Showing posts with label proportionate cause. Show all posts
Showing posts with label proportionate cause. Show all posts

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Further Thoughts on Understanding the Ratzinger Memorandum

[N.B. 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.]

Since 2004, some Catholics have cited the above section from the Ratzinger Memorandum to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate. One of the problems I see is this appeal doesn't understand the significance of the phrases remote material cooperation and proportionate reasons. The result is the term gets twisted out of context and cited to justify what then Cardinal Ratzinger had no intention of justifying. 

I want to make clear I am not writing about people who willfully distort Church teaching here. I am writing about an error made by sincere Catholics who are deeply troubled by the poor choices for president, but do not understand the moral theology behind his words. When people cite to claim that their vote for a pro-abortion candidate is in line with the Church because of this document, they usually misunderstand what the Church means by “it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” It is my hope that this article, accompanied by my previous work, might help people understanding the theology then-Cardinal Ratzinger uses as the framework.

Remote material cooperation is cooperation that helps make the evil possible, but is not evil in itself and was not done with the purpose of helping the wrongdoing. We distinguish that from direct cooperation which intends to make an act possible. Voting for a politician because he will promote abortion is direct cooperation. But if the Catholic doesn’t vote for a pro-abortion candidate because he is pro-abortion, the vote still allows the politician to do evil. The question becomes, can we do this?

The memorandum says it “can be permitted,” but we must understand the concept of Proportionate Reason as part of the concept of double effect. Here we seek a good effect but an unavoidable evil effect also happens. If we want to avoid sin, we cannot intend the evil effect. But that’s not all. We also cannot choose an act where the evil effect outweighs the good we want to achieve. So, under double effect, we have to consider the reasonable consequences of our action. If we choose an evil act or an act where we know the evil outweighs the good, we sin if we choose the act.

This is not a matter where we can decide for ourselves what qualifies. This is about objective moral principles. For example, in the case of self-defense, we can use force to drive off an attacker. It is possible that the we might have no choice but killing the attacker. But we can only use the minimum force necessary to defend ourselves. In a life or death struggle, killing the attacker may be a proportionate reason to save your life. But shooting an attacker who swings his fist at you is not a proportionate reason for killing your attacker (See CCC #2269).

So, when we look at this paragraph, understanding these terms shows that this is not a permission to do what you will as long as you don’t cross the line of supporting abortion. He wrote with the purpose of explaining what separates sin from justified behavior. If one doesn’t vote for a pro-abortion candidate because the candidate supports abortion, that is remote material cooperation. It doesn’t directly cause the death of the unborn. But the candidate will support the evil of abortion. Therefore, the proportionate reason (the desired good) must be to stop an evil which outweighs the evil the candidate will do in promoting abortion if elected.

And that’s where some Catholics went wrong. This isn’t about how we rank abortion personally. This isn’t about what we hope candidate A will do or what we fear candidate B will do. This is about the Catholic Church consistently condemning abortion in the strongest possible terms. Homicide. Unspeakable crime. These are not the words of politicians. They are terms used in the official decrees of the Church. Our obligation to oppose abortion is crystal clear:

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society. 


 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 548.

If the Catholic Church condemns abortion in such strong terms, it means that the proportionate reason would have to be even worse if we would treat the unwanted evil of abortion as less. The problem is, no such evils exist today. I could see Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot as greater evils than a pro-abortion candidate. But outside of the uninformed rhetoric of those who post “[Name] = Hitler” on Facebook, nobody sees that as a serious threat today.

