Can Catholics Vote for Obama? Of Course!
In the waning days of the presidential campaign, there is a concerted effort by a variety of conservative groups to convince Catholics that the Church’s unequivocal pro-life teaching makes it impossible for Catholics to vote in good conscience for any pro-choice candidate, including Barack Obama. Some have even suggested that Catholic pro-choice politicians like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and Catholics who openly support them should be denied communion. If you have not gotten them already, you can expect to get robocalls, emails, or literature to this effect on the windshield of your car when it is parked in your church (most likely without your pastor’s knowledge or permission).
As many Catholics have pointed out, this is a narrow reading of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of life. Yes, the Church teaches unambiguously that abortion is an intrinsic evil that can never be supported. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship makes it quite clear that abortion is part of a broader constellation of inter-related issues that constitute the Church’s teaching on the sanctity and dignity of life:
The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights—to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors—basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work—is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs. As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught, “[Each of us] has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and, finally, the necessary social services” (Pacem in Terris, no. 11).”
Faithful Citizenship acknowledges that the Church’s full teaching on life seldom lines up neatly with the platform of a single candidate or party, and that Catholic voters face tough, sometimes even agonizing choices. Given this situation, as a nice story on NPR this morning reported, many pro-life Catholics have determined that the rigid focus on overturning Roe v. Wade is no longer an acceptable basis for the political expression of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity and dignity of all life, and may not even be the most effective way to oppose abortion.
Of course, it is certainly possible and understandable that some Catholics will in conscience continue to interpret the Church’s teaching on life narrowly and use opposition to Roe v. Wade as a litmus test to evaluate candidates. But if you do this, please don’t accuse those who disagree with you of being “cafeteria Catholics,” for you are clearly making your choices as well.
As I have mentioned on this blog previously, I will be voting for Obama because – though not the radical for socialism justice that the McCain/Palin campaign hyperbole suggests and that I would prefer – he is, as many Catholic thinkers like the prominent Catholic legal scholar (and conservative) Douglas Kmiec have pointed out, clearly more in synch with the complete body of Catholic social teaching than McCain.
As to the politics of abortion, I agree with many other Catholics and Christians who believe that it is time to transform this issue by appealing to the unacknowledged common ground that exists between people of good will who disagree on this subject. Following the final presidential debate, Jim Wallis pointed out that the exchange about abortion by Obama and McCain was remarkably free of the pro-life/pro-choice posturing that has made the issue virtually impossible to discuss rationally in American politics. This was indeed a remarkably positive moment in what was mostly a dreadful “debate.” All of us who care about this issue, from either side of the Great Divide, should work together to demand that our political representatives come together on this common ground to build a more just policy that truly reflects our commitment as Americans to both life and freedom.