What are Catholic voters allowed to do?
September 17, 2020
A presidential election looms before us, and, like clockwork, the same half-truths and bad arguments from four years ago start popping up on social media, in interviews and in op eds. They revolve around what a Catholic is or is not allowed to do as a Catholic voter.
The most common question I get is whether a Catholic may vote for a pro-choice candidate. The answer is that sometimes yes, a Catholic may. It is possible, after all, that there is a circumstance somewhere in the many elections across the U.S. where the best person for the public office of, say, dog catcher is pro-choice.
In voting for that candidate, the Catholic does not advance or in any way cooperate with evil. And so long as the Catholic voter is not voting for this candidate because they are pro-choice, the U.S. bishops teach that, yes, a Catholic may vote for that pro-choice candidate.
This is why my conservative friends are wrong to shout that “one cannot be Catholic and vote for a pro-choice candidate.” That universally broad statement does not reflect the Church’s true teaching, and it is an attack against their fellow Catholics, who may be sincerely following their consciences or, in those cases where the only choices are pro-choice candidates, are engaging in laudable and prudent decision-making.
But my progressive friends are wrong to use the saying, “We are not single-issue voters,” against their fellow Catholics who refuse to vote for a pro-choice candidate. True, the bishops say that a Catholic should not start and stop with a single issue when considering someone to vote for, but they also say that a Catholic may “legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support” because that candidate supports “legal abortion” (see “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” no. 42).
In fact, in the 2019 Introductory Letter to same document, the bishops say that while we cannot ignore issues like immigration, racism, poverty and the environment, the “threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
What’s more, even though the bishops teach that there can be a circumstance where a Catholic may vote for a pro-choice candidate, when the candidate is not merely seeking to be dog-catcher but might be in a position to actually promote “an intrinsically evil act” as a serious as legal abortion, “voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons.” Private “partisan preferences” are not a good enough reason to vote for that pro-choice candidate (no. 35).
What do those look like? That is more difficult to judge, but one example from a Catholic “social justice” lobbying group is that only Vice-President Biden will help the poor. Therefore, despite his decades-long support for legal abortion, Catholics should vote for him. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, during the Trump administration the poverty rate fell in 2017 and so significantly that, by the end of 2018, it was lower than before the Great Recession. Facts are stubborn things.
In the present condition of the Republic, I am not and would never say that a Catholic must vote for this or that candidate. I do not believe it is that easy. But one thing that should be clear is that we must not lie to each other. We should all strive to live in charity and truth, for that is the standard the Lord will use at the end of time. I pray for the grace to know how to do so.
Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.