Sunday, October 09, 2016

My pastor weighs in on the forthcoming presidential election

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, October 9, 2016):
It's time for me to weigh in regarding the forthcoming presidential election. Can it be, you ask, that he intends to support publically one of the candidates? Relax. The answer is No. Only some privilege Protestant reverends can do political campaigning with impunity. A Catholic priest who would dare to scale the sacrosanct wall dividing church and state would suffer a double penalty: first from the Church which forbids priests from political involvement; then from the state which threats the withdrawal of tax exemption for the church. Yet it is not apprehension over the specter of these sanctions that would dissuade me from writing to you. If I am reticent at all it is because I do not want to be perceived as exceeding the legitimate moral influence a pastor must have over his flock. I have confidence however that my parishioners have been well informed by Catholic principles and doctrines. I would never presume to exert moral pressure for mere personal preferences.

If my intention is not to advance a particular presidential candidate, I do wish to clarify a moral question which is often posed with regard to the November election. The matter is usually phrased this way: When a voter judges that neither contender for political office is entirely satisfying how then should one vote? Must one abstain from voting?

A distinction must immediately be made between issues which are always gravely wrong (intrinsic evils) and others which are considered as the lesser good. Candidates for public office who espouse or intend to advance intrinsic evils such as abortion, gay marriage, or euthanasia may never be supported or voted for no matter what other positions they may adopt. Here is not a question of political partisanship, of support for one political 'machine' over another. To cast a vote for a party or a person who champions such grave evils is to make one an accomplice to those evils. If it so happens that one political party supports immoral causes while another opposes them it is not the Church's doing. She remains neutral with regard to political loyalties but not indifferent with regard to the moral positions which respective candidates represent.

People's minds become confused in the debates because apart from these never-to-be-admitted evil issues there are other valid areas of concern for the common good, such as the economy, international peace, immigration, taxes, etc. The importance of these matters, which have their own legitimacy, must not override the more basic, fundamental matter of a candidate's intention regarding those moral evils which must always and everywhere be opposed, which cannot ever be admitted. Casting a vote for such a candidate is itself a grave evil, a mortal sin. Such a voter becomes a cooperator in the evils that would ensue from the election of that candidate.

Too bad that in our time we are constrained to side with a candidate exclusively on account of moral issues that ought never to be a matter of discussion. Were it the case that candidates were equally pro-life, pro-heterosexual marriage, etc. one would have the legitimate moral freedom to vote for the candidate who would best represent the common good in the other areas. We are not in such a position as this. We cannot overlook at candidate's stance (or those of a political party) on those intrinsic evils.

Responsible voting is in the domain of the laity. Moral teaching however is a duty of the priestly office. A pastor who turns aside and is silent to his people when the moral law of God is in the balance and great social evils are at stake must prepare to hear words such as these: "The watchmen are blind; they are without knowledge. They are dumb dogs; they cannot bark. The shepherds have no understanding. Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! says the Lord" (cf. Is 56:10-11; Jer 10:21).

My concern then is twofold: the good of your souls first (and the way you vote is a determining factor in your spiritual health), and the good of the society in which all must live according to the express will of God.

Fr. Perrone


Anonymous said...

I rarely find priests instructing the laity about the principles that most apply to voting in our day: the principle of double effect and that of remote material cooperation. Clarifying these principles for the laity, and how they apply to voting, could go a long way in helping Catholics. But we're often reminded merely about *never* voting for candidates who support intrinsic evils---period. In light of how the above principles could justify voting for someone who still supports intrinsically evil acts, I don't see how that's the case.

Chuck said...


Give us an example of how the principle of double effect could be used to justify voting for Hillary.

Anonymous said...


Although in principle I think PDE could be used to justify voting for Hillary---provided that (a) voting for her would be to avoid an even greater evil than her and (b) no evil is intended as a means or end---I don't think that's the case in our present circumstances. At present, I see no way for PDE to justify voting for Hillary. I do think it easily justifies voting for Trump, however, though he has said he supports gravely evil acts (e.g., limited abortion).

In any case, I still struggle to understand Father's claim that, when a candidate supports grave evils, then "casting a vote for such a candidate is itself a grave evil, a mortal sin. Such a voter becomes a cooperator in the evils that would ensue from the election of that candidate." Maybe I'm misunderstanding Father, but his words strike me as opposed to those of Ratzinger some years ago. Says Ratzinger (my emphasis),

"A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does _not_ share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which _can_ be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

Notice that Ratzinger (rightly) avoids imputing mortal sin to someone simply because they vote for someone who supports a grave evil. Father's words strike me as doing the opposite.

In Father's defense, however, he does state up front that he's assuming his "parishioners have been well informed by Catholic principles and doctrines." Could the principles of double effect and remote material cooperation be among them? Perhaps that is why he doesn't speak about them in any detail.


Chuck said...

I'm guessing you're right. That is, I'm guessing that the proviso added by Ratzinger (" the presence of proportionate reasons") is being tacitly assumed by Father here. Like you, if I read you correctly, I would have a hard time imagining what "proportionate reasons" might be in voting for Hillary.