Disturbed at this Incorrect Answer to a Question on Catholic Voting

I am a fan of Catholic Answers. And almost all the time I find the treatment of hard questions - or any questions, really - in the Ask an Apologist Forum to be refreshing and responsible.

But I’m disturbed at this incorrect response given by an official Catholic apologist for all the world to see. It’s a scandal and a disservice to potentially lead someone astray about Catholic teachings on morality.

Specifically, the answer states without any clarification that it is “absolutely” right to state that a Catholic cannot “vote for a candidate advocating intrinsic evil … such as homosexuality, abortion, euthenasia.”

But I’m really disturbed by the fact that, well, that’s a falsehood. Pope Benedict XVI, while still Cardinal Ratzinger and the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained:

[quote=then-Cardinal Ratzinger]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.

He says what’s really a no-brainer to anyone who has a clue about the standard and accepted Catholic moral principle of double effect: namely, that as long as a person is voting for such a candidate in spite of his or her support for intrinsic evil, said voter is engaging only in remote material cooperation with evil rather than more direct material cooperation or formal cooperation with evil, and that voting this way can therefore be justified in certain circumstances, the determining of which is a matter for prudential judgment.

Why, then, do otherwise solid Catholic organizations like Catholic Answers feel the need to communicate outright falsehoods and, in effect, deceive people?

PLEASE NOTE, I am well aware that some ideologue numbskulls with slavish and merely instinctive devotion to the Democratic Party in the United States use the above prinicples to justify their morally nebulous habit of consistently voting for pro-abortion politicians like President Obama, et al. I AM NOT ONE OF THEM. Do NOT accuse my post here of being a smokescreen for justifying a vote for Obama or his allies. IT IS NOT.

I did not vote for Obama in 2008, I voted for McCain. And I’m voting for Romney this time around, and I certainly acknowledge the rather obvious fact that in most cases, there really isn’t proportionate reason to justify voting for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil like abortion.

So if all you have to contribute to the discussion is the equally slavish, Republican-leaning, false dichotomy-pushing, drone-like, reactionary impulse to say, “Grrrrr STOP SAYING IT’S OK 4 PEEPUL 2 VOTE 4 DIRTY BABY-KILLING SOCIALISTS,” then just please go away now.

Let me repeat this so that no one has any excuse to derail this thread with unfounded accusations: I HAVE NOT and WILL NOT vote for Obama. I DO NOT SUPPORT HIM. If I have my way, the term he is finishing will be his last. NOR DO I BELIEVE THERE ARE PROPORTIONATE REASONS THAT JUSTIFY VOTING FOR HIM.

Got it? Good.

Now that that’s out of the way, what I really do want to hear about, and don’t understand, and am disturbed by, is why otherwise accurate Catholic sources like Catholic Answers feel the need to communicate falsehoods about this matter. Does the mere awareness that many lax Catholics are ideologically bankrupt and desensitized to the absolutely critical importance of violations of the dignity of human life really justify lying to people?

Why is politics the only area this happens? :frowning: Shouldn’t we put the truth before all practical considerations, even if we know people will deliberately twist our words to make morally dubious voting choices?

I will close by offering this fine reflection by Catholic blogger Mark Shea:


He refuses to vote for a candidate who espouses approval of any intrinsic evil and thus ends up voting third-party most of the time. In this article and in the comments he exposes the absurdity of the charge against him that his actions constitute tacit support for President Obama and his allies. I wish more Catholics thought with his clarity, nuance, and brutal honesty.

Why are you so defensive and angry about this? The apologist spoke the truth and was in accord with what Ratzinger said.

The trouble is, any time the pope says something that might every so slightly be construed as a gray line, people latch onto it as if it were the be-all, end-all. We have to really look at what “justified in certain circumstances” actually means. If every single candidate was for abortion, euthanasia, etc. then these would constitute as “certain circumstances.” It would not be a sin to vote for a candidate who supported these issues if there was no other candidate supporting the moral side. The “circumstances” would be a choosing of the lesser of the two evils. This, ironically, parallels what Benedict XVI said about the use of condoms. He NEVER said that it was okay or moral to use condoms, but that if a homosexual prostitute with HIV were to use one, he would be making a step to assume moral responsibility. People latched onto that and said that the pope said condoms were sometimes okay. He did not! He never said anything of the sort…not even remotely close to it.

