Saturday, May 17, 2008

USCCB: pro-life without quite being pro-life

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a new document on November 14, 2007, to guide Catholic voters in the upcoming elections. Entitled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States" [PDF], and -- with 43 pages containing 90 sections -- is as long and verbose as its title.

Dale Vree, commenting on the document back in February ("A Perplexing Political Potpourri," New Oxford Review, Feb., 2008), wrote: "As can be expected from a document approved by the full body of the USCCB -- liberals, moderates, and conservatives -- by a margin of 221-4, it runs all over the map, touches on myriad topics, and suffers from information overload -- no easy accomplishment in our information era." More to the point, he adds: "What makes this document so maddening is that it buries the burning political issues of the day under an avalanche of lesser considerations."

Again, in the current issue of NOR, Vree continues his observations ("Muddier Waters," NOR, May 2008):
One of the more peculiar aspects of that dense document is its suggestion that voting for pro-abortion candidates puts a Catholic's eternal salvation in jeopardy. In section 22, the document states, "Intrinsically evil actions ... must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion...." Section 34 states, "A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion." Section 37 states, "It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual's salvation." One can easily come to the conclusion that voting in favor of abortion places one's eternal salvation in jeopardy.

But then the document declares, "There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons" (#35). And, "The voter may vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position" (#36). But isn't this the very cooperation with evil that would place one's salvation in jeopardy, especially if the "position" in question is abortion? The document neglects to provide an answer. Beyond the one mention, it is silent about how voting affects one's salvation.
Vree then relates how John L. Allen Jr., the well-known reporter for National Catholic Distorter, caught up with Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta and former USCCB president, at the USCCB's annual Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C., on February 26. Archbishop Gregory, he says, was good enough to take a moment to clarify this aspect of the USCCB document. According to Allen (National Catholic Distorter, Feb. 26), Archbishop Gregory "said that it was not the intent of the U.S. bishops in their recent 'Faithful Citizenship' document to suggest that Catholics who vote for a pro-choice candidate are automatically placing their salvation in jeopardy."

What?? Then what did they mean in section 37 when they declared that the political choices faced by citizens "may affect the individual's salvation"? What part of the mass murder of over 50 million preborn babies in the U.S. since 1973 is unclear in being an "intrinsic evil" that "must never be supported"? Evidently, as Vree says, it depends on what your definition of "never" is:
"Defending the right to life is obviously a primary concern," Archbishop Gregory told Allen. "It's the point of departure for everything else." But, said Archbishop Gregory, it is "at least possible" that, as Allen put it, "a Catholic who carefully weighs the issues could decide that, on balance, a candidate who is not explicitly pro-life is preferable to one who opposes the legalization of abortion but who does not share Catholic positions on other matters of importance. In that sense, Gregory said, 'Faithful Citizenship' cannot be reduced to an absolute obligation to vote for a pro-life candidate...."

"Faithful Citizenship" itself states that "A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion..." (#34; italics added). But now Archbishop Gregory is saying that there is no "absolute obligation" to vote for prolife candidates. How are voters supposed to make sense of this? Can you help us out here, Your Excellency?

"It's a complicated document," he told Allen.
Indeed. And that, my friends, is the problem. You cannot expect a 43-page document, which tries to blow hot and cold at once and qualifies to death every position it takes, to offer much guidance to a Catholic voter who will be voting simply up or down for the President in November.

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