Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Catholics and Their Electoral Responsibilities

I am so very grateful for Rob’s, Tom’s, Rick’s, Amy’s, and Greg’s recent and multiple postings on several fundamental questions regarding the role of Catholics involved with public life and the direction of our political system. Like them, I have expressed thoughts about these matters in the past [HERE], [HERE], [HERE], [HERE], [HERE] and [HERE].

But with the ongoing process of candidate debates that has begun very early and has been taking place very often, our five mentioned colleagues and friends in the Lord have focused attention on the significance of these debates in the context of the duties of the electorate who assert that they Christian and Catholic. At this point, I would like to make the following observations about the Catholic voter.

Since my return to the US, I have been able to follow more closely (and even watch) several of these debates among same-party candidates that commenced in the spring of this year. I think one thing that all Americans need to keep in mind is that, regardless of the political party to which any of these candidates belongs, each seeker of office is trying to secure the largest popular approval that he or she can attain. This means that their fellow candidates from the own parties are not above criticism, oftentimes strong. While we may object to these machinations, this is politics pure and simple in a democratic state. Once each of the parties has narrowed the competition, the strong candidates from both groups will most likely extend their criticism to the survivors of the contest of the other party. The electorate, in general, and Catholic voters, in particular, need to take stock of this: what candidates and parties promise and what they deliver are not necessarily synonymous.

Promises will be made, and all voters will have to assess their reality. In addition, the faithful Catholic must also decide how he or she will exercise the franchise not only as a citizen but as a Catholic knowing that some of what is promised by candidates will be implemented. This is no easy task since none of us can accurately predict how any candidate will conduct himself or herself once elected. As voters (and as Catholics), we should not be surprised that most strong pro-abortion candidates will remain confirmed in this view should they be elected. But one thing is certain: whatever may be promised by any candidate may not be delivered because of the necessity of political compromise.

Thus, the Catholic voter—like any voter—can be confounded by the promises of the candidate versus the record of the office holder. So what guidance does the Church offer Her faithful regarding their duties pertaining to the exercise of the franchise knowing that the outcome escapes the exactitude of the campaign promise? This question raises the need to be particularly conscious of the distinction the Church makes in Her teachings between formal cooperation and material cooperation.

John Paul II in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, N. 74 had this to say about the duty of a Christian pertaining to formal cooperation:

Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself.

This instruction applies not just to some issues, such as abortion or euthanasia, but to all. However, the Catholic might consider how material cooperation is different. On this point, then Cardinal Ratzinger had something to say in his July 2004 letter to Cardinal McCarrick:

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.

I will not be surprised if this statement from Cardinal Ratzinger is exploited by some involved with the ongoing campaigns and the 2008 election. But there are several points to keep in mind about the Cardinal’s statement.

First of all, we need to take stock of whether the candidates themselves are bound by the teachings of the Church regarding formal and material cooperation. A few of the candidates for the Presidency assert that they are Catholics, and, surely, the responsibilities imposed by Catholic teachings apply to them. Indeed, both John Paul II and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have addressed the duties of officeholders, particularly legislators, in recent years; therefore, the obligations imposed by the Church’s teachings, including those quoted from Evangelium Vitae, cannot be ignored. While those office holders and candidates who are not Catholic may argue that they are not bound by these duties, I would suggest that no one is excused from observing the moral natural law that applies to all. But my discussion today does not focus on office holders or candidates, it concentrates, rather, on the electorate who profess to be Catholic.

In addition, some Catholics voters may consider that the text quoted from the letter of Cardinal Ratzinger would enable them to vote for a pro-abortion candidate (or in favor of a candidate who supports euthanasia/assisted suicide) as long as the voter cast his or her ballot for this candidate for other reasons such as the candidate’s support for laws enhancing care for the sick and elderly, refugee relief, and education or restricting penal laws imposing capital punishment. I, for one, do not think that this is what the former head of the CDF had in mind. If it were otherwise, the Catholic voter could justify voting for any candidate or supporting any party as long as this voter expressed disagreement with the candidate (or the candidate’s party on certain issues) on these particular questions or others that conflicted with specific, fundamental, and clear Catholic teachings. For then, the Catholic would be cooperating in a material but not formal way.