Once we understand the concept, it is clear that the memorandum doesn’t give permission to decide whether or not to vote for a preferred candidate who is pro-abortion. It tells us the conditions that determine if an act is sinful or not. Since the conditions justifying such a vote do not exist at this time, we cannot use the Ratzinger Memorandum to justify voting for a pro-abortion politician

That usually leads to a change of tactics. Some Catholics will then argue that no candidate is pro-life, so we are free to vote for whoever we think is less evil. That’s a topic for another time and beyond the scope of this article. But a short answer for this time would be that such a claim has to be proven, not just assumed to be true.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Quick Quips: Election Errors Edition

Now that we finished the conventions, Catholics on social media are…pretty much doing the same thing they’ve been doing since January. That is to say, fighting over what is the best way to deal with a bleak field of candidates to choose from. The problem with that is we get to hear the same arguments we’ve heard for another four months. When they’re wrong, that gets annoying.

As I’ve said elsewhere, my policy is not putting my personal political decisions on my blog. I do this so people won’t confuse my opinions with Church teaching. Instead I try to talk about Church teaching and what follows from that. So, what I plan to do is analyze a few errors in hopes that people will stop using them.

Arguments of Third Party Voting—and the forgotten Catholic obligation

In my circles, I’m hearing more Catholics debate voting for a Third Party than I heard before (my first election was 1988). That alarms people who believe one of the major parties supports evil and that the other major party opposes it. The argument is that a Third Party vote (I’m lumping in write-in candidates and declining to vote as well) will benefit the other party. 

In 2016, there are three groups who will vote Third Party:

  1. The voter who normally votes Republican but votes Third Party out of disgust for Trump.
  2. The voter who normally votes Democrat but votes Third Party out of disgust for Hillary.
  3. The voter who never votes for a major party.

1) The voter who normally votes for the Republicans but votes for a Third Party this time does subtract one vote from the Republicans but does not affect the votes for the Democrats. That means the Republicans have one less vote while the Democrats’ tally stays unchanged. So yes, in that case, the change of support does impact the election by harming the Republicans but not the Democrats.

2) But, this cuts both ways. If Republicans disgusted with the Republican party leads to voting Third Party and harming the Republicans, the same principle applies for the Democrats who vote Third Party out of disgust for Hillary. Each Democrat who votes this way impacts the Democratic Party in the same way that it affected Republicans in the first case.

3) The voter who has never voted for a third party to begin with does not affect the Democrat vs. Republican ratio unless they decide to vote for a major party.

So, to discover how the third party vote affects the election, we have to discover how many of each major party defects to the minor parties and how that impacts their totals in each state. Sometimes it doesn’t impact much. Sometimes it has a major impact.

Take Florida 2000. Whether or not you think it was fair (in other words, no arguments in the comments), George W. Bush won the state by about 500 votes. But 97,000 voters chose Ralph Nader from the Green Party. 12,000 voters chose Pat Buchanan from the Reform Party. If the 97,000 Greens supported Al Gore and the 12,000 Reform party voters supported George W. Bush, then Al Gore would have won Florida by ~84,500 votes. Or if the Buchanan voters would have voted for Bush while the Green votes stayed unchanged, Bush would have won by ~11,500. In one scenario, the election results would have changed. In both cases, nobody would have contested the Florida vote. So yes, a third party vote can impact the election.

But before anyone starts bashing the third party supporters, let’s not forget one crucial thing: conscience. Catholics have the obligation to properly form their conscience and may never do what they believe to be evil. So, if a person’s conscience condemns a vote for both major parties, he cannot ignore his conscience. We cannot do evil so good may come of it. So, as frustrating as it may be for the champions of a major party, one Catholic can’t accuse a second Catholic with a properly formed conscience of enabling evil just because they vote differently.

So people should stop sniping and have a civil dialogue on what voting means in terms of Catholics seeking to promote good and limit evil. Our task should be to find a greater understanding of our obligations, not to defeat “the other side."

Misinterpretation of "Proportionate Reasons"

Another problem is Catholics arguing over whether one may vote for a pro-abortion rights candidate. Back in 2004, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a memorandum on politicians, voting and the Eucharist. The part that involved non-politicians read as follows:

[N.B. 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.] 

