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Voting by Roman Catholics opposed to abortion

Teachings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (2004),
(now Pope Benedict XVI)

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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 church.

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 certainly lower 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.

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The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. John Thavis, "Cardinal Ratzinger lays out principles on denying Communion, voting," Catholic News Service, 2004-JUL-06, at:
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Copyright 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-OCT-26
Updated and reviewed: 2008-OCT-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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