Sunday, October 24, 2004

Voting Catholic

Catholics all over the United States are being asked to view a video presentation this weekend on Faithful Citizenship, A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility. With much controversy in the Catholic Community about Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry's position on many moral issues, the Church has taken unprecedented steps to inform Catholic voters of their obligation to support Christian ethics at the polls.

John Kerry calls himself a Catholic, but he supports abortion rights and voted against the ban on partial birth abortion. He supports embryonic stem cell research, and opposes a federal law that would prohibit same-sex marriage. As an active accomplice to intrinsically evil acts, a number of bishops have banned Kerry from receiving Holy Communion. Incumbent President Bush, though not Catholic, stands much more closely aligned with Church teaching on all of these issues.

Traditionally Democratic Catholics find themselves in a dilemma. Any time President Bush tries to appoint a conservative, and presumably pro-life, federal judge, the Democrats block the nomination. Assuming one or two Supreme Court Justices could be appointed during the next four years, the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade may hinge on the upcoming election. It is probably no coincidence that Catholic Bishops have become uncharacteristically vocal about exercising moral responsibility at the voting booth.

Complicating the matter is the perception, mostly perpetrated by the Democrats and the liberal press, that President Bush grossly erred in leading the country into an Iraqi War where more than 1000 Americans have given their lives. Some Catholic priests and bishops have openly preached against the war, and by implication, against the current administration. Many consider their vote to be choosing between the lesser of two evils. Combine this fact with the effort by some to deny tax-exempt status for religious communities who have become too vocal in the political arena, and the result is a number of somewhat ambiguous mandates for political responsibility by Catholic voters.

The video presentation at our parish this evening took about eighteen minutes. It was followed by a discussion among the twenty or so participants, monitored by a parishioner well-known as a leader in the local Democratic party. He raised several questions about how we as Catholics can support all moral issues while not turning our backs on those who are less fortunate than we are. The implication seemed to be that while the abortion issue is important, that voting for the other candidate also carries its share of societal immorality.

Another parishioner, once a high ranking army officer, spoke on the abortion issue saying that the Church has always taught that it is wrong, and we must support this teaching if we are to be faithful Catholics. The moderator did not disagree, but kept coming back to the notion that choices are difficult when other considerations come into play. Our pastor made a remark about God's Law taking precedence over our Civil Law or something to that effect.

The video, like all other statements from the Church regarding the election, never mentions any candidate by name. Even those participating in the discussion were not mentioning names -- at least not until I spoke up! As the moderator seemed to be leading us into a consensus of a no-win situation, I pointed out that the abortion is the key issue here. The possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade is prompting all of this activism within the Church. During the next four years, one or two vacancies on the Supreme Court could occur. If George Bush is re-elected, the possibility exists that abortion rights could be limited or overturned. If John Kerry is elected, there is no chance it will happen.

Our Democrat moderator then asked me a question. "What if George Bush drops a nuclear weapon on Afghanistan and kills another thousand people?" I replied by saying first of all, George Bush is not going to do that. (Afghanistan was holding its first presidential election this very weekend, possibly unbeknownst to our moderator.) Secondly, we don't know whether our situation would be better or worse had John Kerry been president the past four years. An older woman sitting with her husband across from me snapped back that their grandson was serving in Iraq and he had no business being there.

I replied that it's easy to look back and say, 'we should not have done this' or 'we should have done that.' I asked how many lives are being saved because Saddam Hussein is no longer conducting mass killings of Iraqi citizens. The question now is, which of the two candidates more closely aligns themselves with Catholic teaching. The abortion stance is a good moral barometer for determining the basic character of the candidate, and likely indicates how that person will respond to the basic needs of those who are unable to defend themselves.

In view of Church teaching, no faithful Catholic can cast a vote for John Kerry. Doing so puts one in jeopardy of being an accessory to evil should Kerry's election result in the proliferation of abortion. (How's that for an oxymoron?) The non-choice for Catholics on election day is clear. Yet, George Bush did not follow Church teaching either in the invasion of Iraq. Can we make a distinction between him and his opponent in terms of moral responsibility?

One may certainly argue that had George Bush not invaded Iraq, more that a thousand American soldiers would still be alive today. So would hundreds of terrorists. An evil dictator would still be in power and his people would still be living in hopeless fear. Who knows how many others innocent people, now living, would have died at his hands? We just don't know. We do know that the President did nothing intrinsically evil, even by Church standards. The Church allows for Just Wars under certain circumstances. Whether the Iraq war can be justified is certainly debatable. The President did what he thought was the necessary thing to do in view of the information he had, and that decision was supported at the time by most others in Congress, including John Kerry. The real question involves which issues are subject to debate.

Catholic Answers, Karl Keating's lay apostolate, has published a Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics which lists five non-negotiable issues which no Catholic can support. Those five issues are Abortion, Euthanasia, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, and Same-sex Marriage. The statement on their web site says, "It is a serious sin to deliberately endorse or promote any of these actions, and no candidate who really wants to advance the common good will support any action contrary to the non-negotiable principles involved in these issues." These are five issues where debate is not an option for Catholics.

Generally speaking, the Republican platform comes closest to the Catholic position on all of these issues, while the Democrats typically stand in opposition. Never has this polarization been more evident. Pro-life Democrats exist, but they are few and far between, especially on the State and Federal level. The Florida Supreme Court recently declared that Terri Schiavo's feeding tube can be removed to allow the brain-damaged woman to slowly starve to death. Many states are now allowing homosexual unions, and a federal bill to prevent same-sex marriage was recently defeated in the Senate. Even human cloning is certain to become a divisive issue when someone figures out how to do it.

While much of the current political rhetoric focuses on Iraq, the Christian conservatives are quietly girding their loins in preparation for an election day attack on Kerry and like-minded liberals. For once, practicing Catholics may be following suit. Past social concerns that may have attracted them to the Democratic party, have been overshadowed by outrage over a 'Catholic' voting against a ban on partial birth abortion. With the polls predicting a close race, an unusually large Christian turnout is likely in November.

If we as Catholics are serious about our citizenship responsibilities, we must cast our votes for candidates who do not violate the basic principles of our Faith. To do otherwise is a grave sin. Many life-long Catholic Democrats justify their votes with concocted moral loopholes. They may say that both Presidential Candidates have moral deficiencies thereby allowing some justifiable discretion for staying within party lines. They may argue that John Kerry does not like abortion, but respects its legality under the Constitution whereas George Bush is a warmonger who is responsible for many unnecessary deaths. The fact is, any mistakes the President may have made were not motivated by an ideology rooted in evil.

Others may say that the President does not have the power to overturn Roe v. Wade anyway, so whichever candidate is elected will make little difference. This is simply not true. Presidents appoint federal judges. During the past four years, every conservative judicial nominee named by President Bush has been opposed by the Democrats. Many of these judges may someday be in a position to decide cases relevant to the non-negotiable Catholic issues.

The outcome of the November election will directly affect the moral direction this country takes. We can not support those who are allied with the culture of death. To do so contributes to the acceptance of evil in our society. We can put pressure on the Democratic party to moderate their platform to more closely conform to mainstream Christian values by sending a message in November. It is our duty as Catholic Americans.