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Wednesday, October 22, 2008



You write: "The individual bishops' statements to date seem to say yes to the latter question, even though recent documents issued by them collectively don't seem to say the same thing."

I submit that the bishops' operating assumption is that we are basically talking about electable candidates. For example, the recent statement from the bishops of Dallas and Fort Worth said, inter alia:

"The only moral possibilities for a Catholic to be able to vote in good conscience for a candidate who supports this intrinsic evil are the following: a. If BOTH candidates running for office support abortion or 'abortion rights,' a Catholic would be forced to then look at the other important issues and through their vote try to limit the evil done..." (emphasis added)

Note that word "BOTH." They don't say "ALL." The operating assumption is that we are talking about electable candidates.

That's because the bishops are focused on the big problem, the massive defection of Catholic voters to Obama. The little problem of scrupulous Catholic voters feeling driven to vote quixotic because they can't bring themselves to vote for McCain isn't even a blip on their radar screens.


SDG: Unlike some others, I agree with you. I think most Bishops are focused pretty much exclusively on the Obama problem. Their comments don't reflect an attention to many of these other issues.

(BTW, I am not sure I'd say there is a massive defection of Catholic voters to Obama. We will see what the results bear out, but this is hardly a new problem and will be with us for a long time given how long Catholics were permitted to equate being a Democrat with being a Catholic. The residue of tribal loyalty will just take a long, long time to wear off. Even in the way we critique the Democrat party as Catholics we often give people the misperception that this tribal loyalty approach to political parties is okay and that the only problem in supporting the Democrat party is that they are not pro-life. Well, that may be an okay approach with respect to the present state of affairs -- without getting into a broader discussion of compatibility of political ideas with the Catholic faith -- but it clearly is a treating the symptom and not the underlying defect in our political approach. From my view, it is thus doomed to failure.)

I'm sure you acknowledge this, but in fairness your labels of "quixotic" and "scrupulous" are conclusionary labels that reflect your confidence that your judment of the nature/meaning of voting and evaluation of the prudential considerations is correct. If you are wrong, those are hardly accurate labels.


BTW, the "All" I refer to appears in Faithful Citizenship.


Thanks, JACK.

It's fair to say that "scrupulous" is conclusionary language, though the term CAN be given a non-prejudicial reading. "Quixotic" I think should be considered mutually acceptable language; Mark uses the term himself.

I agree that "all" has been used, including in Faithful Citizenship. The question is: Who are "all" the candidates? Does it mean all the candidate on the ballot? Does it include candidates who may not be on the ballot but are actively campaigning for write-in votes? Would it include candidates for whom a grass-roots campagin exists to a write in the candidate, even if the candidate himself isn't necessarily actively campaigning? How big would such a grass-roots movement have to be? Would it cover you and me and Tim J thinking that Jimmy would make a great president?

If "all candidates" means "everyone for whom you could possibly cast a vote," then as Dave Mueller has pointed out there will ALWAYS be an acceptable "candidate" who does not advocate any intrinsic evil, and there would be no need to cover the moral case of voting in an election in which no such candidate exists.

But the bishops do cover such cases. Therefore "all candidates" does not mean "everyone for whom you could possibly cast a vote." So what does it mean?

I think "all candidates who could possibly win" is a reasonable interpretation, and the Texas bishops' "BOTH candidates" reinforces this interpretation.



I certainly agree that it strains credibility for it to mean anyone who possibly could be written in.

I don't reject out of hand the notion that limiting it to those who could possibly win could be a reasonable interpretation. But as I note above, I find it ironic that the defense for that largely turns on the view of the act of voting that is rejected in responding to Zippy (or ignores that prong of the analysis of a proportional reason altogether and just focuses on the damage question). I also think if we are to accept that viewpoint, we shouldn't be so quick about it. After all, it is entirely possible that by accepting that viewpoint we have created a culture that precisely leads us back into this same spot time and time again. This is part of my point about why I think the main conclusion we should reach from this is how terribly off from the ideal of cultivating a true Catholic political culture we find ourselves. We shouldn't just attribute all of the blame to why we find ourselves here to external things; it very much could arise because of our own actions, particularly how we have accustomed ourselves to think and view engaging the political sphere.

