Can a Catholic in Good Conscience Support a Democrat?

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I write this with some trepidation knowing the streams of vitriol it can unleash. But I also know that the advantage of swimming about in a backwater is that I can say pretty much any outrageous thing I care to and very, very few will notice or make comment. And that is good because it gives me breathing space to consider very difficult matters.

Personally I have not read the blogs that may assert the contrary notion (to the above title), but I have it on good authority that they are out there.

Speaking for myself the answer is a resounding, "No!" In other words, my conscience would not allow me to do so. However, I am not every other person. I have my own unique conscience and God-given experiences, my own understandings, and my own interpretations of the world. These are not universals, nor are they completely accessible to anyone else. And it is ultimately presumptious of me to determine what another's conscience necessarily dictates.

But let's qualify that immediately by saying from my point of view a Catholic in good conscience can't really support a Republican either. And again, I may only speak for my own conscience. Knowing that the candidate is likely to be none other than our present leader, I find untenable most arguments that would make it possible to vote for him. I believe that we were lied to regarding information used to justify the war in Iraq and I truly believe that there was more than a little profit motive involved in the invasion. (I also believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein is an undoubtedly good thing--but we all know that we may not use illicit means to effect a good--John at Disputations made that resoundingly clear to me on at least on occasion, and it is a critically important concept to keep in place. We may not sin that good should come from it)

I know I wade into dangerous waters when I say these things, but while the democrats fail in supporting abortion, the republicans tend to fail on much of the social agenda. They may oppose abortions, but I haven't heard much about their plans for aiding and assisting the poor women and scared young women who feel driven to abortion. I know it is not up to the government to support every single person or idea, but I am more than a little disturbed by the fact that so much attention is focused on preserving the life of the child (which is critically, fundamentally important) and so little focused on preserving the quality of life of the mother, and thus the family that would be formed as a result of giving birth. If this young mother has been driven from her house as a result of this pregnancy, if she drops out of school, or falls by the wayside because of these unfortunate circumstances there are not a tremendous number of support organizations to help her. There are large numbers of "pregnancy crisis and counseling centers," and a great many try to provide the kinds of services described, but more is needed and more focus of the life of the mother on child after birth is needed. Here in Orlando there is a wonderful organization that runs a small house for about fourteen high-school aged young mothers. This organization cares for the children while the mother is at school. They provide counseling and training and parenting and housekeeping courses after the school. They attempt to school the woman in having sufficient self-respect and self-esteem to avoid this situation in the future (assuming that the young woman made a choice that resulted in this child) and generally provide guidance and counseling.

I guess I'm saying I'd like to see more talk about what one does to support people who opt not to have an abortion. How can we help them feel life is not at an end?

I've strayed from my intent. I see as problematic issues on either side of the coin. Democrats in general support abortion and oppose capital punishment. They tend to be more environment friendly and less business friendly.

Republicans, on the other hand, tend to oppose abortion and support capital punishment. And some may argue, with some legitimacy, that capital punishment is different both in kind and degree. That is it is only levied upon those who truly deserve it after an intricate process of determination of this merit. However, capital punishment differentially affects the poor, who cannot afford the Johnny Cochrances and others to defend them. Moreover, the Holy Father has stated that while there may be circumstances under which capital punishment may be legitimate they are as rare and as circumscribed as those conditions that must be met for a just war.

I find republican social policy generally laced with repugnant assumptions--not generally spoken aloud, but tacit. It strikes me as overly Calvinist in the assumption that the poor are poor because they deserve to be.

All of this said, none of it is true for every republican or every democrat. I find currents in both parties unpalatable.

But can a Catholic in good conscience support a Democrat? I think so. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, nothing any politician is likely to do will get past what the Supreme Court has so firmly set in place and so violently protected at every turn. Witness the immediate injunction against the ban on partial birth abortions--surely an example of no-brainer legislation and restriction if every there was such. The state of belief of a politician in this matter is between the candidate and God. While the vote may cause the person to be excommunicated or not a Catholic in good standing, there is no law that says that a Catholic must vote for a Catholic. And one must judge a vote by the fullness of the intent of that vote. If the purpose in choosing a democrat is to protect the right to abortion then the choice would be illicit. If on the other hand one truly believes that a democrat would better serve the dispossessed and oppressed then all weights must be thrown into the balance. Our bishops have wisely refrained in the past from overt support of one candidate or another not out of cowardice but out of the very concrete realization that there are far too many factors to weigh and one of those must include the conscience of the person who would vote. It would certainly be no worse to vote for such a person than to vote for a known bigot, liar, or other miscreant. I wonder whether Jesus would have better things to say about those who sacrifice babies to Moloch or the poor to Mammon. Somehow I don't think either one would come out spotless--and these are part of the overall consideration when one sits down to vote. And if one considers the fullness of the issues, on nearly every other plank the democratic platform seems to more closely approach the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

My basic hope and prayer is that those Catholics who feel drawn to the democratic party remain faithful to Church teaching on abortion. I pray that they continue to influence and shape the policy of the party so that it softens from stridently pro-Herodian to listening to what I believe to be the heartbeat of the majority of Americans. The democratic party has to abandon the fringes of the pro-abortion movement and move toward the restriction of abortions after the first trimester. (Roe basically guarantees unrestricted abortion during that first trimester). From that point, we, good Catholics and Christians that we are, can work toward making the world a place of true choices where the prospect of abortion is no longer the shadow of salvation, but truly is an unappealing option in the light of the opportunities still in place for young women who are threatened with this terrible crisis.