I’m sure there are other examples of “justifiable circumstances”, such as, if their are two candidates one who is for abortion, but is mislead and doesn’t understand the evil that is abortion, but is sincere in wanting the good of the country and is against war while the other candidate may be against abortion, but is ready to drop the atom bomb on every enemy country, believes in torturing people to get information, wants to restart the cold-war, etc.

In most probable situations, this would not be the case. In most cases, voting for a candidate who supported intrinsically evil acts would be a mortal sin. The apologist was correct in his response.

Sorry; I admit that in my middle section - the part that was about me, not the underlying issue - I was a bit preemptively defensive. I think it’s because I acutely anticipated that I would be getting some responses accusing me of supporting Obama or other politicians who support intrinsic evils, simply because what I explained technically means there might be a circumstance when voting for them could be morally acceptable.

I just wanted to make it as clear as possible that I passionately oppose such politicians.

No, he wasn’t. The apologist said that it is “absolutely correct” to state that a Catholic “cannot vote for” such politicians. That directly and self-evidently contradicts what Cardinal Ratzinger explained: namely, that such voting is remote material cooperation with evil as long as the person votes in spite of that particular politician’s repugnant support for intrinsic evil. And since remote material cooperation with evil can be morally justified under certain circumstances, it cannot be true that a Catholic categorically cannot vote for such politicians.

The apologist didn’t say “in most cases, voting for a candidate who supported intrinsically evil acts would be a mortal sin.” He said categorically that it is “absolutely correct” to state that a Catholic “cannot vote for” such candidates.

I applaud your explanations, Catholic80, but read that AAA question and response again. See for yourself.

I understand that, as you explained, many Catholics in the United States latch onto the pope’s words and twist them in precisely the way you described.

But does that justify disseminating what is, unavoidably and unfortunately, a falsehood? Of course not. I’m disturbed that concern over the practical consequences of an earthly outcome - in our case, politics - can trump a concern for truth… I’m particularly concerned that this happens in U.S. politics today, inside and outside Catholicism…

Father Vincent is 100% correct in his answer. If you do no think so then you need to reflect. You have not given any “One Holy and Catholic” piece of evidence.

I was also disturbed by Father Serpa’s answer. If what he said is true, then everyone who voted for George Bush would be guilty of a mortal sin. Why? Simply because his vice president Cheney believes in gay marriage, one of the so-called “non-negotiables.” Cheney has a daughter who has a gay partner, who are also parents.

I don’t see how we can be responsible for the moral choices of others.

If we can only vote for someone with the “correct” opinions, we won’t be able to vote at all, thus giving up our rights as U.S. citizens.

What exactly did the Bishop of Baltimore say? Maybe he was speaking about an election where you have a clear difference between two people, one that is for intrinsic evils such as abortion and homosexual marriages and one that is not. Would you think Father Serpa gave the correct answer then? Just a thought. :shrug:

Fr. Vincent is correct.

The specific examples you mentioned; voting for candidates that support abortion & euthanasia are issues of such moral gravity that I don’t believe a Catholic could vote for a candidate who supports these things.

The key phrase that you keep overlooking is “proportionate reasons”. The apologists answer was and is 100 percent correct.

I think the point is that one would only be allowed to if there was a proportianately grave reason to do so and only so long as one is voting for them despite their erroneous positions. Say for example the two options where someone who promoted forced abortions similar to the chinese 1 child policy, and someone who supported abortion in cases of rape and serious medical conditions. Are we, as Catholics, morally obliged to refrain from voting? The quote from Cardinal Ratzinger clearly says that this is not so. It would be fine, in such a scenario, to vote for the candidate who only accepted abortion under restricted circumstances so long as one was not voting for him because he promoted abortion in such cases, but rather it was because there was no way you could allow the other candidate to be elected. That would be a sufficiently proportionate reason to justify voting for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil, hence showing that it is not always wrong for a Catholic to vote for someone who is for an intrinsic evil, rather there are particular circumstances where doing so would be acceptable. Fr. Serpa should technically have qualified his statement if he wanted to make it an absolute universal. The fact that he didn’t isn’t a reason to be upset with him, (everyone generalizes a little from time to time about morality, there are too many praticular circumstances that change things to qualify everything), but if taken strictly, what he said is not quite correct.

