Jesus Creed

This series concerns Barack Obama, the Freedom of Choice Act, and what FOCA might mean for health care in the USA. The series is by Mary Veeneman, professor of theology and a Christian ethicist at North Park University. The issues that could flow out of FOCA — which Obama has said he will support — are so morally enormous we need to be vigilant in being strong advocates for the unborn and for the moral consciences of hospitals. There are some who think passing FOCA could dismantle the Catholic hospitals because the Catholic hospitals will not cooperate in abortions. Most Evangelicals and Catholics are joined at the hip  on opposition to abortion and to FOCA. Please read up on this one and work against FOCA. Mary Veeneman provides a context here: there are at least two ways Catholics are responding to Obama and FOCA.

Mary Veeneman: Here’s the first way some have responded. Shortly after the election, Fr. Jay Scott Newman made headlines by
instructing his parishioners not to receive communion without first
going to confession if they had voted for Barack Obama.  His
explanation for this direction was that in voting for Obama individuals
had given material cooperation with intrinsic evil and that was
sufficient to make those concerned unable to take communion.

Fr. Newman’s directive certainly created a stir among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  It also reveals a failure (on Fr Newman’s part) to engage fully with Catholic teaching on this issue. 

Here’s a second way Catholics are responding: Let’s call it a prudent conscience. In 2007, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a document titled, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship in anticipation of the 2008 election.  In this document, the bishops make clear that the voter is not to make decisions based on one issue alone.  They write,

 “The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere “feeling” about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith” (17).

The document further teaches that Catholics must not take a route to a good end if it involves immoral actions along the way

With a well-formed conscience and prudence, then, Catholics are called to make “practical judgments regarding good and evil choices in the political arena” (21).  Perhaps the most important point made by the bishops in the document is that the right to life is tied to other human rights.  All issues surrounding life are tied to one another because a failure to cherish the life of any person or group will ultimately result in a lessened respect for all life.

The bishops are clear that the destruction of human life at any stage of life (from conception to death) is wrong and must always be opposed by Catholics.  What they do not state is any one particular way in which Catholics must participate as a citizen.  Fr. Newman’s argument about those who voted for Obama is that they materially cooperated with evil in the act of voting for an individual who supports abortion rights.  What Faithful Citizenship shows is that there is a great deal of complexity in making political decisions.  The definition of material cooperation with evil also shows this.  Material cooperation with evil is an act on the part of one person in which he or she cooperates with another person who is involved in wrongdoing.  The key here is that the cooperator’s ultimate intention is not the same as the one involved in wrongdoing.  Cooperating may mean working for an individual who is committing some kind of moral wrongdoing without directly participating in the particular acts of wrongdoing.
Many people opposed to abortion voted for Obama because they liked a number of his policies and saw a potential in his language of abortion reduction.  At the same time, in the days following the election, there was a sound of alarm coming from many of the members of the USCCB.  This sound of alarm is not about Catholics who voted for Obama, but what Obama’s election and passing FOCA could mean for the Catholic health care system.
What do you think?  Do you agree with the USCCB’s discussion of the formation of conscience and the need to make practical judgments?

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