Bishop Paprocki on Voting Ethics

Bishop Paprocki, in a video posted on YouTube recently, spoke about the 2012 U.S. national elections. Here is a full transcript of the video:

1. “There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic party platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding political and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins. I know that the Democratic party’s official unequivocal support for abortion is deeply troubling to pro-life Democrats.

2. “So, what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican party platform, and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin. Certainly, there are pro-choice Republicans who support abortion rights, and Log Cabin Republicans who promote same-sex marriage, but they are equally as wrong as their Democratic counterparts. But these positions do not have the official support of their party.

3. “Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against. But I am saying, that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote. Because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

There are some serious problems with the assertions made by Bishop Paprocki in the above talk.

In the first paragraph above, Bishop Paprocki objects to planks in the Democratic party platform that “explicitly endorse intrinsic evils” or “promote serious sins”. Other Bishops have spoken out against intrinsic evil in political positions, without specifying “serious sins”. So Bishop Paprocki does well in narrowing the scope of what he is saying to only intrinsically evil acts that are gravely immoral. For some intrinsically evil sins are venial, such as a venial lie, or the theft of something of minor value. It is problematic when Bishops speak about intrinsic evil as if all intrinsically evil acts were serious sins.

However, the Bishop uses the plural (evils, sins) without specifying any sin other than abortion.

The 2012 Democratic party platform is here. The other intrinsically evil and gravely immoral sins promoted in their platform are contraception, same-sex marriage, and attempting to impose the view that “gay rights are human rights” on other nations. The platform also seems to imply that religious groups must pay for free contraception in health care plans. And the assertion of “equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples” and “marriage equality” seems to conflict with the claim that “We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.” In fact, the wording “to decide how to” suggests that churches cannot refuse to administer marriage to same-sex couples, they can only decide how to do so.

So the Bishop is right in saying that the Democratic platform promotes and supports intrinsically evil and gravely immoral acts (plural).

However, the second paragraph from the video transcript is problematic. The Bishops claims: “I have read the Republican party platform, and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin.” OK. Here is the 2012 Republican platform. There are certainly pro-life assertions in the platform:

“Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.”

“We call on the government to permanently ban all federal funding and subsidies for abortion and healthcare plans that include abortion coverage.”

“No healthcare professional or organization should ever be required to perform, provide for, withhold, or refer for a medical service against their conscience.”

But here are also some pro-abortion assertions in the same platform:

“We likewise support the right of parents to consent to medical treatment for their children, including mental health treatment, drug treatment, and treatment involving pregnancy, contraceptives and abortion. We urge enactment of pending legislation that would require parental consent to transport girls across state lines for abortions.”

So, let me see if I understand the Republican platform on abortion. It stands firmly against abortion, and would ban all federal funding for abortion. OK, good. But then the same platform claims that parents have a right to consent to contraception and abortion for their children. Then it says that “pending legislation” should be passed that would permit minors to be transported across state lines for abortions, with parental consent.

A law that permits an adult to obtain an abortion is intrinsically evil and gravely immoral. But a law that permits minors to obtain an abortion, and to cross state lines (in case their own state does not permit the abortion) is more disordered and therefore more sinful. It is essentially a law that allows parents and minors to circumvent state laws that would otherwise prevent abortion. Intrinsically evil. Gravely immoral.

So the Bishop’s assertion that nothing in the Republican party platform “supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin” is false. He states that he has read the platform. Either he has not read all of it, or he thinks that a parent transporting a girl across state lines for an abortion is somehow not intrinsically evil or not a serious sin.

I would be remiss if I did not point out, also, that Republicans have sponsored and passed legislation in the past, which claimed to prevent federal funds from being used for abortions (e.g. the Hyde Amendment). And those laws (still on the books) nevertheless permit federal funds for abortions (especially through Medicaid) in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Congress has repeatedly modified this legislation, changing the exact exceptions from time to time. But Catholic teaching would prohibit all direct abortions; only indirect abortions can possibly be moral. So the Republican assertion that they wish to prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion would seem to imply, based on past voting and current law, that they would still permit federal funds for many different cases of direct abortion, which is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

Now it is clear that the Republican party platform also supports and promotes intrinsically evil acts that are serious sins. Therefore, if a Catholic voter cannot vote for any Democrat, because its party platform supports and promotes intrinsically evil and gravely immoral acts, then neither can he vote for any Republican for the same reason. If Bishop Paprocki’s claims about voting ethics were true.

