Monday, October 27, 2008

O brother, where art thou?

Mark Shea is a friend, a brother in Christ, and also, in a very real sense, one of my spiritual fathers. His support of my pro-life writings when I was a Protestant, combined with his making himself available to answer my questions about Catholicism with patience and humility, helped lead me to the truth of the Catholic faith.

So, it is with sadness that I observe his tireless and emphatic efforts to convince Catholics to follow him in supporting a "quixotic," unelectable third-party presidential candidate. The talents of one of the foremost Catholic apologists are currently directed towards warning Catholic McCain backers that they are committing "an objective evil" and "supporting intrinsic moral evil." He casts these judgments because McCain, who is unequivocally opposed to abortion, has expressed support for embryonic stem-cell research (though with limitations, unlike Sen. Barack Obama's anything-goes stance).

Such condemnations are, to my mind, beyond the pale, particularly given what is at stake in this election. As Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, whom I know and admire, writes in "Voting with a Clear Conscience," when neither major candidate is completely pro-life, the Church teaches it is a moral good to use one's vote to limit evil:

In this case, it is morally acceptable to vote for the candidate who will do less harm. This is not "choosing the lesser of two evils." We may never choose evil. But in the case described above, you would not be choosing evil. Why? Because in choosing to limit an evil, you are choosing a good.

... [B]y your vote, you can keep the worse person out. And trying to do that is not only legitimate, but good. Some may think it's not the best strategy. But if your question is whether it is morally permissible to vote for the better of two bad candidates, the answer -- in the case described above -- is yes.

Cardinal John O’Connor, in a special booklet on abortion, once wrote about this problem, “Suppose all candidates support ‘abortion rights’? … One could try to determine whether the position of one candidate is less supportive of abortion than that of another. Other things being equal, one might then morally vote for a less supportive position. If all candidates support "abortion rights" equally, one might vote for the candidate who seems best in regard to other issues” (1990, “Abortion: Questions and Answers”).

In this context, the question also arises as to whether one is required to vote for a third candidate who does not have a strong base of support but does have the right position. The answer is, no, you are not required to vote for this candidate. The reason is that your vote is not a canonization of a candidate. It is a transfer of power. You have to look concretely at where the power is really going to be transferred, and use your vote not to make a statement but to help bring about the most acceptable results under the circumstances.

Catholics of good will can disagree over whether voting for a third-party candidate is a higher moral good than voting for McCain. But the United States Council of Catholic Bishops' pro-life chair Cardinal Justin Rigali and domestic justice chair Bishop William Murphy remind us that reversing Roe v. Wade is "a moral imperative for Catholics and others who respect human life." It seems clear enough to me, based on the candidates' statements, that the only way we have a snowball's chance in heck of keeping the gains we've made on the Supreme Court is by electing McCain.

Mark's concern is that he's "tired of being played" after voting for candidates who fails to live up to their party's platforms. So, he's effectively using his vote and his online voice towards enabling the election of a candidate who, say what you will, has every intention of living up to his party's platform: unlimited abortion on demand at taxpayer expense. And worse will come if Obama has the opportunity to make good on the vow he made to Planned Parenthood, signing the Freedom of Choice Act.

Read background on the Freedom of Choice Act here.

Mark writes about not wanting to look at himself in the bathroom mirror for the next four years and "feel guilty for voting." I don't think of it that way.

I think of it as being able to look at the preborn child who is 20 weeks old right now and being able to say, "I helped save your life. With my vote."

Because that is what we are doing by voting for McCain. We are saving the lives of children who are in the womb now.

If Obama makes good on his vow to sign the Freedom of Choice Act as his first act in office, all the parental-notification laws passed by voters and legislators, as well as the partial-birth abortion ban, will be null and void. That means an underage teen girl now 20 weeks pregnant, living in a state where there is currently a parental-notification law, could walk into an abortion clinic at the end of January without telling her parents and have a legal partial-birth abortion at 30-plus weeks.

A vote for McCain is a vote to preserve the pro-life laws that have significantly reduced abortions, saving the lives of children who are growing in their mother's womb now.

I'm all for working to elect a candidate who will be 100% pro-life. We have four years to do that. But an Obama win would set back decades of work towards passing pro-life laws and building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade. That would not merely "punish" the Republican Party, as some have suggested. That would punish children who are right now waiting to be born, as well as their mothers, who are currently protected by laws intended to help steer them towards choosing life.

Mark, in pushing readers to vote for a third-party candidate, envisions "walking out of the [voting] booth feeling clean," almost as though exercising a political right could make one ritually pure.

There is a Gospel precedent for that, to be sure. But, with due respect to Mark and other readers who wistfully imagine washing their hands of the dirty business of two-party politics, it is not one that we are called to emulate.

I hope and pray that Mark and other Catholics considering a vote for a third-party candidate, or not voting at all, will ponder his own 2002 article on that episode in Roman politics, which is coincidentally one of the writings of his that helped lead me to the Church. It asks not how we will feel about ourselves after making decisions, but, rather, what I believe is the more important question:: "How Will We Be Remembered?"

UPDATE: Thanks to Mark for his thoughtful response, and for showing his readers the above post in its entirety.

Regarding some of the other reader reactions he notes, please pray for God to bestow the grace of charity on all who are concerned about this election, pro-life bloggers and commenters very much included.

During the past couple of weeks, I was anxiously obsessing on the divisions between pro-life Catholics with regard to the election. The post above is my attempt to get it all out of my head so I can stop worrying and focus instead on asking God's blessing and His will for our country, and on praising Him for having put the dragon under the feet of Our Lady.

Friends such as Drusilla and Fallen Sparrow have helped me see that this is not about being right, but about seeing Mark and other Catholic brethren in love and communicating with them in love. It's a simple point, but one that I need to be reminded of. Some things really are more important than this or any election.