The Civic Duty of Catholics toward the Common Good
By Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
Candidates who support imperfect legislation
A Catholic may vote for a candidate who, while he supports an evil action, also supports the limitation of the evil involved, if there is no better candidate. For example, a candidate may support procured abortion in a limited number of cases but be opposed to it otherwise. In such a case, the Catholic who recognizes the immorality of all procured abortions may rightly vote for this candidate over another, more unsuitable candidate in an effort to limit the circumstances in which procured abortions would be considered legal. Here the intention of the Catholic voter, unable to find a viable candidate who would stop the evil of procured abortion by making it illegal, is to reduce the number of abortions by limiting the circumstances in which it is legal. This is not a question of choosing the lesser evil, but of limiting all the evil one is able to limit at the time.
In “Evangelium Vitae,” Pope John Paul II provides an example regarding the voting of a Catholic legislator, which may be helpful, by analogy, in understanding the action of a Catholic voter. He writes about the legislator who votes for legislation which limits the moral evil of procured abortion, even though it does not eliminate it totally. The Holy Father observes: “[W]hen it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects” (Evangelium vitae, No. 73c).
Thus, a Catholic who is clear in his or her opposition to the moral evil of procured abortion could vote for a candidate who supports the limitation of the legality of procured abortion, even though the candidate does not oppose all use of procured abortion, if the other candidate(s) do not support the limitation of the evil of procured abortion. Of course, the end in view for the Catholic must always be the total conformity of the civil law with the moral law, that is, ultimately the total elimination of the evil of procured abortion.
In such cases, would it be better not to vote at all? While I respect very much the sentiments of those who are so discouraged with the failure of our public leaders to promote the common good that they have decided not to vote at all, I must point out that the Catholic who chooses not to vote at all, when there is a viable candidate who will advance the common good, although not perfectly, fails to fulfill his or her moral duty, at least, in the limitation of a grave evil in society.
Clearly, the moral questions surrounding voting are complex for Catholics, especially in our totally secularized society. The teaching of the Church regarding our civic responsibility for the common good must be our guide in making prudent decisions. Only by prayer and good counsel will a Catholic voter be able to make a prudent decision regarding what best serves the common good.
To be continued on Day 9....
Excerpts from Pastoral Letter “On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good”, 1 October, 2004.
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Lord God, as the election approaches, I seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront my city, my state and my country, and how the Gospel compels me to respond as a faithful Catholic and a citizen of Heaven and Earth.
I ask for eyes that are free from blindness and a mind that is free from darkness. Please grant me the grace to love You more and to love my neighbor as myself. Make me truly a Christian without Borders so that I may cherish every teaching of the Catholic Faith and love each and every one of my brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.
Give me the strength to choose Your will above all things and to stand for what is right! I pray for the courage to defend the innocent, protect the helpless, and oppose abuse and deceit.
I ask for ears that will hear the cries of the millions of unborn children massacred through abortion. I ask for the grace not to be deceived by the voices of evil, error and darkness. I ask that my mind and heart may be open to the Truth; I ask for greater Faith and the strength and valor to defend the family and true marriage.
My dear Jesus, grant me discernment so that I may choose leaders who hear Your Word, live Your love, and walk in the ways of Your truth. Shed Your light and mercy upon us, and guide us to Your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen
At this crucial moment in the history of our beloved country, let us turn to Our Blessed Mother and pray:
O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, at this most critical time, we entrust the United States of America to Your loving care.
Most Holy Mother, we beg You to reclaim this land for the glory of Your Son. Overwhelmed with the burden of the sins of our nation, we cry to You from the depths of our hearts and seek refuge in Your motherly protection.
Under Your title of the Immaculate Conception, You are the Patroness of the United States. Look down with mercy upon us and touch the hearts of Your people. Open our minds to the immense value of souls and renew in us a profound respect for the sanctity of life. Bring an end to the merciless and senseless killing of the innocent and the defenseless. Please grant us the grace to understand the serious responsibilities that accompany human freedom.
May our voting in this election promote respect for all human life, safeguard the sanctity of marriage and the family, and foster the good of all.
Through Your intercession, may God bless our homes and our nation! Amen.