No Moral Equivalence

This morning Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando brought to my attention a letter he just had published in the Orlando Sentinel regarding the priority of abortion in assessing the candidates in the upcoming election. Here is what he wrote:

“Jay Hamburg’s article Wednesday, ‘Evangelical: We Can Back Dems, Obama,’ inaccurately implied that Catholic leaders shared the positive assessment the Rev. Joel Hunter gave the ‘abortion plank’ of the Democratic Party’s platform.

“The bishops have gone on record stating just the opposite. And they are the ones who speak as the leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States–and not political operatives for one party or another who happen to be Catholic. In ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’ the bishops wrote that ‘opposing intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions’ and warned against a ‘moral equivalence’ that would make no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity.

“As we bishops wrote: ‘The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.’”

As Bishop Wenski succinctly notes, some issues must weigh more heavily than others in our deliberations, and at the top of the list must come the protection of innocent human lives. If someone derisively accuses us of “single issue” voting, we should reply that we’re “primary issue” voters, and as long as abortion on demand is the law of the land, that will be the primary issue, which can’t be equated with other important, yet secondary, concerns.

15 responses

  1. I am very happy to see my bishop speaking out definitively about the stance of our church regarding this issue. I pray many Catholics in this diocese read his response and begin to re-examine their consciences through the filter of the church to make better decisions at the ballot box.

    This seems to be coming to a head as we get closer to the elections as we saw some spirited commentary on your post “Speaker out of line”. I believe we must be careful not to devour one another on this topic by placing blame on leaders in our church for what they are perceived to do or not do.

    First, we must pray for the politians that their hearts will be open to the will of God regarding this issue. We must also pray for our bishops and priest to discern God’s will in what is right practically when it comes to dealing with these people. Lastly,we must also take some responsibility for trying to correct our brothers and sisters in our church following the instructions of Jesus himself in Matt 18:15-17. Are we not our brothers keeper? Is it not a good thing to admonish the sinner? Is it not a good thing for us to bring someone back into full communion with our Lord? I would pray that members of the the parishes where these politicians go to mass would step up and speak with these folks face to face quietly and tell them what a scandal they are causing to Jesus, their church and fellow parishoners. If that does not work then a few of them together should confront the person. If that does not work then they(as a group) should take the problem to their bishop(preferably in a sit down meeting at least in several letters from many people). If that does not work they should try Rome. By that time there should be such a public outrage by Catholics pressure would mount on the politician to change their public position or refrain from scandalizing our Lord by receiving communion.

    Leon please post this on the the “Speaker out of line” post if at all possible.

    God Bless,

  2. That’s all fine and good, but until ALL bishops start refusing communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians and start stripping supposedly Catholic Universities of their right to call themselves Catholic, all this amounts to is an article in a newspaper.

    Acbp. Raymond Burke was interviewed on Raymond Arroyo’s program last night and he was absolutely clear that a pro-abortion politician who publicly and obstinately supports abortion should be refused communion. In fact, it is also an act of charity to do so, he said. Sadly, as he also pointed out, he is no longer an American bishop.

  3. Seems to me a group of Catholic Dem Congressional reps tried that “conscience” gambit back in early 1996. The USCCB (to their credit) knocked that notion down like a blocked attempted field goal.

    Remember the infamous “Catholic Statement of Principals” in which the Dems tried to argue that whether one supports “abortion rights” was solely a matter of conscience on the part of the lawmaker?

    The Bishops responded by stating every Catholic lawmaker had a moral responsibility to actively oppose abortion at every opportunity.
    By extension this moral imperative ought to apply to Catholic voters as well. If those voters know a candidate makes a clear and uncompromising stand supporting abortion rights they have a moral responsibility NOT to lend that candidate their support. Period. And NO other position (but oh, he’s so much for the poor, or oh, he favors universal health care, etc.) outweighs the gravity of his support for an evil as intrinsic, as barbaric, as purely demonic as the wanton murder of innocent unborn human life.

  4. Sam, I agree that prayer and the prudential wisdom found in Matthew 18 should guide all efforts at reconciling Catholics who have separated themselves from full communion with the Church.

    There are three (at least) general issues at work here, and it seems when we discuss one of them, we might give the impression that we’re ignoring the other ones.

    (1) There’s the Catholic politician himself and his relationship with the Church. Archbishop Burke is probably the most reliable voice on that issue. I fully agree with him. At the same time, as Archbishop Burke would readily admit, the practical application of canon 915 is not always as black and white as is sometimes stressed in more conservative circles. All the same, I agree with Tom–in general Church leadership has seemed to move too slowly in withholding Communion from some notoriously pro-abortion politicians, at least from my vantage point.