Catholics argue about what a proportionate reason is every four years. But most don’t seem to know that the terms are technical. “Remote material cooperation” and “proportionate reasons” have specific meaning in moral theology which discover guilt or innocence (see HERE for my explanation). Briefly, remote material cooperation means an action which is doesn’t directly cause the evil but does help bring it about. Proportionate reason is not something the individual decides. We don’t say X+Y+Z > abortion. What it means is, if our action allows an evil, the reason for the action had better outweigh the evil. So, if America kills 1 million unborn children a year, the evil we’re trying to stop had better outweigh those 1 million killings we think we need to tolerate so we can oppose it.

The problem is, none of the other issues in 2016 outweighs the evil of abortion. Yes, both parties support intrinsic evil. But, in limiting evil, we must never allow a greater evil in the name of stopping one which does less harm. Does that mean we let other intrinsic evils go? No, it does not. It means we oppose the President on them. But we need to understand which act does greater harm when deciding how we vote to limit evil.

The Execrable Term “Pope Francis Catholic” 

Popefrancis catholic

The secular media has taken to calling Catholics who dissent from Church teaching, “Pope Francis Catholics.” By this, they mean Catholics who put social justice in contrast to opposing abortion and other moral evils. The problem is, this is not what Pope Francis understands by Catholicism. The Pope has condemned the same things his predecessors condemned and promoted the same mercy they promoted. He neither changed teaching nor condoned what the Church has always called evil. A Catholic who supports Social Justice while rejecting Church teaching on abortion, contraception, same sex “marriage” is not a “Pope Francis Catholic. He is a dissenting Catholic.

Perhaps, not coincidentally, this week is the third anniversary of the media and Papal critics grossly distorted the words “Who am I to judge,” portraying his statement that he would not judge the past of a priest who repented as if he supported changing Church teaching. Never mind that the transcript clearly pointed out that he considered himself “a son of the Church” and in accord with the Church on these issues.

Let’s remember that what the Pope says and does is vastly different than what he is falsely portrayed as being. If you study the writings of Pope Francis and his writings before he became Pope, it is clear his beliefs and practices are entirely in keeping with his predecessors. You can only find “changed teaching” if you start with the unproven assumption that he plans on changing Church teaching (begging the question).


I wrote this Quick Quips edition because some Catholics make false statements, either condemning Catholics who do no wrong or defending Catholics who do wrong. Of course no blog has magisterial authority and I don’t pretend to bind and loose. Nor do I pretend to know which Catholics are simply mistaken or which are acting dishonestly. All I can do is describe what seems wrong and encourage people to reflect on these things.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is Voting 'None of the Above' the Least Evil Choice for 2012?

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Why, then, the war would come to you!
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets another fight for his cause
Should take care:
He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle will not avoid battle.
Since not to fight for your own cause
Really means
Fighting on behalf of your enemy's cause

—Bertolt Brecht


In my last article I wrote about my revised maxim of voting based on what seems to reasonably follow from Church teaching.  My conclusion was that we needed to discern which was the least evil before deciding to vote for the opposition party vs. not voting or voting for a Third Party.  That article was more of a general principle to consider.  This time, especially in light of recent evidence of hostility to the Church, I think it is time to ask whether it is true that voting for a third party/no party is in fact the least evil.

I started off with this controversial poem because I believe it does illustrate the issue which must be considered when choosing how to vote in 2012.  I am not saying that whoever votes for a third party or declines to vote is guilty of refusing to fight.  Rather, I am saying we must consider whether such a vote will result in a greater evil.

Catholics always need to remember that a mindset of always voting for Party [X] is not a proper attitude.  Party views change over time and must always be reevaluated in light of the unchanging truths given to us by Christ.


This kind of article runs the risk of being perceived as being motivated by partisanship because it will judge the reality of the Political Parties.  Nowadays, labels of conservative or liberal are slapped on everything as a substitute to thinking.  However, this article is an attempt to work philosophically using the reality of the political situation and the teachings of the Church in search of an answer.

