Cardinal Rigali and the FOCA - or, critiquing Vox Nova on respect life Sunday

Policraticus says faithful Catholics can only abstain or vote third party this November. Indeed, he suggests Catholics who vote for John McCain or Barack Obama "do not really believe some issues are non-negotiable" - quite an insult, not to mention a miraculous feat of soul-reading. Putting that aside for now...

I think he is dangerously wrong. If Catholics allow Barack Obama to be elected, his first act as President will be to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), effectively codifying Roe v. Wade in our federal law. What do the Bishops say about the FOCA?
Today, however, we face the threat of a federal bill that, if enacted, would obliterate virtually all the gains of the past 35 years and cause the abortion rate to skyrocket. The "Freedom of Choice Act" ("FOCA") has many Congressional sponsors, some of whom have pledged to act swiftly to help enact this proposed legislation when Congress reconvenes in January.

FOCA establishes abortion as a "fundamental right" throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and forbids any law or policy that could "interfere" with that right or "discriminate" against it in public funding and programs. If FOCA became law, hundreds of reasonable, widely supported, and constitutionally sound abortion regulations now in place would be invalidated. Gone would be laws providing for informed consent, and parental consent or notification in the case of minors. Laws protecting women from unsafe abortion clinics and from abortion practitioners who are not physicians would be overridden. Restrictions on partial-birth and other late-term abortions would be eliminated. FOCA would knock down laws protecting the conscience rights of nurses, doctors, and hospitals with moral objections to abortion, and force taxpayers to fund abortions throughout the United States.

We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot tolerate an even greater loss of innocent human lives. We cannot subject more women and men to the post-abortion grief and suffering that our counselors and priests encounter daily in Project Rachel programs across America.

For twenty-four years, the Catholic Church has provided free, confidential counseling to individuals seeking emotional and spiritual healing after an abortion, whether their own or a loved one's. We look forward to the day when these counseling services are no longer needed, when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. If FOCA is enacted, however, that day may recede into the very distant future.
Oh and by the way, McCain does not and will not support the Freedom of Choice act. What can the good Cardinal be telling us, then? It cannot be that we must abstain from voting, which would certainly constitute allowing the FOCA to happen. It also cannot mean voting for Barack Obama, who will be the key proponent of this legislation. This statement cannot be read as anything but an implicit denunciation of the Democratic candidate for President.

I understand Catholics who say they cannot vote for either candidate. It is true that McCain supports a non-negotiable moral evil: embryonic stem cell research. This should give us great pause. We need to pray McCain has a change of heart. We need to call and write his campaign. We need to argue persuasively against this great evil so that he hears us and changes his mind. But democratic politics is not the same thing as moral philosophy. Catholics in a democracy are obligated, I think (as do some Bishops), to limit evil as best we can. This is something the Kansas City Bishops recently taught in a letter to their parishioners. The section on limiting grave evil is worth quoting in its entirety:
Limiting Grave Evil

In another circumstance, we may be confronted with a voting choice between two candidates who support abortion, though one may favor some limitations on it, or he or she may oppose public funding for abortion. In such cases, the appropriate judgment would be to select the candidate whose policies regarding this grave evil will do less harm. We have a responsibility to limit evil if it is not possible at the moment to eradicate it completely.

The same principle would be compelling to a conscientious voter who was confronted with two candidates who both supported same-sex unions, but one opposed abortion and destructive embryonic research while the other was permissive in these regards. The voter, who himself or herself opposed these policies, would have insufficient moral justification voting for the more permissive candidate. However, he or she might justify resorting to a write-in vote or abstaining from voting at all in this case, because of a conscientious objection.

In 2004 a group of United States Bishops, acting on behalf of the USCCB and requesting counsel about the responsibilities of Catholic politicians and voters, received a memo from the office of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, which stated: “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.”