Originally Posted by then-Cardinal Ratzinger
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.

Fone Bone,
What you are missing is the full impact of the underscored in the above quote which you provided in your original post, and that impact is this: What can be proportionate to the murder of babies in the womb? What “other” reason can you summon up that is proportionate to overrcoming the innocent deaths of thousands of babies? Is medicare a trade for their deaths? Is Social Security a proportionate trade? What can we possibly call forth that in the sight of GOD, HE would accept in a proportionate trade for the murder of all the babies which belong to HIM, and which HE knit in their mothers wombs?
Cardinal Ratizinger (Now Pope Benedict XVI ) and Father Serpa are both correct

What about my example above? Where one candidate is for abortion only when heavily restricted and the other is for forced abortions and sterilizations? obviously this is a very extreme example, but it goes to prove the point that there can be situations where it is justified.

I think it’s a bit extreme to say that Fr. Serpa’s answer was “false” or “incorrect”. I think it would be easier to argue that his answer is “incomplete.”

I’m sure Fr. Serpa is a busy man. Sometimes his answers are brief without much explanation behind them. I can understand why someone might not like that brevity, but to call it deceitful is a tad hyperbolic.

What the apologist said was correct but depending on who is running in the election, one cannot always follow that rule. In the end, one has to vote for the party that is the least evil and who has a chance of defeating the worst evil parties of them all. For example in Quebec, we are heading into a provincial election on September 4th. All of the parties and candidates are corrupt and evil. Two of the parties are claiming if they win, they are going to put in several laws that remove rights from Anglophone (English speakers) and make it illegal for civil servants to wear crosses from around their necks. The third one is also corrupt but if they are elected, the english speakers get to keep their rights and people their crosses.

If you think the American politics is crazy, please look at CBC.ca, click Montreal and look at the platforms all the candidates and parties are running. Trust me, some of what political parties are wanting to do infringes on the United Nation’s bill of rights. Right now the polls indicate the most corrupt party of them all could win the election. Every place has it’s problems but in the end, we need to vote for the party that is the least corrupt which also has a chance of defeating the party which is even more evil.

If you can, please pray for the province of Quebec. If a certain party wins, the English will lose more of its rights. As it stands, when an English speaker tries to get information from the provincial government, most of the services are only available in French and not English. The list is long therefore it must stop.


I have to admit I was bothered by the response even before I saw your post. Then I saw who the apologist was and was not too surprised.

I give Fr. Serpa thanks for the tireless efforts he puts forth to educate us in the faith. There have been a few times though when I felt he promoted his own views instead of being as fair as he can be with church teachings. The other apologists tend to focus on giving us the official teachings without much hint of their own views. I think Michelle Arnold is particularly good.

Some of my other objectionable answers from Fr. Serpa include:
Telling parents to cut off their young adult son because he wants to rent a room from a gay couple.
Telling a guy that has effeminate traits but no same sex tendency that he needs to act more like a man.

In this case, I think your objection and correction are right. One should not intend to promote immoral acts in any way. Simply voting for a politician that promotes the ‘right to chose’ isn’t in itself a sin. It is a sin when you vote for him/her because of it. Since I tend to vote democrat I struggle with these issues. I’m not that comfortable that democrats tend to be pro-choice and have avoided some that were particularly adamant about it. In my own judgement, I’m less convinced the Republicans have the right answers to end abortion in society. Meanwhile, third party candidates are considered by some to be morally superior choices to the status quo but when you dig into it, they can be just as bad or worse than the mainstream politicians. In the end it just comes down to which politicians I believe will put us on a better path for society overall. Agree that it’s not worth debating the politics of that on this thread.

