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Straight Guy with the Catholic Eye: Is it morally licit to vote for the 'lesser evil'?

By Matt Abbott

I recently received an e-mail in response to a commentary of mine that was posted in May, titled “‘Catholic’ John Kerry’s ‘Seamless Garment’” (see

The response was directed at this paragraph in particular:

“Now I realize that President Bush is far from perfect. But he is the better of the two. The ‘lesser evil,’ if you will. Should a faithful Catholic vote for the ‘lesser evil’? Is it always wise to do so? That's debatable. Such a vote, though, is in accord with Catholic teaching.”

After a few brief yet courteous exchanges, I received a very thoughtful and pointed "final response."

The following is the text of that e-mail, sent to me by Marcus Thompson and Janet Thompson, MA, of the Fides Foundation (

“Thank you again.

“If we are to rely exclusively on Section 73 of [Pope John Paul II's encyclical) Evangelium Vitae for Magisterial teaching on the topic of voting for political candidates who espouse abortion in some instances (the most common being rape, incest, and 'the life of the mother'), we would need to expand its scope to encompass the voter as well as the politician.

“Certainly, if the Holy Father had intended for us to do this, would he not have expressly stated that such application was indeed appropriate? Surely he is fully aware of the gravity of the present matter; and would have had no compunction about engaging the topic cogently and explicitly. It would have been well out of character for him to have omitted such a salient point from his teaching if, indeed, he had intended for it to be engaged in such manner.

"In any event, the Church seems to have never explicitly weighed in on the topic; there is no Magisterial teaching which will expressly support the actions of a voting populace that perpetuates a dominant paradigm which equivocates on the application of the Fifth Commandment, 'You shall not kill.' Therefore, absent such explicit Magisterial teaching on the topic, we must take recourse directly to the Commandment itself, and all that it implies for us under the circumstances. As we all know, no degree of sin is allowable under the Commandment. Our individual opinions and interpretations are completely irrelevant.

"Irrespective of who we are, to authoritatively represent 'the lesser of two evils' viewpoint as 'Church teaching' in this matter is to assert oneself over the Holy See; and is to effectively misrepresent the authentic teaching of Section 73 of Evangelium Vitae to an already confused faithful.

“The central substance of this topic reminds one of a quote from Catholic intellectual Edmund Burke: 'The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.' Notice that the writer does not say '...(not) do whatever seems good under the conditions,' but '...nothing.' Indeed, he was not pointing us to innovation or compromise; rather to recourse to our spiritual duties in fidelity to Christ and His Church under any given circumstance.

“We can learn a lot from the Saints in this regard. Even when confronted with the possibility of martyrdom, their fidelity consistently remained to Christ and the Magesterium. In some instances, these people had the sick, the poor, orphans, or other mortally-dependent charges in their care. Yet, not one gave in to sin for the purpose of saving themselves that those in their charge would be looked after. And, surely, in some instances this meant that those entrusted to them by God suffered death as a consequence.

“Again, we call these people Saints.

“So truly, what are we to do in situations where the degree of evil is to be measured by circumstances which surround all seemingly reasonable action? Think outside the box. Pray fervently for the Mercy of the Holy Spirit to be on all who participate in the evil at hand; that they may instead follow the Good Shepherd to His pastures of truth and moral clarity.

“There are countless millions of us Catholics in this country. If our esteemed leaders were doing their jobs and forming our brethren rightly and in accord with the authentic teachings of the Church, the culture of death itself would never have emerged in the first place. We would not be having this correspondence.

“So, indeed, we should pray for them most earnestly, and do whatever we can -- no matter how small -- to bring the Light of Christ to our brothers and sisters in this age of darkness. This is our responsibility before God.

“It is trite, but this statement just seems to fit:

“WWJD – What would Jesus do?”

Thoughts, anyone?


Matt Abbott
  IL, US
Matt Abbott - Author, 



Catholic, Abbott, politics, abortion

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