Is There a Choice?

I think that everybody knows that I vote pro-life. No issue could be more grave than the protection by law of the innocent, defenseless unborn. I will vote pro-life until Roe v. Wade is overturned, until the day when, as the director of Vitae Caring Foundation Carl Landwehr put it in a speech I heard him give the other night, “abortion becomes unthinkable.”

As someone who shares in the shepherding ministry which the Lord entrusted to the Bishops of the Church, I hold myself responsible for clearly teaching not only that abortion is an evil of enormous gravity, but also that the right to life of the innocent unborn must be a part of the fundamental plan of any truly just society.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, formerly of Washington
Considering all this, you would think that I would applaud the recent letter of our former Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Farrell, now Bishop of Dallas, and his brother Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth. These bishops spell out the morality of voting with admirable clarity.

They assert something, however, that I am afraid to say I do not think is true.

The Bishops carefully explain that the right to life of the innocent unborn is not a matter of prudential judgement, not something that can be weighed against other considerations. It MUST be decisive. Yes. I applaud the making of this crucial point. Thank God. This takes courage.

Then the Bishops go on to write that: “To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or ‘abortion rights’ when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil—and, therefore, morally impermissible.”

Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Bishop Kevin Vann of Ft. Worth
Now, morally impermissible means what it says it means. We cannot do morally impermissible things. If we do morally impermissible things knowingly and freely, our souls are in danger of damnation.

One can cooperate in evil in one of two ways, either materially or formally. Someone who vacuums the carpets in a medical office building where a doctor performs abortions participates materially in those abortions. But unless he intends to support the work of doing abortions by vacuuming the carpet, he does not formally cooperate. He might just be trying to earn a living, and this is the only job he could find. It is not a good situation, but at the same time it is not ipso facto a sin on his part.

If someone’s material cooperation in evil is “remote,” that is, not closely connected to the evil, then they do not bear moral responsibility for the evil.

Remote participation is permissible provided the person does not intend to be a part of the evil business. I could sin by intending to cooperate with something evil even if had practically nothing to do with it. An absurd example: If I planned to take a trip to a particular city BECAUSE they allowed same-sex “marriage” in that city, that would be a sin. But it is not a sin to go to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Anyone who votes for a pro-“abortion rights” candidate participates materially in the evil. But if the voter does not vote for the candidate for this reason, but rather votes for the candidate for another reason, he or she does not formally co-operate with abortion. I would think that the material cooperation of a voter in an election for the President of the United States is certainly far enough removed from actual abortions themselves to qualify as “remote.”

Therefore, it is morally impermissible to vote for a pro-abortion candidate BECAUSE he is pro-abortion. Likewise, it is negligent to vote without considering the gravity of the right to life of the innocent, defenseless unborn. But I think that it is incorrect to say that anyone who votes for Obama commits a sin.

It is clearly a sin to vote for him because he supports legal abortion. But there are other reasons why people might choose to vote for him. I do not claim to sympathize with those reasons; I would be delighted to argue them calmly.

I think people ought to vote for the more pro-life candidate.

But I am NOT telling anyone how to vote. My point is exactly the opposite. We HAVE to avoid committing serious sins. But we do not HAVE TO vote for one candidate or the other. What we have to do is to stand before God and do what we believe is right.

9 thoughts on “Is There a Choice?

  1. Fr. White. Don’t forget that remote material cooperation is only permissible for “proportionate reasons.” Not to tell anyone how to vote, but I just know I can’t think of a proportionate reason to offset the tolerance/encouragement of 4,000 abortions a day.

  2. Hello Frs. Baer and White,

    I believe that the availability of a pro-life candidate, as we have in this presidential election, makes a vote for the pro-death alternative a sufficient cooperation in a moral evil that it is proper to exclude it as an upright act for Christians. How to improve the economy IS a prudential decision about which Catholics can reasonably disagree; in the matter of the the intrinsic evil of abortion there can be no legitimate debate. Evil is absolutely excluded by the law of God.

    This would not apply to those who are invincibly ignorant, of course.

    Pax tecum,
    Fr C

  3. Father White, most respectfully, I propose the following question:

    Continuing your analogy of “Joe, the carpet cleaner”, do you agree that “Joe, the prayer warrior” who prays at abortion mills on the 4th Saturday of each month would only be participating in “remote” evil if he took along with him rock salt to spread on the abortion mill sidewalk solely for the purpose of assisting the mother to the door so she would not fall as she entered to murder her baby?

