A Case of Missing Integrity: Why Catholics Can Not Vote for Barack Obama

Lord Peter Wimsey, that aristocratic and debonair sleuth, remarked that “The first thing a principle does is to get someone killed.” He said so in the middle of Dorothy Sayer’s delightful book Gaudy Night, which, aside from being an entertaining mystery story is a book about intellectual integrity. What he meant was this: the moment you take up and hold an absolute truth, you have chosen one side of an irrevocable divide—you have stepped over a line in the sand. If they should kill you for it, it does not make the principle any less true. All things contradicting this truth are seen to be necessarily wrong, by that fundamental rule of reason that no one yet has ever successfully gotten around: “A thing cannot both be and not be, in the same respect and at the same time.” It’s called the Principle of Non-contradiction, if you want to be formal, but it is a thing so monumentally simple that children know it from the dawn of reason. Daddy has either got jelly-beans in his coat pocket or he has not, and it is of vital importance to know the truth of the matter, because there are no two ways about it.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether holding principles will necessarily cause the melancholy consequence that Lord Peter asserts, it is surely clear that it will cause one thing: the drawing of conclusions that follow from them. That is to say, it will necessarily follow upon the slightest attempt to reason about the subject.

For example, if one holds (as a Catholic must, for the Church has always infallibly taught it) that abortion is a grave and intrinsic evil, and simultaneously recognizes the well-known and incontrovertible fact that a certain politician supports abortion, then it surely requires no great exercise of the brain to draw the inescapable conclusion that a certain politician supports a grave and intrinsic evil. So far so good, but there is another fact that Catholics must hold: To vote for a candidate who supports a grave and intrinsic evil is to be complicit in that evil. If we combine this with the conclusion that we just reached, that a certain politician supports a grave and intrinsic evil, one can hardly help concluding that to vote for a certain politician is to be complicit in a grave and intrinsic evil.

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Just so we’re all clear on what that means, let us have some jolly old definitions. Complicit means participating in the guilt of the action by tacit consent. Grave means so serious as to place one’s eternal salvation in jeopardy. Intrinsic evil means evil in its very nature, such that it can never be justified at any time or under any circumstances. Therefore, to vote for a certain politician is to share in the guilt of an action which can never be justified at any time or under any circumstances, and which is so grave as to place one’s eternal salvation in jeopardy. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, has made no bones about stating this, in a refreshingly clear and courageous article in the Catholic Times.

Note well: the Catholic Church does not take sides in politics. The Catholic Church affirms the truth about God and man, and the moral law. If certain politicians are such that cannot be supported by Catholic voters, then it is the politicians who have placed themselves on the far side of a moral divide. The teaching of the Catholic Church is not new, and it is not specific to any particular time or place. It is catholic, which is to say, universal. If the Catholic Church does not specifically condemn the action of voting for Barack Obama by name, well, it should not be necessary to do so. Catholics cannot vote for politicians who support abortion, under pain of grave sin. Therefore, Barack Obama has made it impossible for Catholics to vote for him by choosing to support abortion—to name only one intrinsic evil that he supports. (Lest anyone imagine that abortion is the only issue of grave and intrinsic evil at stake in this election, allow me to refer you to www.PoliticalResponsibility.com. Priests for Life have put together a non-partisan guide to the issues. It states the public positions of the two major political candidates on key issues).

Even if Catholics are too timid to go around stating this conclusion publicly, at least they must hold (if they hold what the Church teaches—a not unreasonable requirement for calling oneself Catholic) the principles that lead up to it. From thence, the laws of reason point so clearly and directly to this conclusion that the silence when it is not stated is like thunder.

Obscuring the Evident and Obfuscating the Obvious
It is most remarkable therefore that Bishop William Medley, of the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, recently published an article in The Western Kentucky Catholic entitled VOTE! It is a citizen’s duty! It is a Christian’s duty! His Excellency’s article had the effect of obscuring the evident and obfuscating the obvious to a truly incredible extent. I read it many times over and could not discover any evidence of a logical thought-process in it, let alone any affirmation of Church teaching.

