Wednesday, September 15, 2004

"Proportionate Reasons"

There has been a flurry of controversy in the Catholic corner of blogdom known affectionately as St. Blogs regarding the final statement in Cardinal Ratzinger's June note to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Gregory regarding politicians, voting, and abortion. The note concludes with the following:
    A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. 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's the final clause which has confused and even angered many Catholics: "which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons." What possible reasons, they ask, can possibly justify voting for someone who supports the killing of innocent children? Isn't Ratzinger (he's one of the good guys, right?) opening a loophole big enough for a truck to drive through? These are the things people are saying.

But Ratzinger's final sentence is hardly a novelty in Catholic moral thought. Both the principle of double effect and the "maxim" of the lesser of two evils are applied when it comes to voting, and the Church has always allow the view that in certain circumstances it is morally licit to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights (e.g. the well-known moral theologian Germain Grisez, who noted in the second volume of his The Way of the Lord Jesus that it is sometimes right to vote for the "less bad of two unworthy candidates" [p. 872]).

Ratzinger didn't perform a realpolitik calculus to arrive at this conclusion... he simply stated what has always been the case. After all, it's this moral principle which will allow me to vote for Larry Diedrich, John Thune, and George Bush, all of whom support the right to abortion in certain circumstances (e.g. rape and incest). If some bloggers and commenters were right, then it would be immoral to vote for any of those candidates!

Some people also wish that Ratzinger would have spoken "plain english" in his note, or at least elaborated on the "proportionate reasons" point to make it clearer. But they're forgetting that he sent this note to fellow cardinals and bishops, not to the general public, and I think it was safe of him to assume that he wouldn't have to elaborate on this point.

This all having been said, I don't know of an actual race at least at the national level in our country where proportionate reasons are present. I think we need to remember, though, that this doesn't mean that such a situation could never arise.

For more on this, I'd recommend this letter by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and especially this post by Jimmy Akin.

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