The Ratzinger Fiasco

Frank Pavone
Reproduced with Permission

Never have I seen a more shameless abuse and distortion of somebody's words than in the recent articles that some secular and Catholic publications have run regarding a memo written by Vatican Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about abortion and voting.

The Cardinal wrote, "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia... There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia... 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."

That's pretty clear. Those who want to keep abortion legal and therefore vote for candidates who have promised to do that are sinning and are excluded from Communion.

Instead, some publications are saying that the Vatican now gives Catholics permission to vote for pro-abortion candidates! One article I saw said this is true "if a voter feels a candidate's position on other issues outweighs his or her stand on abortion."

But whether abortion outweighs other issues is not for a voter's feelings to decide. The Holy Father has written, "The common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination . . . " (Christifideles Laici, n.38)

The full body of United States bishops, moreover, went so far as to say that legal abortion is so unacceptable that it may in fact require us to abolish our entire system of government. The exact words, found in paragraph 3 of their 1998 document Living the Gospel of Life, are, "When American political life becomes an experiment on people rather than for and by them, it will no longer be worth conducting. We are arguably moving closer to that day."

Cardinal Ratzinger's memo does answer a dilemma that many good Catholics find themselves in when all the candidates -- at least among those likely to win -- seem to support at least some abortions. What then? Are we required to vote for a candidate who does not have a sufficient base to win? Are we required to abstain from voting altogether? The answer to both is no. We may vote for the candidate who supports less abortion than his or her opponent. This is supported by the following sentence in the footnote to the Cardinal's memo: "When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion ... but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it ... can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."

The Cardinal had already explained that abortion is not proportionate to other issues, but is certainly proportionate to itself.