But there comes the time when even material cooperation by any Catholic presents gave problems. It should not be considered either an excuse or a permission to justify whatever the user of the distinction claims.

I tender this view because candidates who are elected (and the parties to which they belong) may be emboldened to fortify their positions on issues that are antithetical to Catholic teaching and the moral natural law knowing that they can still win a good percentage of the Catholic vote that is based on the material cooperation argument. While the voter may think that his vote for such candidates is for “proportionate reasons”, the office holder who legislates for or enforces with vigor these problematic positions will likely not take this into consideration. Thus, the laws and policies that contravene Catholic teachings will assuredly become more entrenched. That is why I have previously argued in my October 8, 2006 posting that the “proportionate reasons” cannot be for any reason as long as it is “proportionate.” To properly be “proportionate”, justifications must take into account the concerns that I have mentioned that will further entrench laws and policies antithetical to the teachings of the Church. If I may borrow from Thomas More, when Catholics forsake their religious beliefs for “proportionate reasons”, they will lead this country on a road, if not to chaos, then surely to a place in which the moral natural law has been relegated to the periphery if not abandoned outright.    RJA sj

July 27, 2007 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Defining Intrinsic Evil

While Greg is packing his suitcase, I’d like to throw into the mix of Tom’s and Greg’s exchange about prudential judgment and intrinsic evil a passage from Veritatis Splendor number 80, which suggests a striking array of examples of “instrinsic evil” – and which I believe throw an important monkey wrench into conversations that try to figure out how Republican and Democratic party platforms line up with CST:

“Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image.  These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances.  Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.”

John Paul then goes on to quote a section Gaudium et Spes from which in the context of discussing the respect due to the human person gives a number of examples of intrinsically evil acts:

Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator. (quoting Gaudium et Spes number 27).

Thoughts about what difference this makes?


July 27, 2007 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Prudential Judgment, Proportionality, and the Danger of Accommodating to Intrinsic Evil

In his posting, Tom Berg thoughtfully suggests that the mere fact that the approach to an issue is left to prudential judgment under Catholic Church teaching should not be understood to mean that the matter at hand is necessarily of lesser importance than would be even a subject on which Church teaching is unequivocal, requires a specific response, and thus is not as susceptible to prudential variation.

For example, Tom hypothesizes, suppose that a candidate for the presidency were (lamentably) pro-choice on abortion, but nonetheless was the only candidate who espoused an effective means of protecting the nation’s borders against the smuggling in of a nuclear weapon that would lead to millions of American deaths at the hands of a terrorist group. (As an aside, Rudy Guiliani appears to be adopting precisely this strategy to appeal to social conservatives who are dismayed by his position on abortion. Guiliani regularly contends that the other candidates, notably the pride of Democratic candidates, frequently downplay or even ignore the terrorist threat in their speeches and debates, whereas he offers himself as a more reliable protector of our national safety.)

In many respects, I do think that Tom Berg is quite right. The mere fact that Catholic teaching does not lead ineluctably to one solution for a particular problem – that is, the methods of economic, political, or social change are left to prudential judgment – is not a perfect measure of the issue’s place in the hierarchy of matters of public concern. Indeed, his point is the only reason that I couldn’t quite say last election that a vote for John Kerry was impossible for a faithful Catholic, although it was very difficult. I do think it unlikely that the contrasts offered on other issues could ever be so stark as to implicate Tom’s hypothetical. Nonetheless, I concede that one could imagine circumstances in which a candidate’s plainly unacceptable views on one issue of unequivocal Church teaching, perhaps even on the central human rights issue of our time (i.e., the continuing holocaust against the unborn), might be out-balanced by his or her commanding attention and brilliant solution to another matter of overriding national importance (at least if the other candidates were so woefully unqualified as to fail to appreciate the urgent need to address the crisis).

