Begging the Proportion
October 12, 2008 § 4 Comments
The following words, taken from an endnote in a leaked private letter from Cardinal Ratziner to Cardinal McCarrick in 2004, have become a very popular citation in the Catholic blogosphere:
“When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour 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.”
What usually follows is the conclusion “therefore it is morally licit for me to vote for the candidate I favor”. But this is obviously begging the question. To conclude that it is morally licit to vote for X requires more than merely demonstrating that one’s vote for X is remote material cooperation with evil, and not formal cooperation with evil. It also requires that there actually be a proportionate reason to vote for X.
Clearly this requires one to understand what a vote is as an act and what it actually does and does not accomplish in fact, since what it is and what it accomplishes are crucial to whether or not there is a proportionate reason to do it. And this is something the Church does not tell us, and indeed does not have any special competence in telling us, since it is not a matter of faith and morals. The Church can tell us that murdering someone by poisoning him to death is evil; she does not tell us that Compound B is a poison, nor does she claim any special charism with respect to scientific truths about chemistry and biology.
So no matter how you slice it, the Church has not said and will not say that voting for a specific candidate is morally acceptable.
Nevertheless, the Catholic blogosphere is filled with confident pronouncements (the combox of that post contains quite a few) of late that the Church tells us it is morally licit to vote for McCain/Palin. The confidence is unwarranted. Indeed, not only is the confidence unwarranted: the assertion is an outright falsehood. The Church does not teach us that voting for McCain/Palin is definitely morally licit. It could be morally licit – as is the case with any act of remote material cooperation with evil – if done for a proportionate reason. But the Church has provided no guarantee that there actually is a proportionate reason.
No, not even the constant repetition of this falsehood, as comforting as some may find that repetition – and it is an outright falsehood – can make it true.