I am NOT trying to claim that the conclusion I reach is one which is binding under the pain of sin however.  Rather it is a case of, "Given what we know, what seems to be the least evil?"

Also, please keep in mind I am primarily thinking of the Presidential election.  Some Congressional and local elections may have the same considerations.  Others may have candidates who differ from the norm of each political party (There are Pro-Life Democrats out there and Pro-Abortion Republicans for example).

Depending on who the Republicans nominate (it seems a foregone conclusion that Obama will again be the Democratic nominee), the situation may change from what I am exploring in 2011, as there will be a specific candidate to evaluate.

Ultimately this article will conclude with a statement that I do not know what is the least evil (so that will save you some time wading through it) but it is my hope that when it comes to making such a decision, this article will give the person some things to consider.

And, as always, this blog should never be interpreted in a way that is in opposition to the Magisterium of the Church.  The reader who wants to use this article to refute Bishop X uses this article wrongly.

Four Voting Choices for 2012

For Catholics in 2012, we essentially have four options for the Presidential elections.  These are:

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Hopefully we shall add some clarity as to how we should consider them as options.

The Reality of the Two Party System

The United States is effectively a two-party system.  Yes we do have minor parties, and yes we did have a situation where one political party became extinct and was replaced by another once.  However, barring a major upheaval, the person elected to the presidency in 2012 will either be a Democrat or a Republican.  Not a member of the Reform Party, Green Party, American Independent Party or a Libertarian.  This is because far too few American voters will vote for a third party.

Therefore a vote for a minor party or not voting will not change the outcome without massive dissatisfaction with the system which does not appear to be present at this time.

However, a third party vote can play a "spoiler" role.  In the 2000 elections, Ralph Nader running on the Green party ticket split the Democratic party vote.  If those 97,488 Green Party votes in Florida had gone to Al Gore instead of to Ralph Nader, Al Gore would have been elected regardless of issues with hanging chads and butterfly ballots (Gore lost Florida by 537 votes).

What we can learn from this is that so long as we have a two-party system, a liberal voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Republicans and a conservative voting for a third party or not voting will benefit the Democrats.  An undecided voting for a third party or not voting will merely reduce the voting pool by 1.

So, to sum up:

  1. The US is essentially a two party system
  2. We will continue to be a two party system unless there is such a wide level of disgust against both parties that a third party seems to be a good alternative.
  3. Voting for a third party or not voting will not change the fact that, unless there is a (currently non existent) wide level of disgust with both parties, either a Democrat or a Republican will be elected to the presidency in 2012.

The Lesser of TWO Evils

We can see from this that the statement "lesser of two evils" is still true even if one should vote for a third party.  We need then to look at the positions of the two parties in relation to Church teaching.  It seems to me there are four basic positions a party can have.  This list is done from the perspective of best to worst.

  1. The party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.
  2. The party agrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but not lesser issues.
  3. The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on lesser issues.
  4. The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues.

Now there can be differing degrees of agreement (from lukewarm to fervent) and disagreement (from indifference to hostility).  So if both parties were in category #1, a fervent support would be superior to a lukewarm support and if both were in category #4, indifference would be a lesser evil than outright hostility.

Now, I think we can agree that neither party falls into category #1 (party agrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  Nor does either party fall into category #4 (The party disagrees with the Church on both intrinsic issues and lesser issues).  So it seems that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party will either fall into category #2 or #3.  Category #2 is superior to #3 – not because the "lesser" issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that to fail to be with the Church is disastrous for the nation.

What are the Intrinsic Issues?

The Church teaches the following are vital, and cannot be denied without dehumanizing people and creating an evil society (evil meaning a severe lack moving away from the good):

  1. The fundamental right to life from conception to natural death.
  2. The recognition of the heterosexual family as the building block of society.
  3. The freedom to practice one's faith free from government coercion.

