Showing posts with label remote action. Show all posts
Showing posts with label remote action. 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).

Conclusion

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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Proportionate Reasons and Voting: Understanding the Ratzinger Memorandum

73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus 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. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1–7; 1 Pet 2:13–14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

 

 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995).

During every election season, we have to watch certain Catholic voters try to justify their intent to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, saying that the Church actually permits their action. So inevitably, people will march out the the words of then Cardinal Ratzinger in his 2004 memorandum on the issue of politicians and whether or not they could receive the Eucharist. The final section of this document, in brackets, addresses the issue of the Catholic that votes for the politician who supports abortion and euthanasia. The words in question are:

[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.] 

The problem is, people are giving this paragraph an interpretation without even knowing what the terms in question actually mean. Instead, they treat it as if the then cardinal meant that it was OK to do what they feel like doing. But that is not what the terminology means.  There are three categories to consider:

  1. Material Cooperation (as opposed to formal cooperation)
  2. Remote Action (as opposed to direct action)
  3. Proportionate Reason
In order to properly interpret this section of the memorandum, we need to understand what these concepts mean. They’re not mere words. They are in fact categories of moral theology which are used to determine whether or not we should do something. So let us look at each term and see what they mean.
 
Understanding the Terms
 
Those who were going to vote for a pro-abortion candidate anyway (even if not for the issue of abortion) cite this memorandum as if it meant that so long as the person does not vote for the candidate because he is pro-abortion it means a person can vote for him for other reasons the person thinks are important. But that is to miss the point of what material cooperation is. Moral theologian Germain Grisez describes material cooperation this way:

Obviously, if the act by which a person materially cooperates is itself sinful, the material cooperation also is sinful. But even if that act otherwise would be morally acceptable, the material cooperation sometimes is not permissible. Material cooperation in others’ objectively wrong acts involves accepting as side effects of one’s own acts both their contribution to the wrongdoing and its harmful effects; however, one is responsible not only for what one intends and chooses, but also, though not in the same way, for what one accepts as side effects (see CMP, 9.F). In materially cooperating in others’ wrong acts, therefore, a person bears some responsibility, and it is necessary to consider whether one is justified in accepting the bad side effects or not.
 

The engineer, the locksmith, and the legislators of the preceding examples may well be justified in their material cooperation. But suppose the owner of a gun store happens to learn that a regular customer uses guns and ammunition purchased there to fulfill contracts for murder. In continuing to sell the merchandise simply for the sake of profit, the owner would only materially cooperate in bringing about the victims’ deaths, but would hardly be justified in accepting that side effect.
 

Assuming cooperation is material and the act by which it is carried out otherwise would be morally good, the question is whether one has an adequate reason to do that act in view of its bad side effects. Often, one bad side effect of material cooperation is the temptation to cooperate formally. For someone who begins by cooperating materially in many cases already has or soon develops an interpersonal relationship with the wrongdoer and thus is led to deeper involvement, including a sharing of purposes. For example, whenever friends, relatives, or members of any group or society materially cooperate, solidarity inclines them to hope for the success of the wrongdoing which they are helping. Thus, material cooperation easily becomes the occasion of the sin of formal cooperation. Then it should be dealt with in the same way as other occasions of sin (see 4.D.3), and may be excluded on this basis alone.

 

 Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Volume Two: Living a Christian Life (Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 1997), 441–442.

To apply it to our issue, voting is not a sinful act by itself. But the way we vote may indeed be sinful if we cause harm in doing so. Just because a voter may not be voting for a pro-abortion politician because of their stand on abortion, this does not excuse the voter’s action. One has to consider the consequences of their vote, even though they do not personally support that consequence. Given that abortion in America alone takes over one million human lives each year, that’s a pretty serious reason that has to exist to justify voting for a politician who openly states they will continue to keep this legal.

Likewise, remote cooperation involves actions which do not directly cause the act, but still make it possible for the act to happen. If a person knows the results of his actions will bring about evil, even if unintended, the person has an obligation to try to avoid causing that evil to the best of their ability.

Finally, the term “proportionate reason” does not refer to the personal opinion of what an individual wants. It works more like this—if a limb is gangrenous, removal of that limb is a proportionate reason for amputation. If the limb is healthy, removal of the limb is not justified. So, when it comes to voting for a pro-abortion candidate, one has to ask what sort of condition exists that gives a proportionate reason for voting for a pro-abortion candidate. 

So, when we see then Cardinal Ratzinger’s phrase, “it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons,” what it really means is this:

The action of voting for a pro-abortion politician without directly supporting abortion does make the moral evil possible (material cooperation). That action is remote because, while it does not directly cause abortion, it still makes the continuation of abortion possible. Therefore, a vote for such a candidate requires a reason that justifies electing a person who will defend the right to abort over one million babies a year.

Conclusion

Archbishop Chaput has really laid it out on the line on what this proportionate reason involves, and his description really points out how superficially people have interpreted the memorandum. In 2008, he wrote:

One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false “right” to abortion. We sin if we support “pro-choice” candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so—that is, a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would such a “proportionate” reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions—as we someday will.

Chaput, Charles J. (2008-08-12). Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (pp. 229-230). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And that is the long and short of it. Exactly what is the reason that is so serious that it justifies temporarily setting aside the fight against the evil of abortion? It would have to be a serious reason. But when you ask the Catholic who plans to support a pro-abortion candidate what this great evil is, they don’t answer. Why aren’t these people sharing their information with the rest of us?

I think what this behavior shows is that the Catholic who votes for the pro-abortion politician “for other reasons” [†] is not really convinced that abortion is such a grave moral evil. Perhaps they give the teaching lip service, but they think that it is only one issue among many. They misuse the seamless garment imagery by promoting the causes they care about as being equally important as abortion, when they are not. Indeed, all other rights depend on the right to life. St. John Paul II made clear that without the defense of life, the rest of the issues become meaningless:

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of therights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change-let alone eliminate-them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fĂ­nds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination. (Christifideles Laici #38)

I’ll leave you with this thought: St. John Paul II called the other concerns “false and illusory” when the right to life is not defended. I think that, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot call our current partisan political concerns a proportionate reason to justify a vote for a pro-abortion candidate. Yes, all of the current slate of candidates fall short on one issue or another and, regardless of who is elected, we have to oppose that person where they fall short. But we cannot set aside the issue of life in favor of our favorite positions. We cannot let our ideology take priority over our moral obligation as Catholics, even if it means we have to make hard decisions on how to cast our ballot.

 

__________________________

Digressions

[†] The Catholic who votes for a candidate because they support “abortion rights” is guilty of formal cooperation with evil and therefore shares in the crime.