportionate reason?" He said that the difficulty of these nuanced ideas is the reason he did not discuss the problem of proportionality in his earlier statements in June. "It is difficult to imagine what that proportionate reason would be," he said.

According to the report, the St. Louis diocese intends to release a document clarifying its position on Catholics supporting pro-abortion politicians, and will include Burke's qualifying remarks. At this point, however, the question is whether the damage has already been done . . . and so the spin continues.

There are many ways of addressing poverty, homelessness, employment, and the rest of society's ills, and in spite of the claims of compatibility of Catholic social doctrine with both sides of the political spectrum (whether liberal Democrats, 'neocons' or Republicans), the Church has never formally aligned itself with a particular political platform -- and in fact, has specifically declined to do so.

At the same time, it cannot be doubted that the Church has spoken quite clearly in its condemnation of the abominable crime of abortion and euthanasia, and the practices of embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning which violate the sanctity of life from conception until death. This is precisely why when a politician proclaims his support of a woman's "right to choose", takes every opportunity to deny legislative restriction on abortion ("The Partial Birth Abortion Ban") or the recognition of the humanity of unborn ("The Born-Alive Infant Protection Act"; "The Unborn Victims of Violence Act"), endorses experimental research and destruction of human embroyos -- and defiantly proclaims his "right" to do so as a Catholic, his fellow Catholics are compelled to raise their voices in protest.

It is up to Catholics to decide what constitutes "proportionate reasons" for voting -- pray that we make the right choice.

Ongoing commentary by the editors of CatholicKerryWatch

Sen. John Kerry stands with Kate Michelman (right) President of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Since 1995, Michelman's group has given Kerry a 100% rating for his voting record to defend abortion.


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Contributing Editors:

Oswald Sobrino of
Catholic Analysis

Earl E. Appleby of
Times Against Humanity

Jeff Miller of
The Curt Jester

Ad Limina Apostolorum

Christopher Blosser of
Against The Grain

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Ad Limina Apostolorum
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The Blog From The Core
Catholics for Bush [Blog]
Catholic Light
Defensor Fidei (Jimmy Akin)
Domenico Bettinelli, Jr.
The Galvin Opinion
Just Being Frank
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Mark Shea
[The Meandering Mind of a Seminarian]
The Mighty Barrister
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TriCoastal Commission


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News Resources

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Kerry Communion Watch @

The Candidates on Abortion: Where do they stand?




National Catholic Reporter
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Related Documents & Articles

Worthiness To Recieve Communion: General Principles
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Evangelium Vitae
Pope John Paul II

Worthy to Receive the Lamb: Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion, from Archbishop Donoghue (Atlanta, GA), Bishop Baker (Charleston, SC) and Bishop Jugis (Charlotte, NC).
August 4, 2004

Catholics in Political Life U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. June 7, 2004.

Catholic Politicians and Bishops. By Most Rev. Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis. America June 21-28, 2004.

A Time For Honesty, Pastoral Statement by The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark. May 5, 2004.

Why Communion Could Be Denied to Anti-Life Legislators. Interview with Father Thomas Williams, dean of the School of Theology of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Why Don't Catholic Politicians Practice What the Catholic Church Preaches?, by Judie Brown. Washington Dispatch April 19, 2004.

How to tell a Duck from a Fox: Thinking with the Church as we look toward November, by Archbishop Chaput. Denver Catholic Register April 14, 2004.

On the Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility, a Pastoral Letter by La Crosse Bishop Raymond L. Burke.

Blood On Their Hands: Exposing Pro-abortion Catholic Politicians, by Mark Stricherz. Crisis May 2003.

The Failure of Catholic Political Leadership, by Robert P. George & William E. Saunders. Crisis 18, No. 4 (April 2000).

Denying Holy Communion: A Case History, by Bishop Emeritus Rene Henry Gracida. [PDF Format].

Ten questions regarding the denial of the Eucharist, by Barbara Kralis.

Recommmended Reading

John Kerry, Abortion and the Catholic Church

Irreconcilable Differences", by Matthew Mehan. NRO Sept. 16, 2004.

John Courtney Murray and the 'Liberal Catholic' Justification of Abortion Investigative report by Christopher Blosser. August 30, 2004.

"Please answer the question, Senator Kerry", The Mighty Barrister. August 2, 2004.

You wouldn't even ask. Fr. Pavone (Priests for Life). July 2004.

Kerry isn't making abortion stand clear, by Raymond J. Keating. Newsday July 27, 2004.

Senator Kerry May Be Human . . . But is He a Person?, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 23, 2004.

Kerry's Catholic Problem, by Brent Bozell. July 7, 2004.

The Body Politic and the Body of Christ: Candidates, Communion and the Catholic Church. Debate btw/ Thomas J. Reese, S.J. and George Weigel. June 23, 2004.

The Kerry challenge, by George Weigel. May 5, 2004.

Rites and Wrongs: Why John Kerry should not take communion, by Philip F. Lawler. Wall Street Journal April 30, 2004.

John Kerry's Catholic Problem", by Cal Thomas. April 26, 2004.

Kerry Distorting Catholic Doctrine. interviews George Weigel. April 16, 2004.

"Personally Opposed, But…" Five Pro-Abortion Dodges, by Todd M. Aglialoro. Crisis April 1, 2004.

On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

Reagan vs. Reagan and The Stem-Cell Cover-Up, Catholic Kerry Watch, August 14, 2004.

Senator Kerry dismisses religious convictions as "ideology"  Catholic Kerry Watch. August 9, 2004.

Ron Reagan & Functionalism, Revisited, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 29, 2004.

Out of Touch, by Michael Fumento. Refuting Kerry's claims on the use of embryonic stem cells. Citizen Magazine August 2004.

Stem Cell Defection, by Ramesh Ponnuru. National Review August 16, 2004.

Stem Cell Research: Fact Sheets, Letters to Congress and Articles from the USCCB.

On Voting, "Proportionality" and Cardinal Ratzinger's Memorandum

What Ratzinger Said, by James Akin. Sept. 9, 2004.

Bishops Refute Flawed Theology (of Andrew Greeley) Barbara Kralis. August 22, 2004.

Thoughts on Proportionality, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 12, 2004.

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