Still, I suggest that one ought to very, very hesitant before going down that road. That the means to the end of a problem are left to prudential judgment signifies that persons of good will, fully in communion with the Church, might disagree on an economic, social, or political solution. But those of different perspectives on methods would nonetheless be within the bounds of the community on the basic nature of the problem and the need to seek a proper solution. By contrast, when a matter involves an intrinsic evil, such as the ongoing and casual dealing of death to unborn children, a candidate’s deliberate adoption of a policy of formally cooperating with that evil is of a completely different nature. Here we are not addressing questions of procedure but rather of the greatest substance. Thus, the presumption surely would be strong against a candidate who, whether from mendacity, foolishness, or craven pandering, would knowingly embrace an intrinsic evil or would knowingly facilitate and cooperate with those who do.

Moreover, whenever we seek to balance a candidate’s strengths in addressing matters of public concern open to exercise of prudential judgment against the candidate’s manifest weakness on a subject of clear Church teaching and defined as an intrinsic evil, the temptation of subordination of conscience to convenience is always presented. By accommodating to, or explaining away, the candidate’s stance on the matter of intrinsic evil, even by reference to other qualities of great merit on other matters, we may find ourselves developing a moral blindness.

Those in the blogosphere will recognize “Godwin’s Law,” which says that as a conversation unfolds and continues on-line, the probability that someone will make a reference to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1.0. The “Corollary to Godwin’s Law” has been that the person who so transgresses against norms of courteous discussion is declared the loser of the argument. Nonetheless, sometimes and on some subjects, it is just impossible (or too tempting) to forgo a well-targeted reminder of this historical reality. So here I go, pleading guilty to violating Godwin’s Law.

Among a number of books I am reading simultaneously during my sojourn in Rome, I have been reading Albert Speer’s “Inside the Third Reich.” Unlike most of the street thugs or disoriented and displaced workers associated with the Nazis in their early period, Speer was from a wealthy and prominent family and was well-educated as an architect. Yet Speer joined the Nazi Party and rose to become the architect of public works, and eventually the leader of wartime production, for the Third Reich. In the beginning, Speer was so attracted to Hitler’s vision of a revitalized Germany, so convinced of the need for a new civil order and Hitler's unparalleled ability to achieve it, and so entranced by the opportunities to rebuild a vibrant public sector that he was willing to look away from those parts of the Nazi platform that were not so palatable. In particular, he regarded the anti-Semitic elements of the Nazi ideology as the unseemly, even strange, but temporary flaws of an immature political movement.

However, once having embraced the Nazi movement for other and arguably public-regarding (if unsound) reasons, Speer gradually came to be less and less troubled by the Nazi hostility to the Jews, even to the point of tolerating (although never enthusiastically endorsing) the race laws and forced relocation of Jews. By the time the war came to an end, Speer had submerged all but a residue of his conscience on the "Juden Frage," even accepting the use of Jewish slave labor in building the public works and means of production that promoted his architectural dreams. Although Speer was spared the death penalty at Nuremberg by reason of evidence that he had reasonably well-treated the slave labor, providing them with better food and conditions than others, no one could doubt that his conscience had been seared by his association with the Nazis. As he later confessed, he ultimately had become the worst of criminals, whose guilt could not be expurgated in a thousand years.

Hopefully, few of us will ever face the political choice that Speer encountered or fail to make a better and more conscientious choice if we are so confronted. Nor do I mean to suggest that the issues facing modern day Americans are of the same caliber and moral importance as those facing post-World War I Germany (although the abortion issue may qualify and may be so regarded by future generations). I mean only to say that a willingness to accommodate to a matter of intrinsic evil, however we may think that a greater good may be realized by looking the other way and going along, is a dangerous course for a person of conscience, even at the voting booth.

And on that solemn note, I must prepare to leave Rome for a hopefully uplifting and peaceful journey to Siena for the weekend. This also means that I'll have no internet access for the next two days, so my colleagues on the blog may freely identify my errors of analysis without fearing any prompt response.