    (2) There’s the issue of forming Catholic consciences so that we exercise the right to vote appropriately. That’s what Bishop Wenski was doing with his letter.

    (3) Related to the above is the voter himself or herself and his or her relationship with the Church. Here we’re not talking about withholding Communion or other such penalties, but the moral gravity of decisions to vote for candidates or ballot measures that advance the culture of death by promoting intrinsically evil acts.

    If we did a better job of dealing with (1) and (2), then less Catholics wouldn’t be so clueless and (3) would be less of a problem.

  5. As neither candidate passes the test of the “moral absolutes,” to vote for either is the moral equivalent of driving the get-a-way car for Al Capone.
    Several Catholics prominent in the media tell us we can vote for the lesser of 2 evils. However, the Church teaches:
    It is the object chosen that fundamentally determines the morality of an act, not the intention or circumstances. (CCC 1751) One’s intention, or end, however noble, cannot make a fundamentally immoral act morally good. (CCC 1756) “Circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act subjectively good or defensible as a choice.” (Veritatis Splendor # 81)
    The second problem involves a misunderstanding of Evangelium Vitae # 73. It permits only the elected offical to vote for imperfect, but the best available legislation to “limit the harm done by such a law.” The Holy Father does not extend this principle to the voter, and I submit it is an egregious and unwarranted assumption to do so.
    We cannot aid and abet evil and simultaneously claim to be doing good. We are called to stay faithful and entrust the Holy Spirit with ultimate success. Many of our ancestors were martyred for much less. Let’s not betray their witness to truth by engaging in political expediency.

  6. Ed, you’re right about the ends not justifying the means. If it were merely a “lesser of two evils” determination then we’d have no business choosing either alternative, because we can’t choose evil.

    The premise that I can’t accept is that it is evil and thus necessarily sinful to vote for any candidate who fails your “moral absolute” test regardless of the circumstances. Voting for such a candidate precisely because he or she supports the legalization of an intrinsic evil like abortion would be sinful, but the Pope himself has said that voting for such a candidate for other “proportionate” reasons can be morally justifiable.

    Jumping to my opinion based on the above principles, I can’t see how a Catholic can morally support Obama. However, I can easily see how a Catholic could morally support McCain despite McCain’s less-than-perfect record. Such support would not be based on the imperfections, but on his clearly superior position on abortion, etc. as compared to Obama.

    Evangelium Vitae, no. 73 doesn’t directly apply to this situation. In fact, voting for a person is much more complex than merely voting on a specific piece of legislation because of the range of considerations that come into play.

  7. Regarding the difference between the two candidates on abortion, this was the lead sentence in an AP report of the candidates’ recent joint appearance at Rick Warren’s church:

    “Presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain differed sharply on abortion Saturday, with McCain saying a baby’s human rights begin ‘at conception,’ while Obama restated his support for legalized abortion.”

  8. I would agree with the comment above that I think the bigger problem is the division between bishops. It’s no wonder that Nancy Pelosi can say that it’s a “regional issue” because she is allowed to attend Mass and practice as a Catholic in good standing (at least to my knowledge) in San Fran., but Gov. Sebelius is (rightly) challenged by Abp. Naumann who explains that he is accountable before God for telling her the gravity of her support for abortion. While the left in the media, etc., would not agree with it, I think they could at least accept it as the Church’s official position if all the bishops stood together on this the world-over. But they are divided and so the media and others don’t look at it as “Catholics can’t be pro-choice”, but instead as “ultra-conservative prelates play politics” thanks to those bishops who do not speak out firmly on this.
    As always the answer for us, I think, is more fervent prayer and conversion.

  9. Great discussion. But back to my point of our responsibilies as fellow Catholics. Just an example, a local Catholic radio talk show host who I know had an interview with a local Catholic politician when she was running for office a couple years ago. She is prominent in both her church(reader and extraordinary minister of the eucharist) and the community at large. He asked her her stance on abortion just as he asks all politicians who come on his show and she flat out stated it was the women’s right to choose. Now this is a public scandal and I felt compelled to call on the air and confront her about this. I informed her of church teaching and objectively that stance was sinful. I told her I would pray for her that her heart would be changed on this issue(and I have). The host as well on and off the air discussed this with her. Because this was a public scandal he sent a copy of the tape to our bishop. Now, I don’t know what was the outcome but I did not allow the general public think that her stance as a Catholic was ok.

    Now, Jesus loves all of us and is concerned with each one of our souls. If we are to be like Christ we are to be concerned with the souls of our brothers and sisters. How many parishoners do you think have ever gone up to Nancy, Ted or John and spoke to them about concern their souls? How many parishoners do you think have gone to their bishops to discuss the scandal these folks cause?

