The moral calculus
Religion and politics not only go together, as both parties realize
this year maybe more than ever, they are actually inseparable.
Everything comes down to morality and how it informs choices.
The media tracking the Catholic vote in support of Hillary Clinton
have missed the deeper point that the traditional relationship between
Catholics and the Democratic party has changed. Scholars like Princeton Professor Robert George and EPPC fellow Colleen Carroll Campbell have lamented that publicly. It was the party of their fathers and
grandfathers. It represented social justice and the defense of the
Archbishop Charles Chaput has an excellent commentary
at First Things on his own involvement in the party before it turned
from defending ultimate human rights and began embracing abortion.
The U.S. Supreme Court had legalized abortion on demand
in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and Carter the candidate waffled
about restricting it. At the time, I knew Carter was wrong in his views
about Roe and soft toward permissive abortion. But even as a priest, I
justified working for him because he wasn’t aggressively “pro-choice.”
True, he held a bad position on a vital issue, but I believed he was
right on so many more of the “Catholic” issues than his opponent seemed
to be. The moral calculus looked easy. I thought we could remedy the
abortion problem after Carter was safely returned to office.
Carter lost, the pro-life Ronald Reagan won the White House, but still…
the belligerence, dishonesty, and inflexibility of the
pro-choice lobby has stymied almost every effort to protect unborn
human life since.
That has made a huge difference in party politics, unfortunately for Americans.
In the years after the Carter loss, I began to notice
that very few of the people, including Catholics, who claimed to be
“personally opposed” to abortion really did anything about it. Nor did
they intend to. For most, their personal opposition was little more
than pious hand-wringing and a convenient excuse—exactly as it is
today. In fact, I can’t name any pro-choice Catholic politician who has
been active, in a sustained public way, in trying to discourage
abortion and to protect unborn human life—not one. Some talk about it,
and some may mean well, but there’s very little action. In the United
States in 2008, abortion is an acceptable form of homicide. And it will
remain that way until Catholics force their political parties and
elected officials to act differently.
Chaput is addressing this because he speaks out all the time on
issues that affect the culture, public policy and matters of faith and
morals. Pope Benedict called on bishops to do just that on his recent
visit to the US. It provides the framework for snapshots the media put
out to portray the Catholic vote. This particular article takes issue
Why do I mention this now? Earlier this spring, a group
called “Roman Catholics for Obama ’08” quoted my own published words in
the following way:
So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a
pro-choice candidate? The answer is: I can’t, and I won’t. But I do
know some serious Catholics— people whom I admire—who may. I think
their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with
the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And most important:
They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up; they keep lobbying
their party and their representatives to change their pro-abortion
views and protect the unborn. Catholics can vote for pro-choice
candidates if they vote for them despite—not because of—their
What’s interesting about this quotation—which is accurate but
incomplete—is the wording that was left out. The very next sentences in
the article of mine they selected, which Roman Catholics for Obama
neglected to quote, run as follows:
But [Catholics who support pro-choice candidates] also
need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a
“proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the
kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the
victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next
life—which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these
victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then
we can proceed.
Appealing to reason is the best way to make the argument that
permitting abortion but arguing about immorality in war, health care,
immigration, poverty, etc, is incoherent.
I like this piece for its clarity, and the charity in Chaput’s discussion of the picture in that framework.
Maybe Roman Catholics for Obama will do a better job at
influencing their candidate. It could happen. And I sincerely hope it
does, since Planned Parenthood of the Chicago area, as recently as
February 2008, noted that Senator Barack Obama “has a 100 percent
pro-choice voting record both in the U.S. Senate and the Illinois
Changing the views of “pro-choice” candidates takes a lot more than
verbal gymnastics, good alibis, and pious talk about “personal
opposition” to killing unborn children. I’m sure Roman Catholics for
Obama know that, and I wish them good luck. They’ll need it.
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