In summary, what the bishop said was this: that the Catholic Church neither endorses nor condemns either of the two major political parties in the United States; that he himself is not entirely happy with either of them—since one of them supports abortion (that’s on their own admission, by the way) and the other supports de-funding programs that help the poor (supposedly—the bishop did not check his facts with the Republican Office, because that’s not how the Republican candidates describe their position); that whichever party we choose to vote for, we Catholics may feel unhappy—may feel we have condoned some evil by our ballot; that he expects that the Catholic vote will be split about fifty-fifty; he prays that Catholics will have prayed and consulted Church teaching before casting their ballots; lastly, he urges us to just vote!!!

A host of questions crowd to mind. Is abortion on par with programs for the poor? Ought we to vote, if we feel that either way we are condoning something evil? If everybody prays sincerely before voting, how is it possible that the Catholic vote be split—are we to imagine that God will tell some people that it’s all right to vote for a candidate who supports abortion, and others that it’s not alright?

All of these questions have very clear and concise answers. First of all, the issues of abortion and federal programs for the poor are not morally on par. Abortion is always wrong, but the poor can be helped in a variety of ways, not necessarily including Federal spending of money that we don’t have. Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, has made that quite clear.

The Catholic Church for the past two thousand years has been firm in its teaching that abortion is a grave and intrinsic evil, whereas it does not teach that the poor must be helped by any particular government program. While there is a moral duty to help the poor, there is plenty of room for dialogue about how best to do that. The right to life is fundamental; the “right” to being provided for by government programs that have been around for less than one hundred years is completely fictitious.  The Catholic voter absolutely does not have the luxury of deciding that programs for the poor and disabled are a more important issue “for me” than the murder of innocent children in their mothers’ wombs. Cardinal-designate Burke is unequivocal in proclaiming this.

Secondly, faced with two evil options, the only possible choice for a Catholic must be the lesser of the two evils. An excellent article which lays out Church teaching on this subject may be found at EWTN.com.

Those who would like to concoct a salve for the consciences of Catholics who wish to vote for President Obama often bring up criticisms of the Republican Party. Some of these criticisms are valid, including the one that Governor Mitt Romney is not one hundred percent pro-life, since he has stated that he does not oppose abortion in the cases of incest and rape. Nevertheless, failing to oppose abortion in every case is clearly far less evil than making it widely available in every case and spending government money on making it so. Remember, faced with two evil options the Catholic must choose the lesser of two evils. Furthermore, he must choose it, not because it is evil, but only in order to prevent greater evil.

Lastly, the idea of everybody praying and then voting “fifty-fifty” is patently absurd, for we know that with God, “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17). If anyone uses his conscience to justify voting for a candidate who supports abortion, then his conscience is misinformed, and if he is willfully ignorant or defiant of the Church teaching then he is gravely at fault. As stated above, grave means so serious as to place one’s eternal salvation in jeopardy.

The Truth of the Matter
The truth of the matter is that if one holds the moral principles that one must hold to be a Catholic, then he cannot escape the conclusion that his vote in this election has serious moral consequences, and that there is one course of action that cannot in any way be justified. That course of action is to vote for a candidate who supports unrestricted abortion (human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, etc.). The mental gymnastics of those who try to escape this inexorable conclusion bring to mind that sharp phrase that children use: “Don’t pretend to be stupider than you really are.”

As things stand in our beloved and free country now, holding and affirming the moral principles of the Catholic Church does not have the unpleasant consequence that Lord Peter mentions—though the surest way of reaching a place where that is inevitable is to continue to aid and abet the current slide into moral murkiness. And Catholics have always known—from the beginning, when they killed our Master and later many of His friends—what their choice must be, if faced with such a consequence. At any rate, if we’re going to re-elect a president who has already tried to tell the Catholic Church that it must provide insurance plans covering contraceptives and abortifacients to its employees, then the bishops should perhaps start packing their shaving-kits for that prison stay that some of the more heroic have stated they would undergo rather than violate their faith and their consciences.

Our Blessed Lord cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This cry of forgiveness and compassion loses some of its force when re-phrased—as it would have to be in the case of certain people—“Forgive them, for they did such a good job of kidding themselves that in the end they really didn’t know what they were doing anymore.”


  • Bernadette O'Brien

    Bernadette O’Brien writes from Western Kentucky’s farm country. She graduated from Thomas Aquinas College in 2009.

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