As I did with Dave M., I'll offer up the following working definiton of all the candidates who ought to be considered: all the candidates listed on the ballot. I think they should at least enter the analysis and that to do so would be a real step at changing the political culture for the better.


"As I did with Dave M., I'll offer up the following working definiton of all the candidates who ought to be considered: all the candidates listed on the ballot."

I agree in principle that all the candidates on the ballot should be CONSIDERED. Possibly other candidates should be considered also.

However, when it comes to concluding that there is "no acceptable candidate" and proceeding to the lesser of available evils, is "all the candidates on the ballot" a sufficient definition for "all" in the moral theology of the bishops' statement?

Let's suppose three candidates A, B and C. A supports all manner of evil. B is unproblematic on many important issues, but supports ESCR. C is wholly unproblematic. All three enjoy strong support and are credible contenders to win. However, C is excluded from the ballot on a technicality, though a strong grass-roots movement to vote him as a write-in has kept him in contention. In fact, his poll numbers are higher than B's. Is it legitimate to vote for B anyway, on the grounds that C isn't on the ballot and may thus be excluded from consideration?

What if the ballot also includes candidate D, who is as unobjectionable as C, but has no support and no chance of winning? Presumably we aren't obliged to give him priority over C because he's on the ballot. But what if A, B and D are on the ballot -- and there is no write-in candidate C? Are we obliged to vote for D, who has no support, because he is unproblematic, rather than B, who has a chance of beating A?

I'm not saying we shouldn't consider D. We should. But we should also consider actual possible outcomes. How we consider them and weigh all factors in seeking to promote the common good is, I submit, a matter of legitimate prudential judgment.

Voting for D may legitimately be thought to promote the common good. So may voting for B.


Your scenario, SDG, is of course an even further variation. No, I'm not suggesting that the candidates on the ballot should be considered exclusively. I'm not proposing a rubric. I suggested that as a "working definition" chiefly because it emphasizes the FACT that all of us when we enter the voting both are actually given the chance to vote for more than just a Republican or Democrat. And the chief reason it is dismissed has nothing to do with the Constitution, the ballot, or other aspects of the electoral process, but instead the fact that most people won't consider them.

If I was convinced that more people actually engaged in the type of reasoning that you mention, I'd feel more confident about the merits of these individual prudential judgments, even if I might still lament what I think is the unfortunate cultural result that comes from a continued focus on the lesser evil that I think plays a real role in continuing the cycle and preventing the development of a true Catholic culture.

I raise the issue of "what's all the candidates" in part because the Bishops' original statements put it out there in there as a question and that I've not seen much in the way of a substantive look at how to engage that question seriously rather than just going with cultural assumptions and shorthand (however, well-intended those assumptions and shorthand might be). And I do think, independent of what prudential judgment we make, we need to become more vocal about the chasm between the cultural reality that we find ourselves in and the Catholic ideal of political culture and stop washing our hands of responsibility for its creation, continuance and distortions just because we arrived at a reasonable prudential judgment.

In the end I think Zippy is right: harm will result from remote material cooperation with intrinsic evil, at least in this case. That doesn't defeat the argument for its permissibility, but let's all, as Catholics, stop pretending that permissibility is the thing we seek. Unintentionally, I think we've lost sight of these consequences.


I may have said this elsewhere, but I suspect the "all" in the USCCB document is directed more at primary voting, where more than two candidates might be running for a party's nomination, than at general elections.

Not that it doesn't apply to general elections at all, but (particularly based on subsequent statements) I'm not sure how much weight it should bear.



I recognize that's certainly a possible interpretation and that the few recent Bishops' statements you've highlighted are suggestive that that might have been what was in the forefront of their minds.

Of course, I'm not sure saying "the bishops meant all candidates with a chance to win" is a substantive answer to my question. (Nor do I think you suggest it is.) For certainly not remotely materially cooperating with evil is something we actually value. Certainly we don't go through all this effort because remote material cooperation with evil is a trivial thing. As such, I find it disastisfying if the only answer to my inquiry about third-party candidates is "well, the bishops didn't mean all to include them".

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