Greg Sisk

July 27, 2007 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Prudence, Proportionality, and Giuliani

In response to my post that the prudential status of an issue does not alone entail that it's less important than an issue on which the Church clearly speaks, Rob Driscoll at Notre Dame writes:

Is that then an argument for why Catholics who are pro-life could vote for Rudy Giuliani and not be violating Church teaching?  That, in addition to, what Professor Garnett referred to as the prudential decision regarding electability?  In other words, a Catholic who really believes that Giuliani’s leadership will save millions of American lives could vote for him despite his pro-abortion positions (and disregarding his promise to point originalist judges who likely would uphold restrictions on abortion “rights”)?

Yes in theory, although I don't buy it empirically.  If one believes -- and, I would add, has good reason to believe -- that Giuliani's approach to homeland security would be that much better than the pro-life candidate at protecting America from catastrophic likely losses of life, then the simple fact that the Church does take a position on abortion but doesn't take a position on the details of homeland security policy shouldn't logically preclude someone from finding the reasons to vote for Giuliani proportionate.  I seriously doubt as a matter of fact that Giuliani is that much better, and moreover he's endorsed waterboarding and other interrogation tactics that are deeply problematic morally and also, I think, of little value compared with the serious wound they inflict on America's standing in the world (a crucial part of reducing the appeal of terrorism).

Someone certainly should weigh Giuliani's promise to appoint strict constructionists to the Court, which points toward appointments who are more likely to limit or overrule Roe, although that prediction should be tempered by his own pro-choice views (which make him less likely to expend political capital for an anti-Roe nominee) and by his statement that being a strict constructionist does not necessarily mean overturning Roe.  The other consideration for me, though, is that because of the very difficult situations that many pregnant women face, I believe the provision of stronger social supports for them and their children is both (i) called for morally to accompany criminal abortion restrictions and (ii) crucial in strategic terms if such restrictions are to maintain public support in the long run.  Republicans tend to oppose those supports (often for far less than proportionate reasons, in my view), while Democrats tend to back them.  This is why, although I regard the overturning of Roe as very important, I cannot give Republicans -- including Giuliani -- the total nod with respect to abortion policy.  I participate in pro-life organizations that call for such supports (Democrats for Life) and also those that don't (the Christian Legal Society); but as a matter of my own voting I weigh such safety-net policies as an important consideration.

But all of this goes beyond the modest point of my first post, which was not about how to answer these issues, but just about how to analyze them: the fact that an issue is prudential in nature at the level of policy, as opposed to one on which the Church specifically teaches, does not entail that the issue is less important in the weighing process of proportionality.


July 27, 2007 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

New Website: Fordham's Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer's Work

“You’re going to be one of those parents who never let their kids out of the house to go to college.”  This was my colleague’s remark as I combed our brief to make corrections for the umpteenth time.  He was on to something.  After sitting on the Institute’s website for some time—ok, six years—we are now up and running.  Click here. 

Collecting scholarship and materials from our various programs over the past years, it hopes to serve as a resource to nourish “religious lawyering” programs across the United States and beyond.  We are—of course—still tinkering with it over the summer, so I’m all ears for suggestions or if you see glitches.


July 27, 2007 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Benedict XVI on the Postconciliar Period

Sandro Magister has a fascinating transcript of Pope Benedict XVI reflecting on the postconciliar period. Here. Although we all have our own thoughts about this period, I don't think many have the wisdom and historical perspective of Benedict (I have to say my knowledge of the aftermath of the Council of Nicaea is a bit thin). The transcript closes with a beautiful passage that reflects Benedict's humility and his deep love of "the Crucified One" and his optimism. I will only quote the last line of the transcript--"In this combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the risen Lord, who in the Council has given us a great road marker, we can go forward joyously and full of hope."

Richard M.

July 27, 2007 in Myers, Richard | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Barbie's World

Check out the “Barbie Girls” website flagged in the 7/23/07 New York Times piece about integrating MP3 players into toys.  I’d love to hear critiques from a CST perspective.  Beyond the obvious concerns about unabashed consumerism (my favorite feature is shopping for accessories for your pet), I was fascinated by the cultural implications of some of the mechanics as revealed in “tips for girls” and the message to parents. 