You might object to this analysis, saying that the Democrat party platform is worse on the topic of abortion and contraception, and therefore we can morally vote for Republicans. Fine. But that is not what the Bishop asserts. He does not say that the voter should morally weigh the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences that might result from his act of voting. Rather, he suggests that voting for a party that promotes or supports intrinsically evil and gravely immoral sins is itself always a grave sin.

This type of problem with the public assertions by Bishops is becoming more and more common. Sweeping generalization are made on voting and ethics, which on closer examination — in light of magisterial teaching on morality — turn out not to be true.

Finally, we come to the most troubling of the assertions that Bishop Paprocki makes on voting: “a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

To be morally complicit with one or more intrinsically evil and gravely sinful acts, in such a way that one’s eternal salvation is in serious jeopardy, implies necessarily that this moral complicity is an objective mortal sin. Bishop Paprocki is asserting that a vote for a person “who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful” is always a mortal sin. He does not say that you can vote for the candidate whose position on abortion is closest to that of the Church. He does not say to give particular moral weight to the gravest sins and to those sins that would do the most harm. Instead he claims that you absolutely cannot vote for any person who promotes any gravely immoral and intrinsically evil act.

The Bishop’s assertion on this important matter of ethics is false.

The ordinary and universal Magisterium infallibly teaches that any act with three good fonts of morality is morally licit, and that any act with one or more bad fonts is morally illicit. If your act has three good fonts, that act is always necessarily moral and certainly not a sin — as long as all three fonts remain good. If your act has one or more bad fonts, that act is always necessarily immoral and is certainly a sin — as long as one or more fonts remains bad. There are no exceptions. The principle of double effect is not an exception to the three fonts of morality; it is simply an application of the three fonts to an act that has substantial good and bad effects. The principle of cooperation with evil is not an exception to the three fonts of morality; it is simply an application of the three fonts to an act that is related to the sinful act of another person.

The claim by Bishop Paprocki that the act of voting for a candidate who supports an intrinsically evil and gravely immoral sin is itself always gravely immoral shows that the Bishop has a poor understanding of the three fonts of morality and of the principle of cooperation with evil. Voting for a person is not an intrinsically evil act, even if that person supports abortion or some other intrinsically evil and gravely immoral act. Voting for a person of a particular party is not an intrinsically evil act, even if that party supports abortion or some other intrinsically evil and gravely immoral act.

The principle of cooperation with evil distinguishes the act of the voter from the acts of the candidate or his party. The cooperation that is involve in voting for a candidate or a party is not formal cooperation, even if that candidate or party supports an intrinsically evil and gravely immoral act, and is not necessarily explicit cooperation. Voting for such a candidate or party is material cooperation. And material cooperation, when it is not also formal or explicit cooperation, can be moral, depending on the circumstances.

Suppose that both candidates support abortion. According to the Bishop’s assertion, you could not vote for either candidate. Suppose that one candidate is pro-abortion and the other is pro-life, but the pro-life candidate supports direct abortion in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. According to the Bishop’s assertion, you could not vote for that pro-life candidate, because he supports the intrinsically evil and gravely immoral act of direct abortion in certain cases. Suppose that the pro-life candidate supports legalized abortifacients and abortifacient contraception. Suppose that the pro-life candidate supports same-sex marriage, or embryonic stem cell research, or artificial procreation. You could not vote for such a candidate, under Bishop Paprocki’s proposal, even if the choice is between a strongly pro-abortion candidate, and a typical pro-life candidate.