    Senator Obama has stated that his first act as president will be to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act which would nullify any state or federal blocking or restricting of abortion.

    If we will not refuse to vote for any candidate who supports the murder of the unborn at any stage (abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc) , must we not at least vote for the candidate who will do the least harm?

    God Bless Father Baer for his guidance and, Father White, I most sorrowfully disagree with your position.

  4. Fr. White,

    I must take issue with your view that a vote for a pro-abortion candidate can be morally permissible even when an acceptable alternative exists. I will agree that the cleaning staff at an abortion mill does not formally cooperate in the evil. Without this individual’s help, abortions could proceed unimpeded.

    The same is not true of the pro-abortion voter. There is a direct causal relationship between the voter and the abortion. The abortion cannot legally take place if not permitted in the law and the law cannot be enacted without the cooperation of elected representatives and the representatives cannot be empowered without the supportive action of the voter.

    Thus the bishops wisely provided for only the exception of an issue with proportionate evil which in this election does not present itself. Do we sin if we refuse aid to an innocent victim that we have the legal power – however limited – to prevent? Our obligation is clear.

    Rob Stout

  5. It’s fine to enjoy a debate on simple silly things to high and mighty philosophical topics. However, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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  6. I was under the impression that Senator McCain supported embryonic stem cell research: “[McCain] continued, saying, “All I can say to you is that I went back and forth, back and forth on it and I came in on one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had, in favor of that research. And one reason being very frankly is those embryos will be either discarded or kept in permanent frozen status.” The senator, while standing firm on his decision added, “I understand how divisive this is among the pro-life community.””

    So, where does this leave pro-McCain voters who will only vote for a pro-life candidate? Hopefully, looking for a third-party alternative.

    “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” – John Quincy Adams

    And while we’re at it, can I get a tuling that it is requisite for a person to vote for Obama in order for the remote vs. material participation calculation to even come into play? If you decide to support neither McCain nor Obama, your vote is neither wasted nor implicitly supporting the Demoblican or Republicrat candidate.

  7. I’m a little late on this one…..I have not been on your weblog for over a month because, as you know, I have been busy working on the campaign of the McCain/Palin campaign. Now I finally get on the weblog and read this, I am deeply saddened all over again. I mourned on election day and the days after for two main reasons 1) saddened that Catholics don’t understand their faith and responsibility to uphold and protect the rights of all of God’s children and 2) saddened to think (unless Senator Obama changes his mind) of all the millions of more babies that will be murdered, especially if he signs the Freedom of Choice Act.

    I disagree with you totally on this one. By a Catholic (unless terribly uneducated) voting for a candidate that has very clearly stated his views on abortion and desire to make them more affordable and available, I can only feel that is a slap in the face to Our Lord and Savior. And I always thought that a slap in the face to our Lord and Savior was definitely a sin.

    You ended your article with “What we have to do is stand before God and to do what we believe is right.” It is not all about what I believe or what you believe or what anyone else believes is right. It is about what God tells us to believe. God has revealed the Truth — you either believe in the Truth or not.

    Would you say that if I voted for Senator Obama knowing abortion is wrong and knowing his stand on abortion, but that I really felt his health care plan would be good for the country (which I don’t), I would be in the clear?…no trace of sin there?

    All I can say, Father, is I hope you are just checking to see if we are reading your weblogs. Please tell me that is so.

    Saddened again,

  8. The analogy to the medical office cleaning person is not quite accurate. I agree, s/he would be participating remotely enough perhaps. A voter, however, is more like a locksmith hired to fashion a key to open the door of the abortion clinic. The key goes to the landlord (politician) who gives it to the abortion provider. Without our votes (keys), politicians cannot enact laws that open doors to abortion (hand the key to the abortionist). Voting for a person who strongly advocates for abortion rights because he promises to turn the economy around or bring soldiers home, is like a guy with clogged arteries ordering a bacon double cheeseburger for lunch (instead of the Cobb salad) because it has one slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce on it. The proportionality requirement is not met. For argument’s sake, let’s change the sin that is going on behind that door to hard-core child pornography photo shoots. If Mr. Locksmith does his job, makes the key, knowing what it is a key for, and lets pervert photographers in where the children are waiting, is he not participating formally? I don’t think that would be considered remote by a court of law. Without our votes, abortion could not be legal. Before all other issues, we have to not kill our own citizens.

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