Could a Catholic in good conscience vote for a candidate who supports legalized abortion when there is a choice of another candidate who does not support abortion or any other intrinsically evil policy? Could a voter’s preference for the candidate’s positions on the pursuit of peace, economic policies benefiting the poor, support for universal health care, a more just immigration policy, etc. overcome a candidate’s support for legalized abortion? In such a case, the Catholic voter must ask and answer the question: What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years? Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.
This is a rewording of John Paul II's authoritative teaching in Evangelium Vitae:
In a case like the one just mentioned, when 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. EV 73
It is clear that Policraticus is wrong to say that a Catholic cannot vote for John McCain or Barack Obama. In this way he is misleading Catholic voters.

We should also keep in mind that the threat of embyronic stem cell research is negligible given the recent advances made in the science. Furthermore, Obama is more enthusiastic about this type of research than is McCain.

I understand people who do not think they can vote for either candidate. Fine. But I do not think they have a good handle on the imperfect nature of democratic politics or the serious consequences of abstaining from the vote. This is the last good chance we have to make changes to our law so that it can protect innocent human life from being killed.


Michael J. Iafrate said...

I think we should not read too much into the bishops' statement. When they say "We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot tolerate an even greater loss of innocent human lives," they are simply saying just that: we cannot allow the FOCA to happen. They are not commenting on who to vote for.

And they are right. Of course we should not allow the FOCA to happen. But I don't think preventing it is a matter of one simple vote.

Either way you vote, a FOCA could or could not be passed, independent of who wins.

One could abstain from voting and fight against the FOCA in other ways. One could even vote for Obama and work toward not allowing the FOCA to happen. Catholics could engage in direct action and commit acts of civil disobedience. Should the FOCA pass, they could engage in tax resistance.

I'm not sure why we continue to reduce politics to voting.

Policraticus said...

Policraticus says faithful Catholics can only abstain from voting this November.

The very first line of your post is absolutely false, which results in a terribly flawed and fallacious argument. I never have advocated abstaining, and I have said countless times that I and other Catholics who really vote according to the Church's teaching on life will vote third party.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

I won’t support either Obama or McCain in November. That’s easy for me to do, as I live in Texas, which will, with or without my vote, back McCain. Obama’s support for FOCA is a key reason why I won’t support him. A big reason I won’t support McCain: his unreflective policy of perpetual war aimed at the total defeat radical Islamic extremism. Frankly, I have no idea which of the two will ultimately prove more destructive to life and liberty. I certainly don’t trust them, as neither one values truth in his pursuit of power.

Cardinal Rigali’s imperative certainly transcends the act of voting. Even and especially if Obama becomes president, Rigali’s call not to allow the FOCA to happen remains in full force.

Zach said...

Poli: Ok, I misread you. It's easy to do when you say things like, "Those of us who really believe abortion and embryonic stem cell research to be “non-negotiables” will not vote for either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain, for to do otherwise is to performatively contradict that stance"

Why? Because there's not much of a difference between voting third party and abstaining. Both are effectively throwing away a vote. Further, the argument that follows my initial reading of your post stands whether or not you intend to convince people to abstain from voting or to vote third party.

If I am mistaken please show me why, for this time I really do not see it. I think you are dangerously misreading the Bishops and insulting fellow Catholics who have the common good in mind.

Kyle: Either McCain or Obama will be president. Who will be less hostile to life? Given that Obama's stance on war is really only a difference in degree, not in kind, I think the obvious answer is McCain. McCain is not nearly as reckless as some people paint him. Sure, he's got a temper sometimes. But he's also a reasonable man who knows first hand the cost of war.

Zach said...

Poli, I've edited my first line to account for my initial misunderstanding.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

The future isn't obvious.

Rob said...

Hmmmm. I disagree that a third-party voting is throwing away a vote. I guess I can't articulate my defense very well, though. An organized attempt to support or form a pro-life party seems honorable and necessary. Though I understand the immediacy of your concern about FOCA, I agree with folks at Vox Nova (believe it or not!) that many unforeseen things could happen under a McCain Presidency (I don't think he is all that pro-life).

Also, while the President does wield some power, it is your congressional and local vote that matters more. McCain wouldn't be able to appoint a pro-life justice to the SCOTUS with this congress or a future congress. The make-upmof the congressional body is representative of American culture, and it is increasingly liberal, decadent and degraded. They won't let anothe rScalia in, and even Ronald Reagan himself couldn't run that gauntlet today.

