Thursday, January 28, 2016

Catholic Answers Voter's Guide is practically unusable

The Catholic Answers website has, for a few years now, published a Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics. That document attempts to provide guidance on what considerations Catholic voters in the U.S. should take into account when deciding how to cast their vote. While there are numerous accurate statements in the document, one startling omission leaves the advice practically unusable.

The Catholic Answers document correctly quotes from Church teaching:
a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.
 Which can be stated simply as: we cannot vote in favor of a moral evil.

Moral evils can be classified into two kinds:
  1. intrinsic evils -- those actions that are always wrong, regardless of the circumstances.
  2. non-intrinsic evils: those actions that are sometimes wrong, and sometimes allowable, depending on the exact circumstances surrounding the action.
We cannot vote in favor of either of these kinds of evil. They are both evil.

A voter deciding on how to vote must look for both kinds of evil. This they must do by first forming their conscience according to Catholic teaching, and then by looking at all the proposed actions and (where appropriate) the surrounding circumstances, that they are being asked to vote for. Once their conscience has decided what evils it has found, it is obliged not to vote in favor of them.

A simple example of an intrinsic evil: euthanasia. We cannot vote in favor of any political program that supports any kind of euthanasia. We do not need to look at the circumstances in which it is being applied: it is simply always wrong. (There are other kinds of intrinsic evil.)

An example of a non-intrinsic evil: the death penalty. Although the application of the death penalty by society is not an intrinsic evil, an individual voter, with a conscience well-formed by Catholic teaching, might decide that the particular surrounding circumstances in which it is proposed do make it amount to an evil. Once that individual voter has decided that this is currently the case, they would be obliged not to then vote in favor of the death penalty. (And there are other kinds of possible non-intrinsic evil.)

As the Church's teaching document quoted from above says:

The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others
 The Catholic Answers Voter's Guide fails by completely leaving out a proper consideration of  how non-intrinsic evils can affect the conscience of voters, just as intrinsic evils also do. It renders the guide unusable in practice.

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