To deny #1 would be to claim that one person has the right to arbitrarily end the right to life of another person and that some lives are worth less than others.  To deny #2 is to weaken the basic building block on which society is based.  To deny #3 is to claim that the government has the right to coerce a person to act against what they believe is right.

So, in practical terms, a party which supported abortion on demand, euthanasia and the like would be violating #1.  A party which sought to give the same standing to homosexual "marriage" and other non-family sexual relationships as to the traditional family would be violating #2.  The party which sought to interfere with institutions run by a religious group or to institute policies which force a person to choose between his beliefs and his livelihood would be violating #3.

With this in mind, we can look at the two big political parties and see where each party falls.

This is Where the Risk of Being Accused of Being Partisan Comes into Play

(Again, I want to make this clear: It is not that other issues are unimportant, but rather because the intrinsic issues are so important that they cannot be ignored or made out to seem less important than, say, immigration or health care reform).

I think this is where a person who dislikes what I have to say will find an excuse to accuse me of partisanship, so let me again clarify that I am not writing with the perspective that disagreeing with me is sinful.  I am writing from the position that based on Church teaching, while there is not a good and a bad, there is a worst and a less bad when it comes to the positions of the two parties, and we need to acknowledge this to make an informed decision on how we should vote.

I think it is obvious that the Obama administration is not only opposed to the Church on these intrinsic issues, but is actually hostile to the Church on these issues.  In the four categories I mentioned earlier, the Democratic Party, so far as national office goes, seems to be defined as #3: The party disagrees with the Church on intrinsic issues but agrees on some lesser issues.

So how does the Republican Party fare on the issues?  They generally seem to be anywhere from lukewarm to moderate in favor of the Church position on these issues.  Yes, their support is far less than it should be, and they seem to be half-hearted about defending these issues.  In some states (New York for example), the party is actually in opposition to the Church on these issues.  However, we can be sure that the Republicans will not introduce new legislation which increases these evils.

The Republican candidates do seem to be in opposition of varied levels to some of the social teachings of the Church.  I was certainly appalled watching the Republican debate hearing the major candidates seeming to take positions which were against the Church understanding on justice.  However, on the intrinsic issues, the Republican Party at least gives them token support in contrast to the hostility of the Democratic Party.  So, we would most probably put them right on the edge of group #2.  Their support is not so low as to claim they are opposed to the Church teaching on intrinsic issues, but they are not fervent supporters.

This leaves us with this assessment of the two parties:

  • The Democratic Party is strongly hostile towards the teaching of the Catholic Church on intrinsic issue and agrees with the Church on some lesser issues.
  • The Republican Party gives lukewarm support for the Catholic teaching on intrinsic issues and tends to disagree on some lesser issues.

Lukewarm support is better than active hostility, so it seems that of the two parties, the Democratic Party is the greatest evil in the 2012 Presidential elections at least.

Therefore one choice is eliminated as being acceptable for Catholic voters. 

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Now we must ask about the remaining three choices.

Is the Third Party or Not Voting An Acceptable Choice?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

—Attributed to Edmund Burke

Again, like it was with the Bertolt Brecht poem, I am not saying that the Third Party vote or declining to vote is the equivalent of good men doing nothing.  Rather I am saying all must consider the consequences of their vote and form their conscience with the teaching of the Church.

So if we recognize that a party which is expressly hostile to the Catholic Church on these issues is the greater evil, and if we recognize that the third party or non-vote will not change the fact that the 2012 elections will either put a Democrat or a Republican in the White House, it seems that the Catholic pondering such a vote must consider whether his vote will promote the least evil or whether it will help enable the greater evil to be elected.

Now of course, the person does not intend the bad end of allowing the greater end of allowing the worst candidate to be elected.  If they did will such an end, that would be sinful indeed.

But to be honest, it truly is a hard call in making a decision for 2012.  The American political scene is truly wretched for Catholics.  There is no "good" party to vote for.  Rather we merely have the choice of which is the least offensive choice – which is the least harmful to the state of souls in America.