In fact, I don’t think there is a single candidate nationwide, at any level, running for any office, who does not support one intrinsically evil and gravely immoral act or another: direct abortion to save the life of the mother, abortifacients, abortifacient contraception, mere contraception, embryonic stem cell research, artificial procreation, same-sex marriage, etc.

Fortunately, Bishop Paprocki is mistaken. The Magisterium teaches that your act of voting is moral if it has three good fonts:

1. intention – All that is intended must be good.

2. moral object – The type of act that is deliberately chosen cannot be intrinsically evil. There must be only good in the moral object.

3. circumstances – The bad consequences of the act must not morally outweigh the good consequences of the act, as those consequences can be reasonably anticipated at the time that the act is chosen.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Bishop Paprocki on Voting Ethics

  1. John Platts says:

    There are actually a few pro-abortion Republicans in Congress that support legalized abortion on demand even when the woman’s life is not in danger or the woman is not a victim of rape or incest. On the other hand, there are a few pro-life Democrats in Congress that support outlawing abortion in most circumstances. There are elections where both the Democratic Party candidate and the Republican Party candidate for a particular office have the same or very similar position regarding the abortion issue. In some parts of the country, Catholic voters might even have to choose between a pro-abortion Republican and a pro-abortion Democrat in an election for a state legislator, U.S. Senator, or U.S. Representative.

    A Catholic does not necessarily sin when voting for a President who is pro-abortion, since it is still possible to get pro-life legislation passed, abortions regulated, and legal abortion outlawed if a pro-abortion president gets elected, and a pro-abortion presidential candidate can hold positions on issues other than abortion, contraception, marriage, sexuality, and human procreation that are not incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. In the United States, Congress has the authority to propose bills, and the vetoes of a President can actually be overridden by a 2/3 vote in the House and a 2/3 vote in the Senate. In addition, the appointment of U.S. Supreme Court justices and U.S. Cabinet members require the confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Even if a pro-abortion president got elected in this country, it is certainly possible to get pro-life legislation passed, justices that would overturn the Roe v. Wade doctrine appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a HHS Secretary that would not mandate coverage of abortion and contraception if at least 291 pro-life representatives get elected into the U.S. House in this election and at least 67 pro-life senators are in the U.S. Senate after the 2012 election. After the 2012 election, Catholics in this country should ask their U.S. Senators and Representative to veto override any pro-life legislation that is vetoed by the President, ask their U.S. Senators to refuse to confirm a HHS Secretary that will mandate coverage for abortion (except morally justified indirect abortions performed when the life of the mother is in immediate danger), contraception, vasectomy, and tubal ligation, and ask their U.S. Senators to refuse to confirm Supreme Court justices that will not reverse Roe v. Wade.

  2. John Platts says:

    All Catholics, even those who had voted for pro-abortion candidates or will vote for pro-abortion candidates in the future, should certainly support movements to outlaw direct abortion as well as unnecessary indirect abortions in the United States and other countries with legalized abortion. There are actually still a few countries in the world where abortion is illegal without exception, even when the life of the mother is in danger.

    Many politicians in the United States and most other countries in the world, even those who are otherwise pro-life, want to keep abortion legal when the life of the mother is in danger. It might be understandable to allow indirect abortions under such circumstances, but it is never acceptable to allow any abortion procedure that involves the intentional destruction of the body of the unborn child in a manner that is fatal to the unborn child under any circumstances. Other forms of direct abortion should also be illegal without exception. Many Americans do vote for politicians with this position, and voting for a candidate with this position is not necessarily morally wrong (as is mentioned in this post and in a previous blog post from last year).

    For those who do not understand the difference between direct abortion and indirect abortion, here are some blog posts describing the difference between direct and indirect abortion:
    http://ronconte.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/the-distinction-between-direct-and-indirect-abortion/
    http://ronconte.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/on-direct-and-indirect-abortion-the-new-proportionalism/

    Here is a prior post on the issue of voting ethics from last year: http://ronconte.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/roman-catholic-voting-ethics-revisited/

    The blog post from last year does provide more details regarding voting ethics, and you actually mentioned some of the points found on last year’s post on this year’s post.

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