The Observer—Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford
Publication date: October 1, 2004
By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
Father John Dietzen in his September 3rd column replied to a question about voting for a candidate who backs abortion. Reading Fr. Dietzen’s reply and my column in the same issue must have left readers of The Observer perplexed.
Dietzen’s comments and those of well known dissidents, many in the media (secular and Catholic), and even some who consider themselves pro-life, have distorted the meaning of recent remarks made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Archbishop Raymond Burke, and others about voting. This has given some Catholics the false impression that it is perfectly acceptable to vote for pro-abortion candidates as long as the voter believes the candidates hold views on other issues that the voter feels are important.
The central issue is the interpretation of “proportionate reasons.” Kevin Miller, professor of theology, was recently quoted in Our Sunday Visitor saying “proportionate reasons” means “the good you are trying to accomplish in voting for a pro-abortion candidate has to outweigh the evil he will bring.”
Fr. Stephen F. Torraco, PhD., explains that “‘Proportionate reasons’ has a very specific meaning in Catholic moral teaching. A proportionate reason [to vote for pro-abortion candidates] would be the desire to avoid supporting an equally grave or graver intrinsic evil, and not just for any reason at all. An intrinsic evil is an evil that cannot be morally justified for any reason or set of circumstances. So, for example, capital punishment is not a proportionate reason. A candidate’s stand on economic issues is not a proportionate reason.”
Arthur Hippler, PhD., director of the Office of Justice and Peace, Diocese of LaCrosse, offers this explanation: “This could not mean…that support for a pro-abortion …candidate could be justified by his support for economic proposals, whether of a ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ character. The protection of life is greater than the protection or redistribution of wealth [CCC #2197-2198]. Cardinal Ratzinger had already affirmed the priority of protecting innocent life when he stated that ‘not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.”
Hippler continues, “…Cardinal Ratzinger’s remark would have to mean that support for a pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia candidate could only be licit where the alternative was more detrimental to the defense of innocent life. A candidate who supports legal abortion with a number of restrictions would be proportionately better than a candidate who supports abortion ‘on demand.’”
As Archbishop John Myers writes in the September 17, 2004 issue of The Wall Street Journal, “What evil could be so grave and widespread as to constitute a ‘proportionate reason’ to support candidates who would preserve and protect the abortion license and even extend it to publicly funded embryo-killing in our nation's labs? Certainly policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in any combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.”
Do not be confused by either those who sincerely misunderstand or by those who are engaging in the politics of distortion by implying that it is acceptable to vote for a pro-choice for abortion candidate over one who favors limits on abortion. Bishop Rene Gracida writes, “Since abortion and euthanasia have been defined by the Church as the most serious sins prevalent in our society, what kind of reasons could possibly be considered proportionate enough to justify a Catholic voting for a candidate who is known to be pro-abortion?” The answer is simple— none!
As I wrote in my column last month: “In those instances when neither candidate is totally opposed to abortion, but one favors some protective legislation, we ought to vote for the one who will at least limit the evil.” That vote would be for a proportionate reason—the voter would have judged that by casting a vote for the lesser of two evils (which would be morally permissible), he or she would be protecting a greater number of unborn children.