As a personal opinion, I believe the option to decline to vote is not acceptable to Catholics.  That is essentially a state of good men doing nothing.  This would leave us with either the option of voting for a third party or voting for the lesser of two evils.  This eliminates another choice and leaves us with two.

  1. A vote for the Democratic Party
  2. A vote for the Republican Party
  3. A vote for a Minor Party
  4. Declining to vote

Some Considerations in Voting for a Third Party (Personal Opinions to follow)

One argued reason to vote for a third party, in light of the fact that it tends to benefit the opposition seems to be to send a warning to the party that it must change its ways or lose support.  I think (again, personal opinion here) that such a response is valid on those occasions when a candidate adopts a position which is in opposition to Church teaching (in California, we've had elections where both parties were pro-abortion and I've felt obligated to vote for a third party).  When this is not the case I think (personal opinion) we need to be very cautious in taking this route.

It's long been a dream of mine that for one election, all Catholics refuse to vote for the two main parties to send them a warning that our vote counts.  However a priest I once knew gave a response which reflects the sad truth of American Catholics.  To paraphrase, he said Catholics aren't a bloc.  They're as divided as the rest of the country so this could never happen.

Sadly, I think he was right.  So the idea of sending a message to a party will likely never be effective barring an unforeseen upheaval in this nation.

So ultimately, I believe there is only one valid reason to vote for a third party in 2012, and that is the reason of conscience.  For some people, conscience simply forbids them to vote for the Republicans.  If an individual's conscience convicts them that they would do evil in voting for either party, then they must follow their conscience rather than do what they think is evil… but they must be sure their conscience is formed in harmony with Church teaching (this last part is not personal opinion).

The Catholic Task is Not Done on November 6th 2012

However, whether one chooses the Republican Party as the least evil choice or whether one feels they cannot vote for either major party in good conscience, our task is not over on November 6th 2012 (Election Day).  Whichever party wins in 2012, we are obligated to stand and speak out about what the nation must do and must reject.  If the victorious party goes the wrong way on an issue, we are obligated to voice our objections and not merely say, "Hey I voted, that's enough."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reflections on the Moral Responsibility in Determining the Lesser of Two Evils

How are we to determine the lesser evil when it comes to voting when both candidates fail in some aspects according to the teaching of the Catholic Church?

Preliminary Note: A couple of weeks back, when the Republican Debate was on CNN, I found myself morally troubled by some of the candidate's positions in terms of the Catholic teaching on social justice.  Since then, I was thinking of the whole concept of the lesser of two evils and how we need to view our faith in relation to the political parties.  While we're still over a year away from the elections, it is important for us to remember how we need to unite ourselves with Christ and what we need to consider in discerning what is a lesser evil.


To be honest I found myself with misgivings with some of the Republican candidates .  Their stands on certain issues of social justice seems to fall short of the Catholic teaching on social justice (not merely the liberal buzzword either).

On the other hand, Obama's position on abortion and homosexual "marriage" and religious freedom not only falls short of the Catholic position, but is utterly in opposition to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.  He actively supports things which the Catholic Church must call evil if she is to be faithful to the teachings of Christ.

So what is the candidate to do when, even if we should like some of the views of one candidate, his views are contrary to the teachings of the Church in critical ways?

We CANNOT Just Freely Vote for Whoever We Might Prefer

Ultimately, we must realize that in cases where neither political party is in line with the Catholic teaching, we are NOT free to simply vote for who we might otherwise prefer.  Certain actions are more harmful to individuals and to the state as a whole than others.  In other words, you can't vote for Mussolini just because the other party can't make the trains run on time for example.

If we are to endure the lesser evil, we must discern the greater evil that must be opposed.

