Catholics can vote for John Kerry. They don't have to, but it would not be a sin to do so, according to a distinguished theologian:
"A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."
These are not the words of some radical liberal Catholic theologian who is unconcerned about killing babies. Rather, they were written by the Cardinal President of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (once the Holy Office of the Inquisition), Joseph Ratzinger. It is as close to an official statement on the subject as one is likely to get. It says that Catholics are not obliged to vote on one issue, no matter how important that issue might be. They may vote for John Kerry "for other reasons" so long as they are not supporting him merely for his pro choice stance.

That ought to settle the matter. Catholics who have been confused by the insistence of a few bishops, some priests and some pro-life laity that they must vote against Senator Kerry, now know that they are free to make their choice balancing all issues--just as they always have been.

This theory of "indirect material cooperation" is traditional Catholic moral teaching, however obscure and convoluted its use of language. Apparently the few bishops who would exclude Catholics from Communion if they voted for Kerry didn't know much traditional moral theology--which demonstrates what the qualifications are for the bishopric these days.

The bishops of the United States actually quoted the paragraph from Cardinal Ratzinger (at the end of a memo he had sent them) in the documentation with their recent statement on the subject.

Moreover, in response to the question "whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand," the bishops did not endorse the policy of that small group of their membership who wanted such denial. "Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudent judgment on a matter of such seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop... Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action."

The moderate, if obscure, tone of their statement indicates the dilemma Catholic leaders have found themselves since Roe v. Wade. They believe, as they must, that a constitutional right to abortion is bad law. On the other hand, they know that most American women--including most Catholics--believe that it is a right they should have, even if they do not intend to exercise it.

Therefore bishops are cast in the role of those who would take away the rights of women by the exercise of political clout. This is not a good position to be in when you avow, as they do in their statement, the need to "persuade" and to "dialogue." But how do those who disagree with the Catholic Church dialogue with religious leaders who believe that they are absolutely and clearly right and that others are absolutely and clearly wrong?

I can think of only one way that bishops might earn a hearing for their teaching. While insisting on their convictions, they should refrain from questioning the integrity and good faith of those who disagree. Then they should become beacons of light on all issues concerning human life, the rights of women, and the rights of the poor and the oppressed.

Thus, while granting, for the sake of the argument, that abortion is a more serious issue than the death penalty or pre-emptive war (or depriving workers of their pensions, health benefits, or right to organize unions), bishops might imitate the Pope and more vigorously and noisily oppose the Iraq war and suggest that Catholic politicians who insist on the death penalty are not following the teachings of the Church. Cardinal Bernardin's "consistent ethic of life" theory might help bishops to look less like grand inquisitors fixated on one issue, however important, and more like men of graceful and generous concern, for human life and dignity.

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