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THE BISHOP'S VOICE: Voting and the common good

By MOST REV. MICHAEL SHERIDAN
09/18/2020 | Comments

There was a time when voting for one or another political party or candidate was an exercise of the virtue of prudence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as “the virtue which disposes a person to discern the good and choose the correct means to accomplish it.”

When both political parties sought the common good, it was only a matter of judging which one presented the better means to achieve that end. That time has come to an end. No longer can we judge both political parties as equally promoting the common good.

There are many issues confronting a serious voter: e.g., immigration, the economy, health care, and more. It is a matter of prudential judgement as to which party offers the better path to achieving the good in each area. There are, however, issues that are not a matter of prudential judgement — issues that are, in Catholic teaching, intrinsically evil. These have to do with the dignity of all human life. At the top of the list of those which are evil, in and of themselves, is abortion. This means that there are no circumstances or considerations that could ever make abortion an acceptable moral choice.  And that is why a serious voter — especially a serious Catholic voter — must be fully aware of what his or her candidate of choice is promoting regarding the crime of abortion.

It would serve us well to have a clear understanding of the Church’s teaching on choosing or promoting evil acts — in the context of voting.  Here it is a question of cooperation in evil.  It is always immoral and sinful to formally cooperate in evil. One who formally cooperates in evil actually intends the evil act to occur or otherwise directly contributes to the act. It can be reasonably assumed that, if a Catholic votes for a pro-abortion candidate, that voter does not necessarily intend the act of abortion to take place. 

But what are we to do when a candidate is clearly pro-abortion and promises to do all he or she can to ensure that abortions may continue to be procured but, at the same time, supports policies that are praiseworthy? May one vote for such a candidate? It is in this situation that one may be materially cooperating with evil, even if not formally cooperating.

The Church teaches that even material cooperation in evil may be sinful. For example, providing the material that is necessary for the immoral act to occur, such as providing the money for an abortion, is also a sinful act.  Even contributing to an evil act that does not lead to the commission of that act may be sinful. Here is where the conscientious voter must carefully discern.

When one contributes to an evil act that does not lead to the commission of the act, that person may not incur guilt if there is a proportionately serious reason to do so. For example, I do not support or promote abortion, but I want to vote for a candidate who is clearly pro-abortion only because he is in favor of many other laudable policies. Now I must ask the question: What other policies are proportionately good enough to outweigh the continuation of the murder of one million babies a year? The answer is clear: None! 

When we go to the polls, it is sometimes a matter of voting for a particular piece of legislation. This will be the case for Colorado voters in November. Proposition 115, if passed, would prevent the abortion of a baby after 22 weeks of gestation. The only exception to the prohibition would be to save the life of the mother.

This is not a perfect piece of legislation, but it is a significant step forward in saving the lives of many babies.  The bishops of Colorado strongly endorse Proposition 115 and ask for your vote. Again, what possible proportionate good could result from doing otherwise?

Every Catholic is obliged to seek a well-formed conscience through prayer and assent to the teachings of the Church. I have asked, by way of your pastors, that every Catholic commit to praying the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary every day until election day (and beyond, if necessary), asking Our Blessed Mother to intercede with her Son that we be given the local and national leaders that our state and country need.


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