By Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
Voting as material and formal cooperation in another’s sin
Beyond the Catholic voter’s responsibility to vote for a worthy candidate, some particular cases can involve other very serious moral considerations. Candidates and their parties, at times, advocate social policies and programs which are themselves gravely immoral or they endorse laws which permit intrinsically evil actions which are gravely unjust. The question arises, then: Is a choice to vote for a candidate who actively promotes grave injustices always sinful?
Certainly, it is never right to vote for a candidate in order to promote the immoral practices he or she endorses and supports. In such a case, the voter, who assists the candidate in fulfilling his or her agenda by getting into office, intends the same evil endorsed and promoted by the candidate. According to Catholic moral teaching, assisting another to achieve evil in this fashion is called formal cooperation, which is never morally permissible.
The Church, however, also recognizes that it is sometimes impossible to avoid all cooperation with evil, as may well be true in selecting a candidate for public office. In certain circumstances, it is morally permissible for a Catholic to vote for a candidate who supports some immoral practices while opposing other immoral practices. Catholic moral teaching refers to actions of this sort as material cooperation, which is morally permissible when certain conditions are met.
With respect to the question of voting, these conditions include the following:
1) there is no viable candidate who supports the moral law in its full integrity;
2) the voter opposes the immoral practices espoused by the candidate, and votes for the candidate only because of his or her promotion of morally good practices; and
3) the voter avoids giving scandal by telling anyone, who may know for whom he or she has voted, that he or she did so to advance the morally good practices the candidate supports, while remaining opposed to the immoral practices the candidate endorses and promotes.
When considering the deliberate killing of the innocent human being, it is helpful to remember the Golden Rule which applies in every moral decision: “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1789). In terms of the Golden Rule, we must ask ourselves whether it is fair to our unborn brothers and sisters to help put someone in office who will not lift a finger to save their lives because we favor that candidate’s position on health care reform, education, the death penalty or some other issue. If we were in their stage of human development, would we want them to make such a decision regarding us? The question is not peculiarly Catholic but derives from the natural moral law.
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