I wouldn't vote for Obama if you put a gun to my head, of course, but I don't think things will be much different with him at the lead. Only this: his accession to the Presidency will demonstrate that America really has embraced a selfish, self-centered philosophy that is only interested in personal pleasure and comfort, rather than the defense of any ideals (ideals, that is, which don't defend materialism and modernism).

Kyle R. Cupp said...

Only this: his accession to the Presidency will demonstrate that America really has embraced a selfish, self-centered philosophy that is only interested in personal pleasure and comfort, rather than the defense of any ideals (ideals, that is, which don't defend materialism and modernism).

Is that really why people support Obama?

Rob said...



Zach said...

Kyle, I'm not claiming we can read the future. But we have to take our candidates at their word. We can also look to their voting records: McCain walks the walk.

Rob, I don't think that we can know everything that will happen in a McCain presidency. We can know what the big things will probably be like: a veto of FOCA, support for constructionist-minded judges.

Likewise with Obama we know he will certainly sign the FOCA and certainly appoint leftist judges who see no problem with Roe.

This is not divination, just simple induction.

The country has two major political parties for a reason. I guess I'll have to write up a defense of the two party system so you can see where I'm coming from.

Jessie said...

We should pray that McCain does have a change of heart. We should also pray that Obama has a change of heart. It seems silly to pray for only one conversion ....

Zach said...

jessie, you're right.

Darwin said...


and I have said countless times that I and other Catholics who really vote according to the Church's teaching on life will vote third party.

After accusing Zach of making a fallacious statement, you immediately make on of your own. Surely, as someone who has read and understood Faithful Citizenship rather than relying on simplisted "these three issues are non-negotiable" formulas (a formula which, taken literally, is in fact a distortion of the more reasonable position which even Catholic Answers clearly takes in their voters guide) you must recognize that there are those who do take the Catholic Church's teachings on life seriously who will not vote third party, but rather will either abstain or vote for one of the major party candidates. Your formulation here suggests that you think that voting for one of the major party candidates is thus a sign that one does _not_ take the Church's teachings on life seriously. And while I have in my more uncharitable moments wondered this about some of your Obama-supporting co-bloggers, I recognize that it is not necessarily the case.

On the wider question of third party voting,

Allow me to throw this out for collective thought: Should voting, if it is taken to be the duty of Catholics to participate in the civic process through voting, be subject to a likelihood of success criteria as is just war?

Personally, I would find it much more interesting (and possibly even more condusive to the common good, though I'm less sure of that) if we had half a dozen or more viable political parties in the US and congress was perpetually divided between them, with action relying on coalitions rather than party line votes. So I have no root problem with supporting third parties. However, in a given election, most especially a presidential one, I have to question whether there's much point in voting for a candidate you know will not only lose, but will in all probability pull in less than 1% of the vote.

crankycon said...

All of this talk about third-party voting leaves out one important nugget: all of the third-party candidates are absolutely horrendous, and some of them are borderline psychotic - and in the case of Cynthia McKinney, just plain psychotic. The one person that a lot of Catholics keep bringing up is the Constitutional Party candidate. Oh yeah, he happens to be pro-life and is, on the surface, someone we can rally around. But he also happens to be someone who doubts whether or not the attacks on 9/11 were perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. So, in other words, he is not exactly who demonstrates admirable judgment.

Michael J. Iafrate said...

Oh yeah, he happens to be pro-life and is, on the surface, someone we can rally around. But he also happens to be someone who doubts whether or not the attacks on 9/11 were perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. So, in other words, he is not exactly who demonstrates admirable judgment.

John McCain happens to be pro-life and believes Iraq had something to do with 9/11, which does not "demonstrate admirable judgment." I'm not sure I see much difference between the two.

crankycon said...

John McCain happens to be pro-life and believes Iraq had something to do with 9/11

Umm, no, he hasn't said that. He has noted ties between Iraq and terrorist groups, but he did not say that Iraq is tied to the actual attacks. This is a completely false meme. But hey, keep rationalizing all you want.

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