Single-issue voting

“Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a politician who is pro-choice?” This question always comes up around election time, which itself suggests that the question typically should get the answer “no.” We wouldn’t otherwise be bothered by it.

There are debatable cases. The town dog-catcher won’t decide anything about babies or abortion -- so maybe one could vote for the pro-choice candidate? Maybe; but also maybe the pro-choice guy wants to run for mayor after he wins as dog-catcher. Why give him a leg up?

For congressmen, who could vote for a constitutional amendment; senators who confirm Supreme Court justices and presidents who appoint them, there seems much less room for debate.

The “no” answer is disappointing to some because it seems constrictive. Nearly an entire political party gets eliminated. Yet whose fault is that -- the “plain man who votes in good conscience,” or the political party that has made abortion-on-demand an essential plank in its platform?

Also, if it became clear that the “plain man” ruled out that party’s candidates from the start, how many election cycles do you think it would take for the party to change its platform?

Suppose half the food sold in the grocery store contained poison, but shoppers kept buying it anyway -- could it be a surprise if the food selection never became uniformly wholesome? People might think, “We’re just stuck with poisonous food, I guess. All the foods I like have poison in them.” But aren’t we responsible for that when we have a choice and keep buying the poisonous food?

It’s a worry, I agree, that single-issue voters are open to manipulation. It seems that a candidate only needs to proclaim his support on that one issue, and he wins your vote, no matter what. And then once elected he doesn’t actually need to do anything -- since you’re a captive voter.

But you’re a captive only if there is no alternative; and, as we saw, there is no alternative just so long as voters signal that they’re open to voting for candidates who are pro-choice. That is to say: those voters who continue to vote for pro-choice candidates are the enablers who make it possible in the first place for politicians to manipulate the “plain man voting in good conscience.”

Let’s not castigate the “plain man in good conscience” for being simplistic, when he’s only acting as he should. Let’s rather reserve our criticism for those Catholics who, through their poor citizenship, expose their brothers and sisters to manipulation.

Poor citizenship? Isn’t that dogmatic and harsh? Shouldn’t I presume goodwill among those who disagree with me, just as I’d expect them to show goodwill toward me?

As to goodwill, ask yourself: Do you preserve goodwill throughout every moment of the day? To everyone you meet? In every situation? But if goodwill is not an absolute constant for you in a single day, why should we think that it holds for everyone in everything that they hold? Can’t goodwill ever fail? And if it ever fails, why not here?

I won’t trot out the clichés and ask whether it was in goodwill that slaveholders kept their slaves or Nazis shot their victims. Let’s just say that goodwill in the vague sense of confused good intentions amounts to nothing, precisely because everyone has it.

I’m more interested in the goodwill that naturally results in good for others (what else could goodwill actually be?) and I fail to find goodwill in that sense in someone whose policies lead directly to bloodshed and smothered consciences on a grand scale. While we are looking together at a picture of a dismembered fetus, try to explain to me how someone who supports that as the exercise of a right has goodwill.

For all its faults, the statement by the American bishops on voter responsibility, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” makes an important clarification about single-issue voting. The phrase, “single-issue voter,” according to the bishops, is ambiguous: the meaning changes depending upon whether we regard the single issue as guaranteeing or forfeiting one’s vote.

Catholics should not be single-issue voters in the first sense; that is, “a candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support.” Nonetheless, Catholics should be single-issue voters in the second sense; that is “a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”

A single-issue is, strictly, a disqualifying issue, because it involves a policy that would destroy something essential to the well-being of a free society. For instance, someone who supported slavery or segregation as a matter of principle has adopted a position which, because of its destructiveness for a free society, disqualifies him from reasonable consideration for office.

Nothing changes if lots of others hold the same thing -- except that those others thereby disqualify themselves from reasonable consideration as well.

The Church teaches, sensibly, that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life,” and that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”

But in regard to voting for someone who supports or votes for such laws -- in a representative democracy, how is that different from supporting it oneself?

Michael Pakaluk is a professor of philosophy and the director of integrating research at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Va.

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...