“When you register, you create a screen name to use on the site. Because anybody in the Barbie GirlsTM world can see your screen name, you don’t wanna include your real name . . . Instead, make up something new and creative!”  What are the cultural implications of play through screen names? Although there are obvious safety benefits, in this world of “fun, friends and fashion,” you are never yourself.

“If a girl feels that a friend or best friend is misbehaving, she can click “block” to keep that person from sending her messages. And she can instantly remove anyone from her room by clicking “ask to leave.”  Here too, there are important safety concerns, but at the same time, how do instant “block” and “ask to leave” buttons change how they perceive relationships and friendships? 

“We want you to make new friends, but we also want you to be extra careful about who you add as a friend, especially if you have never played with her before, in the real world, or online.”  While there are tight limitations on random chat in the mall, “best friends” can chat more freely because they have actually met in real life.  The definition of a “best friend?”: “To make one of your best friends in real life a best friend online, you both need to own a Barbie GirlTM. Connect your friend’s Barbie GirlTM to your computer and follow the on-screen instructions.”  What does this say about what it means to make and be a “best friend”?

The moral dimensions of the “tips for girls” are fascinating.  On one hand, there’s a constructive “golden rule” kind of message.  “Always be nice to others!  BarbieGirls.comSM is for everyone to enjoy, and that means treating others the way you wanna be treated.”  “Don’t say anything mean, rude, violent, or untrue about anything or anyone. Also, don’t encourage your friends to say any bad stuff.”

But I’m not sure about the tendency to rely on 7-year olds to intuit when something is wrong, and act on that intuition:  “It is always your responsibility to stop chatting or playing with anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable or that is misbehaving.”  “We sometimes review chatting to make sure people are being friendly and safe and are following the rules. But because we don’t constantly monitor the site, you should “report” users to us who are misbehaving.”  “You should also make sure that the other girls you play with or chat with follow the rules too.”  What does this say about authority – and perceptions of autonomy – in kids who are still pretty little?

Would love to hear your thoughts – especially those of you who as parents struggle with the implications of these kind of media.  I’m going to use the site as a springboard for a conversation next week with Focolare teenagers, who are part of their summer program are exploring how Catholic spirituality can sustain them in their everyday engagement with popular culture – I’ll keep you posted on their reactions and insights. 


July 27, 2007 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Resources on Religion and Immigration

Folks who are following immigration debates might be interested to know that papers from Fordham’s 2005 conference, Strangers No Longer: Immigration Law & Policy in the Light of Religious Values, are now available on line in PDF Format through the University of Detroit-Mercy Law Review website as part of their special volume on law and religion. 

Contributions include Michael Scaperlanda’s keynote, Immigration and Evil: The Religious Challenge, and a response by Stephen Legomsky.

Michele Pistone’s (Villanova) contribution has evolved into a book: Stepping Out of the Brain Drain: Applying Catholic Social Teaching in a New Era of Migration (Lexington Books 2007). 

Here’s a nice plug for the book by Don Kerwin of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network: "This is a ground-breaking book and should be read by everybody who cares about the interplay between migration and development. Pistone and Hoeffner detail the contributions that skilled workers make to economic development and poverty reduction in their nations of origin. In an era characterized by globalization, they see the mobility of skilled migrants as a 'gain' for both sending and receiving nations, a gain that very directly addresses the root causes of migration."


July 27, 2007 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

I Support Rudy Giuliani . . . . for Mayor of Rome

As my summer teaching in Rome begins to wind down, and I begin to reflect on a wonderful summer and all the inestimable treasures of the Eternal City, I had to honestly weigh in the drawbacks and flaws of Rome as well. As I did so, it dawned on me that this city desperately needs a Mayor Giuliani.

