DOUG KMIEC: Catholic Reasons for Hope in the General Election
"As a matter of Catholic teaching, who’s right? None of us. Who’s wrong? Also, none of us. Catholic teaching simply does not supply a single, definitive answer."
Both major political parties in the United States now have presumptive nominees for President. How a Catholic Voter should evaluate the policy positions of both of those candidates based upon the priniciples of Catholic social teaching,and inform their vote,is a subject of continuing debate.
Deacon Keith Fournier has written that he cannot endorse either Senator Obama or Senator McCain at this point. I have endorsed Senator Obama. The distinguished Catholic politics scholar, Robert George of Princeton, has endorsed Senator McCain.
As a matter of Catholic teaching, who’s right? None of us. Who’s wrong? Also, none of us. Catholic teaching simply does not supply a single, definitive answer.
The Catholic Church does not presume to tell citizens how to vote, or endorse particular candidates, but it does outline important moral considerations, including the admonition that no Catholic can choose a candidate for the purpose of advancing a moral evil such as abortion or racism. A Catholic without that intent is free to support either Senator Obama or McCain or anyone.
Deacon Keith Fournier observes that even though Senator Obama “has regularly spoken of and demonstrated in his public interest work a concern for the poor,” he needs “to expand his message of hope to include giving the hope of birth to our littlest neighbors.” From a Catholic perspective, this is sound advice.
Likewise, Deacon Fournier notes in relation to the “support [of] deadly research and experimentation on human embryonic life[,] Senator McCain tries to justify this barbarism with reference to the fact that these human embryos will inevitably die in this unethical research, calling them ‘spare embryos’. We need to help him see the error of that position.” Amen to that as well.
However, in raising “other considerations,” Deacon Fournier comments that “the next occupant of the White House will choose at least one Supreme Court Justice. That choice will, at least in this Constitutional lawyers mind, determine whether the current ‘culture of death’ hiding under the profane precedent of Roe v Wade will take another generation of our children before they are able to breathe our air and be welcomed into our family.”
Those are heart-felt words, but for the reasons discussed below, they assume – mistakenly – what the overturning of Roe would actually mean. Given that abortion is an intrinsic evil without justification, thinking the overturning of Roe “solves” the abortion problem, when it does not, can mislead Catholics into the erroneous conclusion that any candidate unwilling to pledge reversal of Roe is categorically unworthy of support. I suspect that this is why the Deacon “dreads” the beginning of the campaign since both of the major candidates fall short of the Catholic ideal on the issue of the protection of human life.
So let’s examine the nettlesome tragedy of abortion and the insufficient approaches of both candidates to date. Senator Obama’s position accepts the existing legal regime which leaves the abortion decision with the mother as a “constitutional right.” Senator McCain's position would leave the decision with the individual states. Neither position is fully pro-life, both are pro-choice, with the former focused on the individual and the latter focused on the right of the states. Senator McCain's position is sometimes described as pro-life, but in truth, it is merely pro-federalism (states being free under the McCain position to decide to permit or disallow abortion as they see fit).
Independent of my Catholic faith, as a constitutional law teacher, I respectfully disagree with both Senator Obama and Senator McCain since the Constitution was intended as a means to enforce and guarantee the unalienable right to life recited in the Declaration of Independence, where of course it is explicitly traced to our Creator. Since neither candidate presents a position fully compatible with Catholic teaching recognizing abortion for the intrinsic evil that it is, Catholic teaching asks us to work for the reduction of the incidence of abortion through the most prudent way possible.
There is no single answer on the most effective manner to reduce abortion either. My experience, and that of others whom I greatly respect for their tireless efforts in parish work and with Project Rachel and Catholic pregnancy centers, suggest that Senator Obama’s emphasis on personal responsibility (conveying especially to young people the need to understand the maturity and commitment needed for sexual intimacy) is the course most likely to make a difference.
I respect the views of my fellow Catholics who would place greater emphasis upon new legal prohibition or restriction, but my experience is that the more effective way to actually protect life is to work directly face to face with someone facing the awful thought of taking an innocent life. This is ...
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