There are a lot of Catholics in political office, meaning that at some point a plurality (and in some jurisdictions a majority) of voters selected them. Several national figures are rather infamous for not adhering to the Magisterial teaching of the Church on the most important practical moral issues we face. Recent examples include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Ted Kennedy and Vice President Joe Biden. The question here is not whether any of them should be censured by the Church for their obvious public scandal; that is a matter for the Bishops. But rather, how do these errant Catholics get into office and most important how are faithful Catholics to vote when the roster includes a range of candidates in which very few, if any, of them are aligned with the Church’s moral precepts?
(For the purposes of this discussion, let’s confine the analysis to the Catholic Church’s so-called Five Non-Negotiables: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, human cloning and same-sex marriage. Catholics are not to vote for any candidate whose position on these issues is against the Church)
This is an incredibly hard line to hold, in terms of practical American politics. Most candidates do not pass the test on any of the Fab Five. Even apparently pro-life stalwarts in the evangelical Protestant churches almost all have exceptions to their opposition of abortion (exceptions include life of the mother, birth defects, rape, etc). The reality is, candidates who are fully in conformance with Church moral teaching are few and far between.
Subsequently, in their pamphlet Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics, the Catholic Answers folks allow that in cases where no serious candidate adheres to all five of the Fab Five, then a Catholic should consider which candidate might most adhere and vote to limit the potential evil to be committed.
I would like to say I disagree with their suggested moral negotiation concerning the non-negotiables, but in point of fact that is exactly I’ve done in nearly every vote I’ve cast. Candidates that were “pro-life” but… Candidates that would allow cloning or ESCR because of the promise (misplaced) of miracle medical cures… Candidates who thought the early term definition of life was “above my pay grade”… The ranks of this rogues’ gallery is long and I added my infinitesimal (but patriotically all-important) support to them in the voting booth. Was I wrong?
Yes, in my opinion, I was wrong.
Nobody likes to lose or to vote for a loser, especially a sure loser. But where is the fine line between standing on moral principle while losing, and supporting “the common good” through moral compromise but successfully voting in the good-enough guy? It is a choice to exist in this literal twilight zone between light and dark, and perhaps we Catholics have deluded ourselves into thinking we’re making our society a better place by standing comfortably between the admittedly harsh, absolute environs of either side.
I propose: no more!