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Dear Grace, In this election, many candidates seek our support. As Catholics, how can we support politicians who mix their stands and thus make it difficult to determine whether they truly represent our beliefs as Catholics? Should we vote? And is it a mortal sin to vote for a candidate who is pro-choice when his opponent is pro-life?
Your questions, I am sure, reflect the concern of many Catholics and other
Christians at this crucial time, so it is very good that you have written. Let
us take up the question of whether or not we should vote, and then discuss the
sinfulness of voting pro-choice.
In some political races, Catholic voters will be faced with a difficult moral decision. Is it a mortal sin to vote for a political candidate who is pro-abortion when there is a choice of voting for a candidate running for the same office who is pro-life?
In this particular situation where you have two candidates for the same office and one is clearly pro-life while the other is clearly pro-choice, then yes, it would be sinful to vote for the pro-choice candidate. Certainly no Catholic in good conscience could or should vote for such a candidate. But would it be a mortal sin? Let us look at that.
Our Holy Father John Paul II has stated that “abortion and euthanasia are crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.’" (The Gospel of Life, no. 73) [emphasis added].
Thus, we see that politicians who vote in favor of laws that legalize the crimes of abortion or euthanasia are guilty of committing a gravely immoral act. In fact, they can even be denied Holy Communion by a bishop or priest for obstinately taking such a stance. In order for an immoral act to be considered a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. (1) It must be serious matter (2) with knowledge of its seriousness and (3) done freely and willfully. Therefore, if he or she does so knowing that it goes against the law of God and it is done willingly, then he or she is guilty of mortal sin. Surely we can say that most Catholic politicians know that a public pro-choice position goes directly contrary to Church teaching.
Some pro-choice politicians and voters who support them would like to take the “lesser of two evils” approach by reasoning that some pro-life candidates are not in support of laws to protect the poor or the elderly, as if those issues are more important than the pro-life issue, but as John Paul II makes it quite clear: “it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8) … even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general” (Veritatis splendor, nos. 71-83).
Now, where does that leave us as voters? Are we guilty of mortal sin if we vote for these people who clearly and openly state that they are pro-choice and intend to vote that way when in public office?
Let us look at how John Paul II explains what it means when we cooperate in evil actions. “Such cooperation [in evil] occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself” (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12) (The Gospel of Life, no. 74) [emphasis added].
So, it would seem that if we share knowingly and willfully in the immoral intention of a lawmaker who openly and freely promotes the killing of innocent unborn children or sick or dying persons, then we run the risk of being guilty of mortal sin. It is scandalous to think that any Catholic, or Christian for that matter, could vote for a pro-choice candidate when there is another in the same race who is pro-life. And yet, they do. Why is that happening?
Often we find that Catholics are not informing themselves properly before going to the polls. Sometimes even our own church bulletins have been used to promote pro-choice candidates. We need to read more carefully. Become informed! It would be different if there were two pro-choice candidates. In that situation, we must vote for the one who comes closest to living the full Gospel of life, but when it is a matter of choosing between two, where one is pro-life and the other pro-choice, then we must always choose pro-life. There is no escape from this moral responsibility before God. At present in our country, abortion takes the lives of over 4,000 unborn children every day and over 1.5 million each year. When we stand before God, will we want to say that we took any part in that? Think about it when you go to vote.
A new online pro-life voting guide,
WeVoteProLife.com, points our community toward
this election's pro-life candidates and makes all the candidates' positions on
life issues crystal clear.
Grace D. MacKinnon "Voting Pro-Life." Catholic Exchange (October 2002).
Reprinted with permission of Grace MacKinnon.
Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. She is the author of Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith published by Our Sunday Visitor. Order online by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-348-2440.
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