It might be good to refer to a fundamental insight from Aristotle's Rhetoric (Book 1 Chapter 7):

A thing which surpasses another may be regarded as being that other thing plus something more, and that other thing which is surpassed as being what is contained in the first thing. Now to call a thing 'greater' or 'more' always implies a comparison of it with one that is 'smaller' or 'less', while 'great' and 'small', 'much' and 'little', are terms used in comparison with normal magnitude. The 'great' is that which surpasses the normal, the 'small' is that which is surpassed by the normal; and so with 'many' and 'few'.

So, when it comes to discerning the greater evil, it means it will do more evil than the lesser evil.

On Greater and Lesser Evil

We need to distinguish something first of all.  To say [A] is worse than [B] does not mean [B] is not evil.  It is simply to say that when being forced to choose between [A] and [B], [A] will do more harm physically or spiritually and therefore needs a more urgent effort than [B] if we cannot choose a selection which gives us neither evil.

In terms of Church teaching and politics, this means we recognize that both [A] and [B] run afoul of Church teaching, but [A] is a greater evil which we must witness against.  We must still oppose [B], but if it is impossible to have neither [A] nor [B] we must stop the greater evil first.

The Culture of Death

We must oppose the mindset that some human life is not worth protecting.

Abortion and Euthanasia are actions which come from the view that some life does not have value and is better off ended.  The unborn or the infirm/elderly are seen as not possessing life which is worth preserving.  Politicians who support these "rights" and enshrine them law are guilty of moving society in a direction which treats certain life as being without value.

So before we could label a candidate who supports abortion as a "lesser evil," there must be a case where candidate treats even more lives as having no value.  For example, a candidate who supports infanticide would be a greater evil than a candidate who only supports abortion.  However I would absolutely reject the idea that wanting to reduce the dollar amount given to social programs is a greater evil than saying the unborn and the elderly possess lives not worth protecting and sanctioning the arbitrary ending of these human lives.

Proportionate Reasons

We need to remember another Catholic teaching.  Even if one does not directly do an evil act (which is always forbidden) we can still have moral responsibility if our act aids an evil act, making it possible.  The more essential our action is to the performing of an evil act, the greater the justification is required to avoid culpability in sin.

For example, the gas station attendant who pumps gas into any vehicle that comes along is less responsible for supplying gasoline to a van which drives women to an abortion clinic than the driver of that van who willingly takes the women to that clinic or the owner of the building who rents space to the abortion clinic.

If we know that our actions will cause evil, we are obligated to oppose this evil and not enable it.  When it comes to voting for a candidate, Catholics must realize that a vote for a person who supports a thing the Church teaches is evil is an action which allows the politician to make this evil legally sanctioned by the government.

So it follows:

  1. The person who votes for a candidate BECAUSE he supports that evil undeniably sins.
  2. The person who votes for a candidate IN SPITE OF his support for that evil is obligated that he must justify his vote before God, and the greater the evil, the greater the justification must be.

Archbishop Chaput, when he was in Denver, wrote in 2008:

9. 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.

That's a strong indictment.  He's saying that abortion is such a great evil, that to vote for a candidate supports abortion  requires such a strong reason that we will not be ashamed to explain it to Christ at the final judgment.

So the person who claims that they are justified to vote for a pro-abortion candidate has to give justification.  It's not enough to say you're voting for pro-abortion candidate [A] because you're opposed to candidate [B] because of his position on Social Security.

It's human life at stake with abortion.


Catholics need to stop thinking in terms of, "Well neither candidate is fully Catholic so I am free to vote for whoever I want."  We have the somber duty to reject (vote against) the greater evil while challenging the lesser evil to change their ways.

It is clear that right now, abortion is the gravest evil facing America because it is an evil which decides some human lives are not worth living.  If you want to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, you MUST be able to justify your position by pointing to the greater evil you think is a greater than the slaughter of over 1 million unborn children EVERY year in America.

Think of it.  Catholics must think of the unborn as human lives – not subhuman lives which mean less than adults.  So we must recognize that abortion is not merely one issue of many.

When Election Day 2012 comes around, we are all obligated to seriously consider these things and remember our vote has moral consequences which we must answer for before God.