While citizens of Roma cannot do anything about the summer heat wave oppressing southern Europe, the same cannot be said of the pervasive graffiti on every building in every part of the city, staining even the most beautiful and ancient of edifices; the ingrained culture of littering, under which every sidewalk, every piazza, every famous site is covered with discarded cigarettes, broken bottles, newspapers, and other trash; and the ubiquitous bands of pickpockets that swarm around most public places while the polizia stand by idly. Indeed, Rome is now seeing the rise of the squeegee men! If ever a city needed a mayor who accurately diagnosed the “broken-window syndrome” and who appreciated how giving attention to the supposed little things can dramatically change the culture of a city and make it more livable, that place is Rome.

Rudy, you’ve missed your calling. Based on your years as mayor of New York City and the resulting revival of Manhattan, you are uniquely well-qualified to bring about a rebirth of livability in Rome. I could never support your presidential candidacy, but you are the perfect candidate for Mayor of Rome. And in a city in which the communists and the fascists are both viable political participants, a little thing like not being a citizen of Italy shouldn’t stand in the way. You have the Italian heritage, and speak the language, so surely that's qualification enough.

Greg Sisk (blogging from Rome)

July 27, 2007 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Prudence and Proportionality

Taking off from Daniel Suhr's remarks concerning abortion, Iraq, and proportionality, I wanted to make one comment.  It's about the relation between prudence and proportionality in voting, something I've been thinking about ever since we had a conference on the role of prudence in the Catholic social tradition here at St. Thomas Law's Murphy Institute in April 2006.  Daniel wrote that

being wholeheartedly against the War in Iraq is not a proportionate reason for being pro-choice. As Archbishop Myers reminded us in the run up to the 2004 election, the Pope did not bind the conscience of Catholics to oppose the War in Iraq - he merely expressed his own prudential judgement on the question. Moreover, as the Archbishop points out, we must remember what we are balancing here - the lives of 1.3 million unborn children in America every year. Virtually no other modern policy issue - not taxes, welfare benefits, minimum wage, farm subsidies, the war - compares on that scale.

My focus here is not on the second point in that paragraph -- that no other issue can compare to the lives of 1.3 million unborn children.  That has been discussed before on the blog, and it is a powerful prima facie argument concerning proportionality (although one can question whether any policy that the pro-life community proposes will come close to saving 1.3 million lives, and also whether some policies widely opposed by Republicans -- such as access to contraception -- will prevent more of those abortions).

I want to focus on Daniel's (and Abp. Myers's) first point -- that abortion is matter of binding conscience for Catholics whereas Iraq is a matter of prudential judgment -- because I don't think that this argument logically shows disproportionality between the two issues.  An issue could be prudential, in the sense that the Church doesn't take a position on it, and yet be overwhelmingly important.  For example, suppose a voter is very knowledgeable on homeland security matters and, based on this knowledge, believes (i) that terrorists are very likely to try to smuggle nuclear bombs through a port, with a potential loss of millions of lives, and that (ii) the pro-choice candidate's plan for securing the ports is excellent and very likely to succeed while the pro-life candidate's plan is so inadequate as to create a huge risk.  The Church doesn't take a position on how to secure ports, so this is "merely" a prudential matter at the relevant level of decision, but that doesn't mean that the ports issue isn't a proportionate reason for voting for the pro-choice candidate (not, as all the analyses of this make clear, because the candidate is pro-choice, but because of the proportionate reason of a grave threat to millions of lives).

Now, the fact that the Church doesn't take a position on some issue could be evidence that the issue isn't important.  But it's pretty weak evidence once it's been acknowledged, as thoughtful people in both the magisterium and laity have done, that there are many issues on which the Church doesn't officially speak -- at least at the level of policy -- and instead leaves the matter to the better informed (and hopefully morally well-formed) judgment of lay people in their secular callings.  "Prudential" logically does not mean "unimportant."  The fact that an issue is prudential gives people discretion concerning it -- discretion, within reason, to disagree on its resolution -- instead of binding them to treat it as less important.

Again, this objection does not go to the "1.3 million unborn children" point, which I quite agree is logically about proportionality and would have to be answered, if at all, on other grounds.  But I expect that the argument "X can't be proportionate because it's only prudential" will appear in upcoming discussion about the 2008 elections.  So I offer this as a modest proposal for how to think about (not how to resolve) these issues.


July 26, 2007 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)