Voting by Roman Catholics opposed to abortion
Teachings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
(now Pope Benedict XVI)
Teachings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (2004):
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He issued a memorandum in
2004 that explained Church teaching on abortion as it affected the denying of Communion to politicians, and
also explained the
criteria that Catholics must use in voting. 1 The
memorandum was sent to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington DC, who
headed an Episcopal task force on Catholic politicians within the American
John Thavis of the Catholic News Service (CNS) wrote that Cardinal Ratzinger:
" ... said it is not necessarily sinful for Catholics to vote for
politicians who support abortion, as long as they are voting for that candidate
for other reasons."
Prior to the issuance of the memo, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis
and Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs had stated that any Catholics
who knowingly voted for pro-choice politicians would be committing a grave sin.
The memorandum said in part:
"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.
The language of the memorandum is somewhat ambiguous. For example, it is
unclear whether the phrase "candidate's stand in favor of abortion" means that
he/she favors abortion access, or that he/she actually promotes abortion. We
assume that it refers to promoting access to abortion and not abortion itself.
The memo seems to say that an individual would be committing a serious sin if
she/he voted for a pro-choice candidate because the politician favored
access to abortion. However, a Catholic may vote for a pro-choice candidate
without committing a sin if the voter sincerely believes that the
candidate's positions on other issues outweigh the pro-choice view on abortion.
In the case of John McCain candidacy for president in 2008, his -- and his
party's -- pro-life position was a positive factor for Catholic voters who follow
their church's teaching on abortion. However, Republican policy falls far short
of the church's stance that all abortions must be banned. Most
regulations and legislation proposed by the Republican Party that restrict access to aboritons include
exceptions allowing abortions if needed to save the life of the pregnant woman.
In the case of Barack Obama, his pro-choice stance would be a serious
negative factor for a Catholic pro-life voter. However, the
Democratic Party's 2008 platform promotes many more
causes that are part of the Church's social teaching than does the
Republican Party's platform. Democrats expect that
their proposed health care and education programs
would significantly reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby lower
the number of abortions. Also their proposed pre and post natal health care,
parenting skills, and income support programs appear certain to make childbirth
a more feasible choice for many pregnant couples. In addition, the programs would
the infant and maternal mortality rate. Their "caring adoption programs" are
also intended to encourage continued pregnancy.
It would appear that the church expects a pro-life Catholic to weigh the
policies of the two candidates and their parties carefully and consider all of
their policies before reaching a decision on for whom to vote.
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- John Thavis, "Cardinal Ratzinger lays out principles on denying Communion,
voting," Catholic News Service, 2004-JUL-06, at:
Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2008-OCT-26
Updated and reviewed: 2008-OCT-26
Author: B.A. Robinson