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Another Errant Guide

October 4, 2020 (414 words)

Walking into the back of church this morning I was greeted by an imposing stack of “Catholic Voter Guides” almost two feet high, sitting on a small table in the vestibule. What a colossal waste of ink, I couldn’t help thinking, since the advice being offered is always a foregone conclusion: Vote Republican.

Not that I don’t appreciate the serious dilemma the earnest people who assemble these “guides” are trying to address. According to Catholic teaching, “it is never licit to obey a law that permits abortion, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it.”

These folks know full well abortion entered the American mainstream in January 1973 through an exercise in raw judicial power. They note how every Democrat with any sort of national profile has, one-by-one, succumbed to the zeitgeist concerning a woman’s right to choose. In their minds these two unfortunate developments create a clear-cut choice for voters of conscience.

Relying on a hierarchy of values to make the case for Republicans, Catholic leaders acknowledge there are many important issues before the voters: racism, immigration, healthcare, climate change, economics, etc. – but they stress how none of those other issues have the gravity abortion does.

And they are correct in that assessment. In terms of moral imperative, legalized abortion takes precedence over any other issue in the public square. The question is what to do about it. And this is where I part company with every Catholic Voter Guide that insists the answer to our prayers is to vote Republican.

Without trying to be difficult or split hairs, the only way a Catholic woman can “obey a law that permits abortion” is to have one. Certainly no Catholic should “take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of” abortion laws. And it goes without saying no Catholic should ever vote for any law permitting abortion. But when was the last time we were even given such an option on Election Day?

A Catholic Voter Guide that insists abortion can be addressed at the ballot box, even though it is not on the ballot, is missing the larger issue. The Supreme Court may have made infanticide the official law of the land back in ’73, but it was simply yielding to public pressurein handing down its decision in Roe v. Wade. This relatively recent legal turn of events was just another triumph of freedom (aka “The American Way”) over morality. It’s a process that has been unfolding since our Founding – a process that has been eating away at all of Western civilization for the last five hundred years or so.

Previously pro-life Democrats may have “evolved” their position on the matter, but they are only listening to their constituents. Mixed in there are a slew of middle-of-the-road types who recoil from the idea of having an abortion themselves, but don’t think it’s their place to stand in the way of a woman making decisions about her own body.

Given this reality, any political strategy designed to end legal abortion must address our national commitment to individual freedom, and must understand how the American concept of “liberty” has always been at odds with the objective moral law. This extends to the “economic freedom” our friends the Republicans all hold dear.

The problems of racism, immigration, healthcare, climate change, economics, etc. may not rise to the raw, unspeakable horror of abortion. But each is an important component of the common good, with a direct bearing on the level of dignity a citizen is able to experience. The Catholic approach to these “ancillary” issues should be dusted off and polished up, in order to take down the crown jewel of apostate thought, which is legalized abortion.

And in my view economics is the linchpin that holds the key to accomplishing this objective.

Catholic leaders should stop taking a back seat when it comes to economic behavior. “How to manage the economy” is not just one of many negotiable issues open to legitimate debate among people of goodwill. It’s not enough to claim the “underlying principles” of Catholic social teaching are non-negotiable, while leaving the implementation of those principles to the vagaries of the profit motive and the free market. Such leaders should roll up their sleeves and get more involved in this particular debate. They should weigh in on how the underlying principles of Catholic social teaching are, or are not, being observed by a particular economic agenda.

Unfortunately for all serious Catholics, many of whom identify as conservative politically, the cause of “social justice” has lately been co-opted by some shady characters. Their presence in this space represents an apparent cultural contradiction which distracts the serious Catholic. In times like these it pays to keep one’s eye on the prize. Not everyone pulling a certain lever, or checking off a particular box, is going to share your reasons for doing so. That’s okay. After all, no political party in a liberal democracy based on pluralism will ever embody the fullness of Catholic social teaching, or attract only like-minded purists. So don’t expect it to.

At the heart of Church teaching is the equitable distribution of profits. This is where Republican fiscal policy should come in for some pointed cross-examination by Catholic leaders. Since it is the glaring lack of equity in how profits are being distributed that plays such a large (if not exclusive) role in the current acceptance of abortion among the voting public.

Faithful clergy and earnest advocates who don’t give “economic freedom” or “market liberalism” a second thought as they battle abortion should go back to the drawing board. And they should hit the books. After they emerge from that strenuous effort, armed with a firmer grasp of this plague’s philosophical roots, then will they be able to provide something more comprehensive and more substantial than “Vote Republican.”

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr
October 4, 2020

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