    I’m not talking about some letter by a bunch of dems trying to save face. I’m talking personal one on one concern for the souls of fellow Catholics. I know this is hard. How many of us withold speaking to our own family and friends about these issues. Let’s pray for courage and to be guided by the Holy Spirit to speak and act when given the opportunity to plant a seed that may someday bear good fruit. Jesus is not only my personal Lord and savior but ours.

  10. Dear Leon,
    Praised be Jesus and Our Lady.
    Please ask Bishop Wenski of Orlando if according to Veritatis Splendor and the Catechism of the Catholic Church
    1) Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi are in mortal sin?
    2) Are the Bishops and priests who give them the Eucharist also in mortal sin?
    3) The Mass of these bishops and priests in mortal sin is valid but is it not sacrilegious?
    Could Bishop Wenski review Veritatis Splendor (ns.55,56,68,70,81 and the Section on Intrinsically Evil Acts) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1751: It is the object chosen that fundamentally determines the morality of an act, not the intention or circumstances. CCC 1756: One’s intention, or end, however noble, cannot make a fundamentally immoral act morally good. As Ed Hummel mentions above).
    Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi are in mortal sin since they promote abortion by their words and actions. The bishops also promote abortion through their actions; they give the Eucharist to pro abortion politicians as if the politicians are not in mortal sin.
    Should not the bishops celebrate Holy Mass, only after first going for Confession and making public amends?
    I) Please ask Bishop Wenski if the Catholic Church teaches that we cannot make a personal judgement on intrinsically evil acts and so cannot say if the politician’s bishops/priests are in mortal sin?
    II)Does the Catholic Church teach that in intrinsically evil acts like abortion, we do not make any personal judgement, it is a mortal sin? Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi are in mortal sin?
    Since the pro-abortion politicians are allowed the Eucharist, should ex- Archbishop Milingo and his Korean wife in Washington be stopped from receiving the Eucharist? Why?
    Could a Jew or Muslim receive the Eucharist? Why not?
    What about those Catholics who have divorced and remarried with no Church Dispensation, should they not be refused the Eucharist, as long as an ongoing dialogue; an education, continues with their bishop, like that over two years with the pro-abortion politicians?
    If a bishop or priest in mortal sin (pro abortion in actions) known to many in a public scandal, continues to offer Holy Mass (with no public clarification of a change in his position, after going for Confession) is the Mass not sacrilegious for him? Is the Mass sacrilegious for the bishops of Washington and San Francisco?
    I respect all Bishops and priests. It is a sin to disrespect them. I ask so that we can clarify what is the teaching of the Catholic Church here.

  11. “…to vote for either is the moral equivalent of driving the get-a-way car for Al Capone.”

    Voting for McCain may be a moral evil, but Catholic just war teaching itself is based on the recognition that this fallen world of ours sometimes only presents us with choices among various grades of evil, and then we are obliged to choose the least of these.

  12. Dear “Bishop” Lionel,

    I ask you if you yourself have gone to or emailed or written any of these gone astray brothers and sisters in Christ out of sincere charity for their immortal souls and pleaded with them to humble themselve before their Church’s teaching on this matter? Have you prayed and made reparation and fasted for these individuals?

    I don’t ask these questions to call anyone out. I ask in order to challenge Catholics (starting with myself) to work with our bishops, priest and the entire body of Christ to bring these folks back to the flock. We must work spiritually through our prayers, fasting and reparations. We must work temporally through our letters, emails and directly speaking with these folks encouraging them to humility before their God.

    May the Holy Spirit give us the courage and the words to speak or write at the right time to plant seeds that will bear good fruit.

  13. Dear Samuel,
    Praised be Jesus and Our Lady.
    I haven’t done enough.In fact I have done very little.
    I agree with you largely.
    Please pray for me especially that the Holy Spirit may give me the courage and the words to speak or write at the right time to plant seeds that will bear good fruit.
    I respect our priests and bishops, however for their sake and all of us, it is important that we clarify Catholic doctrine, now that we can.It is posible that in future there coud be restrictions on teaching Catholic Faith through the media. Then we will just have to depend on word of mouth and martyrdom.
    In Christ

  14. Dear Lionel,

    I pray that it never gets that bad for us but if it does may we all have the strength of the Holy Spirit to do God’s will.

    Absolutely, we must teach and clarify Catholic doctrine when given the opportunity. However let us also remember we are all on the same team, the body of Christ, so let’s contnue to encourage one another in our effort in God’s work of sanctifying the world in the small places He has us, in our families, our work, our church, our communities and our dioceses.

    God Bless,


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