By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
One of the more complicated, and politically charged, concepts in church teaching on political life is that while a Catholic may never vote for a candidate who favors an intrinsic moral evil such as abortion because of that position, there may be rare circumstances in which “proportionate reasons” suggest voting for that person despite that position.
In their “Faithful Citizenship” document approved this morning, the American bishops used the phrase “grave moral reasons” to capture the same idea.
At a press briefing following the morning session, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, chair of the Committee on Doctrine, commented on what such a “grave moral reason” might look like.
Lori observed that “Faithful Citizenship” offers an illustration, which he described “as something lots of voters will face,” of a situation in which voters are presented with two candidates, neither of whom has a strong pro-life stance.
“One possibility is the extraordinary step of not voting,” Lori said. “The other is to weight it, to see which candidate would be least likely to advance a morally flawed position and which one would be more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”
“It seems to us that this was a realistic thing that might be faced in lots of state and local elections,” Lori said. “We have to think about this document not only in terms of presidential politics, but also in terms of state and local elections.”
After the briefing concluded, Lori responded to a reporter’s question about another situation, in which one candidate may hold an anti-abortion position but oppose other concerns of the church, while that candidate's opponent may be pro-choice but sympathetic to the church in other ways.
“That’s such a hypothetical question, it would be very hard to answer as asked,” Lori said. “I think what we are saying is that if a voter is confronted with a dilemma of a pro-life candidate who is in some other way flawed or unfit for office, or likely to discredit the pro-life position, one might be in a dilemma, a difficult situation.”
“A situation could arise that the pro-life candidate would be in some other way unsuitable,” Lori said. “It could be that the way in which he would advance the pro-life cause might do more harm than good. It might be that his opposition to other human goods is so rabid that a conscientious voter might be put in a dilemma. In that case, you have to weigh that over against the other candidate.”
“The main point of the statement,” Lori said, “is that you can’t easily reach that decision. You can’t reach it because you prefer one party over another, you can’t reach it because in addition to everything else the candidate is going to make you feel better. It can't be because of economic advantage.
“You really have to go through some hoops to come to that conclusion,” Lori said. “I think that the more who go through those hoops, the better off we’re going to be.”