A Remote Material Controversy
November 16, 2008 § 19 Comments
A number of people have pointed out this to me:
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.”
Much as I am temperamentally inclined to support the priest, and I’m also inclined to believe that the confidence many have that they personally voted for Obama without sin is unwarranted, in this case the priest is wrong on the moral theology.
We can consider Catholic Obama voters in two general categories: those who voted for Obama in spite of his wicked and vicious policies, for other reasons, while opposing his wicked and vicious policies; and those who voted for him because of and in support of his wicked and vicious policies. The former is remote material cooperation with grave evil, which can be justified in the presence of a proportionate reason (that is, can be justified either implicitly or explicitly under the principle of double-effect); the latter is formal cooperation with grave evil and is always itself gravely wrong. Formal cooperation with grave evil is “grave matter”; remote material cooperation with grave evil is not (necessarily) grave matter. Mortal sin requires grave matter, knowledge, and deliberate consent. An Obama voter who voted for him because of his support for legal abortion has knowingly and deliberately chosen grave evil: that is, has committed mortal sin.
That is why Cardinal Ratzinger, in a private letter to Cardinal McCarrick during the 2004 Presidential campaign controversy over politicians and Communion, wrote:
“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.”
Now I happen to believe that there was no proportionate reason to vote for Obama (or McCain, for that matter, but that’s a whole ‘nother story), which means it was objectively wrong to vote for Obama even if one did so while opposing his evil policies like his support for legal abortion; but that doesn’t make voting for Obama in itself grave matter. It is objectively wrong to tell a white lie, but it isn’t grave matter to tell a white lie. Telling a white lie is venial sin: we shouldn’t do it, but it doesn’t cut us off from the Sacraments, which are the ordinary means of salvation. And remote material cooperation with grave evil is not necessarily grave matter. (That isn’t to say that it is never grave matter; just that it is not necessarily grave matter).
So a Catholic who voted for Obama in part because of Obama’s support for legal abortion should indeed go to confession and do penance before presenting himself to receive the Blessed Sacrament. A Catholic who voted for Obama for other reasons while firmly disagreeing with Obama’s support for legal abortion does not necessarily have to do that.