“Catholics Are Not Single-Issue Voters.” Really? Is that Catholic?

As we near the upcoming elections, it is not uncommon to hear Catholic leaders say something to the effect; “While abortion is the most important issue for Catholics, there are still other issues to take into consideration.”  Thus, they conclude that “Catholic should not be single-issue voters.”

I have my concerns about whether this advice is truly based on Catholic principles. While it does admit the abortion issue as the “top,” “most important,” “paramount” issue, it fails to clarify the scale of difference between the top issue and the other issues. And in so doing, I fear that it is not helpful (and could even be harmful). If I were to tell you, for example, that “an ocean is bigger than a pond,”  while this may be a true statement, it does not provide any clarity on just HOW much bigger it is. There is an omission of an important piece of information. “Top issue” in the eyes of some could simply mean a bigger pond, or a level of 10 instead of a level 8. This kind of omission is, in my estimation, grossly negligent because it fails to inform Catholics of the importance of the abortion issue, of the true ocean it is.

And what is worse, these Catholic leaders take it one step further when they say “but there are other issues to consider as well.” The message that Catholics hear is this: “When you add other issues together, they could be just as important as abortion.”  In other words, they are giving Catholics a way out. It establishes the norm (abortion is the top issue), but then suggests that the norm can be broken (“but other issues should be considered too”). Haven’t we learned from Vatican II that when you tell a Catholic—or even suggest to him—that he can make exceptions, then those exceptions will eventually become the norm? Just look at how split Catholics are at the ballot box. Half vote Republican. Half vote democrat. And most vote pro-choice. Catholics have been left confused and divided because of advice like this—advice that effectively reduces abortion to just one issue among many, like choosing one apple from a barrel (even though its the biggest and brightest apple). It is as if to say “An ocean is bigger than a pond. But… take this pond here, that pond there, and those ponds over there, and add them together, and you will have something as big as the ocean.” 

Objection: But your argument is based on the premise that abortion is an ocean. Abortion is important. But I don’t believe it on the scale as you are claiming. What about other issues that threaten human lives, like torture and capital punishment?

Response: Many Catholics think ending capital punishment or torture is an important issue to them in the elections. And if abortion were illegal, I would agree it should be. But how many people were executed in 2016? Do you want to guess? 16. Yes, that’s right, 16. And guess how many abortions were performed in 2016? Over 1 million. We could say the same for torture as well. There are 61 detainees currently in Guantanamo. And 9 have died while in prison.  Even if we make a generous guess—taking into account the 70+ terrorists arrested in 2016—that 50 terrorists could be the victims of waterboarding, what is 50 compared to 1 million?

Objection: But what about the deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants? Does this not compare to the scale of abortion?”

Response: No. In order to judge the evil of these issues, it is necessary to use proportionality. Ultimately, one must take into account three things;

  1. Intrinsic Evil: Whether the act in itself is an intrinsic evil 1)Saint Thomas Aquinas calls the act itself the “object”
  2. Gravity: The gravity of the evil involved
  3. Proliferation: The proliferation (or quantitative harm) of the evil on society

So let us take the deportation issue first;

  1. Not an intrinsic evil. The act itself, the deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants, is not intrinsically evil. And since it is not an intrinsic evil, then Catholic voters are not bound by conscience to consider this issue when voting.
  2. Gravity. Since its not intrinsically evil, neither can one determine gravity. It may result in great inconvenience. And yes, even split families apart in some cases. But the act itself is not inherently evil (As Saint Thomas Aquinas notes, there are other factors to determine whether an act is evil, such as intention and circumstance, but these factors cannot be weighed on an act that has not yet occurred; they are contingent. An intrinsically evil act, on the other hand, is always an everywhere evil no matter the intention or circumstance, which is why Catholic voters are bound to consider them.)
  3. Proliferation. This is the one category that deportation meets. 11 million is a large number of people that could potentially be affected. And it thus needs to be handled with care and sensitivity to their dignity as human beings. But again, Catholics are not morally obliged to vote based on this issue. Even though 11 million people could potentially be affected, 11 million people are not being murdered. In fact, the murder of just one person, in itself, is an act more evil than the deportation of 11 million. 

