Saturday, July 31, 2004

Catholics, Kerry and the "Single-Issue" Voter

Nathan ("The Tower"), a Catholic blogger who recently endorsed Jonathan Kerry for president in the upcoming election ("in part because I didn't like the alternative that Bush offers and in part because I liked the positive message at the Democratic National Convention"), posts a letter to his blog from The Steubenville Register, which he finds inspirational.

Like other Catholics who are supporting Kerry in this election, the author of the letter is repulsed by what he calls the "single-issue" voter:

The U.S. Catholic Church has allowed itself to be backed into a political corner from which it will be difficult to escape. The church and its millions of members have become single-issue voters. Catholics have failed to support issues that are consistent with Gospel values and Catholic beliefs. Social gospel concerns are totally ignored or supported in a passive or halfhearted manner. The antiabortion issue and the current controversy over whether Catholic politicians are truly "Catholic" -- based on the litmus test of whether they vote for or against abortion legislation -- is yet another aspect of this problem.

It is difficult for me to believe that the Catholis in the United States, the most educated in the world, would support or vote against a candidate based on a single issue. It seems that many candidates run on political platforms that are similar to the social teaching of the Catholic Church and are in fact imbued with the Gospel values.

At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us the great mandate, that we "love one another as I have loved you." In the beatitudes, he told us to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, comfort the afflicted... yet politicians who are good men and women and steadfastly support a platform of Catholic social teaching and refuse to vote with the antiabortion folks are opposed. This seems inconsistent with Christ's expectation that his followers would bring about the kingdom of God on earth. To be "pro-life" is to be "pro-all life," from conception to natural death. I am indeed pro-life. This includes a Christian response to all that life deals to people in between birth and death. Starvation, illness, war, homelessness, abandonment, exploitation, poverty, etc., are all intrinsically evil and demand our Christian response.

I don't know of a single "conservative" Catholic who is not concerned about the various issues described in this letter. Rather, the point of dispute between conservatives and "Catholics for Kerry" is that, as Karl Keating said in an e-letter to readers back in March,

Issues such as education, health care, the environment, jobs, trade, and taxes are all important--but on them Catholics are permitted a wide liberty. On the five non-negotiables (abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, human cloning and homosexual marriage), there is only one possible position for a conscientious Catholic to take: complete opposition. The Church mandates no such uniformity on these other issues.

Crisis magazine editor Deal Hudson dealt with the "single-issue" voter libel in last month's issue, in which he contended that Catholics should think of themselves as dominant-issue voters, recognizing that some moral issues merit greater attention than others:

The Catholic Church proposes a vertical—not horizontal—list of moral and social issues for political consideration. The life issues—including abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem-cell research, and cloning—are at the top of that hierarchy. These issues should be considered dominant in determining how to vote for two simple reasons: First, the protection of life—the right to life—is a moral principle that sits at the foundation of morality itself. And it's one of the three foundational rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. There could be no right to liberty or happiness unless there were a living person in the first place.

Second, the Catholic injunction to oppose abortion is unqualified: Individuals are not required, or allowed, to make prudential judgments of the principle to a specific case. Appeals to private "conscience" cannot override this infallible teaching. . . .

There is no question, then, that as the dominant issue, a politician's position on abortion qualifies him or her for the Catholic vote. From the perspective of the Church, not all the policy positions taken by candidates are of equal importance. Catholics, by understanding themselves as dominant-issue voters, can preserve the hierarchy of values at the core of Church teaching while not ignoring the legitimate spectrum of issues important to political consideration.

Nathan has voiced his discontent that "President Bush has done nothing to decrease abortions in this country, and that he is not actually as strongly pro-life as many assume he is" -- statements which may be countered by this compilation of facts and articles by Fr. Peter West. Nevertheless, it is true that Bush's "pro-life" stance is not exactly unconditional, and the GOP's courting of pro-choice Catholic politicians like Gov. Pataki, Gov. Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani certainly merits Catholic criticism. On Catholic Kerry Watch, I recently defended the right of Catholics to disagree with, and refrain from supporting, President Bush in November.

But I do not understand how, in light of the Church's clear, consistent and explicit teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion from the Holy Father to the Catechism to the U.S. Catholic Bishops, how a Catholic can willingly cast his vote for a party that is firmly entrenched in its support for abortion, stem-cell research, and other moral evils condemned by the Church -- and a presidential candidate who has taken every legislative opportunity to stifle the pro-life cause and ensure that Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land.

Responding to Bill Clinton's support of partial-birth abortion during the 1996 presidential race, Bishop John J. Myers informed his diocese of Peoria, IL:

The human person, created in the image of God, has a whole spectrum of rights. All of these rights must be respected. But none is more fundamental than the right to life. Certainly, when one engages in political activity or votes for candidates for office, it makes a great deal of sense to have this one over-riding right be a fundamental factor in making one's judgment. Not only is it permissible, it may be a solemn responsibility to be a "single issue voter." We simply cannot allow our country to continue down the road to becoming a "culture of death."

It defies right reason for anyone to promote abortion, euthanasia, suicide or assisted to suicide. Certainly, it is important to recall that Catholics who endorse such legislation or who back politicians who do so are being radically inconsistent with their faith. Not only are they harming our society., but also they are harming their own faith. It is imperative that they change. We must invite them to choose life and to defend life.

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