Then the rule as taught by the Church is “do the least harm/evil”. So is it less evil to vote for an abortion supporting candidate, who professes - only under limited conditions - which to my knowledge is never tracked or supported by any evidence that is available to the public, so this is more of a “feel good” stance for voters. Or; is it less evil to vote for a 3rd party candidate who stands for zero abortion and show that voters are moving entirely away from supporting abortion, period. Of course then you have the arguement “my vote will not count if I vote for a 3rd party - If I vote 3rd party, then the conservatives will lose”. With the Republican ranks filled with abortion supporting members, perhaps it is time for the 3rd party movement to demonstrate that the Republicans will not be supported otherwise. When is it that we will have had enough - and what legally can we do to get that message across? By voting for abortion supporting candidates or 3rd party non-supporting candidates?

And standing before GOD on our judgement day, will the arguement - I voted for the lesser abortionist vs the no abortionist - rest with HIS mercy?

If we have a clear choice of an “abortion free” candidate, that is the lesser evil.

Please explain why I should believe you over then-Cardinal Ratzinger, whose explanation I provided in my first post.

If you cannot do so, then your assertion is mere bluster.

And like I said, I understand that some people will rather deceitfully use the truth about “remote material cooperation” to justify what is, in all likelihood, a morally dubious vote for politicians who support the grave evil of abortion. I think all who are honest and conscientious will indeed admit that, in most cases, no such proportionate reasons exist that could justify voting for someone who would support such a grave assault on the dignity of human life.

But how on earth does that just concern justify misleading people into thinking that it is intrinsically or always unacceptable to vote for a politician who supports intrinsic evil?

That’s a good point. It was the questioner’s own claim that the Bishop of Baltimore said what he said he did. But Father Serpa didn’t question his claim or clarify it… he just answered with the blanket statement that yes, it is “absolutely correct” that a Catholic “cannot vote for” such a candidate. It is precisely the sort of clarification that you seek, 10gr8kids, which was so conspicuously and alarmingly absent in the response.

One can indeed make a case that he is correct de facto… but the questioner asked about the principle at stake, and the answer wasn’t practical but rather categorical. It does indeed contradict the position of Catholic moral theology as summarized in the quote I cited by Pope Benedict XVI (then-Cardinal Ratzinger).

I don’t disagree with you, personally. Again, look at the question and answer. The matter was dealt with categorically.

Agreed. I won’t dream of judging Father Serpa personally; I’m just concerned that especially with such a publicly accessible resource as Catholic Answers, we’ve got to be more responsible than this. I don’t believe for a second that someone reading that response will get any impression other than that it is intrinsically and categorically immoral to vote for such a politician. And if that were true, in many circumstances we’d be unable to vote at all…

I agree, Julian. I know it’s disturbing to face, but look at the Q&A again: Father didn’t say what you just said. He didn’t say, “Only with proportionate reasons, and let’s be honest: there aren’t any.” He said it is “absolutely correct” that a Catholic must never “vote for” such candidates.

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to imply - nor do I believe - that he was in any way being deliberately deceitful. Of course he is a busy man, with many responsibilities. His answers on the AAA forum have often proved very enlightening for me and for others, and I am grateful for his contributions.

I think my respect for him is the reason I reacted as strongly as I have: even an equally succinct response could have conveyed the truth of the matter more accurately…

Truth be told, in life in general - and especially voting - we can’t always avoid permitting evil effects. That’s why double effect exists, to help us understand when we can do so and when we shouldn’t. If you say a Catholic categorically can’t ever vote for a politician who supports intrinsic evil, a perfectly rational questioner might come away from that thinking that Catholic teaching on ethically responsible voting is highly irrational. Nothing chills my blood like someone coming away with the false impression that Catholic Christianity is irrational…

**I continue to stand in union with Father’s answer.

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You have personally attacked a priest and called his reponse a scandal and a disservice.

Please work this out directly with Father and not on a public forum.

To me this hits the nail on the head. We are a religion of people who strive to live a moral life out of love for God. We are not irrational people.

Also, don’t agree that you’re attacking Fr. Serpa. You’ve been questioning his answer, even showing that it contradicts the Pope’s view. I’m sure Father can handle the objections without taking them personally.

Actually, if you check the Catechism, you will find that a faithful Catholic cannot vote for a candidate advocating intrinsic evil such as homosexual activity, abortion, or euthenasia.

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