Let us next examine capital punishment;

  1. Not an intrinsic evil. In itself, capital punishment is not an intrinsic evil. The Church permits the use of lethal force by government if there is no other way to protect society from an unjust aggressor. Granted, there is debate today over whether modern prison systems render this a moot point, and both pope John Paul II and pope Francis have expressed their desire for society to expunge the use of capital punishment. But in and of itself, the act itself is not intrinsically evil. And therefore Catholics are not morally obliged to vote based on this issue.
  2. Gravity. Since it does not meet the first requirement, we cannot weigh the gravity of its evil (since the act, in itself, is not an intrinsic evil).
  3. Proliferation. As of today there were 16 deaths due to capital punishment in 2016. Comparatively, it indeed is a pond when compared to the ocean of abortion.

Let us next examine the issue of torture;

  1. Is an intrinsic evil. Torture is an intrinsic evil, since it causes unjust harm to human beings. It therefore meets the first requirement. And Catholics are thus morally obliged to consider this issue. But… exactly how much consideration should be given? We will see next.
  2. Gravity. Since the current debate is over waterboarding, let us examine the gravity of waterboarding for a moment (which causes the sensation of drowning). First, it harms people—at least psychologically—and so its gravity is very high. And yet, it is not murder. Furthermore, it is not murder of the innocent. These are guilty terrorists, not children playing on a playground. They want to destroy America. And while terrorists are people too, and while it is an offense against their dignity as human beings to abuse them to gain information, nonetheless, it does not ascend to the same class of evil as murder of the innocent does.
  3. Proliferation. As we noted above, there were 70+ terrorists arrested in 2016, and 61 current detainees in Guantanamo. Even with a generous estimate that 50 terrorists could be victims of waterboarding, this number is comparatively dwarfed by the 1+ million abortions each year. So although Catholics are morally obliged to consider the issue of torture when voting, their moral obligation is over-shadowed by abortion by a factor of 20,000-to-1, literally (on just proliferation alone).

And now let us take abortion;

  1. Is an intrinsic evil. Abortion is an intrinsic evil, since it is the unjust killing (murder) of human beings. Catholics are thus morally obliged to consider this issue when voting. But there’s more;
  2. Gravity. If harming human life is considered very grave, then murdering innocent human life is almost in a class by itself. It is evil of the highest order, not only because natural law says so (even the most virulent atheists will agree that murder is wrong, though they may disagree on other issues), but also because divine law says so (Thou shall not kill). Catholics are thus not only obliged to consider the issue, but also obliged to give it precedence when voting. But there’s still more;
  3. Proliferation. As we noted above, there are over 1 million abortions performed every year, and over 50 millions abortions performed total since Roe vs. Wade. No other human injustice comes close to this level of proliferation. So Catholics are not only obliged to consider the issue (point 1), and not only obliged to give precedence to the issue (point 2), but are also morally obliged to place this issue first above everything else combined (point 1 + point 2 + point 3).

An ocean indeed.

Thus we can see just how grossly negligent it is to tell Catholics they “should not be single-issue voters.” If abortion were illegal, then this advice would be in accord with Catholic morality. In a world without oceans (without the legalization of mass murder), then ponds will seem more significant and comparative. But as long as abortion remains legal, then the weight of the other issues, while still present, is reduced to the point of being virtually negligible. In other words, no. The answer to the original question is no. Catholics should be single-issue voters, so long as abortion is legal, because that single issue dwarfs the others to such an extent, it is as if they do not exist. Abortion is the human rights issue of our time, like slavery was a century ago, like Nazism was to the Jews (In fact, abortion has killed ten times the number of people Hitler killed. Imagine having ten Hitlers roaming free in our country killing people at random, and protected by law to do so). As mother Teresa once said, if a nation cannot protect its most helpless and defenseless people, then nothing else it does will bear significant fruit. And this is why Catholics are morally obliged to vote only for anti-abortion candidates. To do otherwise is simply not in accord with Catholic principles. It is not Catholic.



References   [ + ]

1. Saint Thomas Aquinas calls the act itself the “object”

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