My point is that careful examination of ANY politician's viewpoints is likely to reveal several points at which the politicians is at odds with received teaching. Abortion is an extremely important--indeed overridingly important issue; however, it seems anti-Catholic to suggest that anyone who can support a democratic candidate cannot be a true Catholic. Certainly anyone who can unreservedly support such a candidate--anyone who does not vocally and frequently make a point of their opposition to these key points of difference, may be looked at askance. But the truth of the matter may be far deeper and individual consciences are formed in different ways. I could not in good conscience vote for a democrat. But I my conscience and heart also weigh on me very heavily when I consider the alternatives. What I need to vote for is a truly Catholic Politician--pro-life, pro-woman, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-God. I honestly don't see such a person in the field of contenders and I do not hold out much hope for the election of such a person. How many people today would vote for a Mother Teresa who was running for office? Then ask the other question--is it even really possible for a person like Mother Teresa to hold such an office? Many great Royal Saints were not particularly well-known for their ability to rule. And there may be a reason for that.

My last word: Rather than looking outward and condemning what we see there, we do better to truly wrestle with our own consciences and with our own choices. We are called not to judge others and not to wish other into a separation from community and not to call upon us another split in the Church. Many Catholics who stand fully pro-life may find it difficult or impossible to support a republican for any number of very valid reasons. That is a matter for prayer, reflection, and meditation for the Catholic involved. However, it is not a matter for coercion or for shunning. We must allow each other the freedom of thought that God has allowed each of us. We must correct overt error such as when a Catholic teaches or thinks that abortion is neutral or even a positive good. But when we stare into the heart of the issues what we will see will be dictated by how we have been formed in God and we should exercise the same care, concern, and charity for one another that God lavishes upon us. My prayer is that all Catholics spend a great deal of time soul-searching and walk into the next election with their eyes wide open knowing exactly for whom and what they are voting and how that vote will need to be moderated by social activism and hard prayer and work.

And now--to usurp a more worthy person's words, "Après ça, le deluge."

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I was only able to skim your post but it reflect a lot of my own dilemna. Republicans may get them born but Democrats may be better at keeping them fed. I wish there was a viable thrid alternative that really followed God.

Thanks for raising some difficult concepts.

"What I need to vote for is a truly Catholic Politician--pro-life, pro-woman, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-God."
well, until the smockmomma runs for president there isn't much chance of that...

all kidding aside, mr. riddle, your holiness hurts my eyes. and that's a good thing. thank you.

I wish we had more viable political parties in the US. There aren't that many significant differences between the Rs and the Ds on some very serious issues -- for example, globalization is accepted uncritically by the mainstream of both parties.

Even if we had an explicitly Catholic party, it would be difficult because there could be legitimate differences of opinion on the most prudent way to implement a principle (e.g., how best to help the poor? direct subsidies, or encouraging local charities to come up with local programs? or a little of both)

But at least in a sincerely Catholic party, we would be arguing from the same basic premises (protecting life, helping the poor, etc) instead of having to hold our noses and choose between two equally disagreeable alternatives.

You have accurately and charitable reflected my own dilemma. I had been supporting Kucinich until his flip-flop on abortion, and I ended up voting in the NH primaries but not for any of the front runners.
The current policial system is about courting the votes of every minority except ours!
Micki for president, yes!! And she can appoint me director of health and human services!
About abortion alternatives - housing is a BIG issue among my patients. I have actually been thinking about contacting my pregnancy crisis center to see if I could help a young woman, seeing that I now have a spare bedroom. Alas, that also carried risks that I am not sure my family would support.


Good article Steven. We've discussed things at length over on my site, and I appreciate the balance of this piece.

By teh way, the most recent "Catholics can't vote Dem" piece is over at Disputations today, and it wasn't aimed at me in any way I can tell.

And to all others here, maybe we do need another party. How about we all write in Steven Riddle for Prez.?

Peace and Blessings!

Dear JCecil,

You're very kind, but you've probably noticed that I would talk the nation into oblivion parsing every sentence and examining every nuance. We would never have a chance to get involved with a war because I would bore all the parties to death asking about the syntactical implications of the phrasing, "Let's do lunch."





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 28, 2004 7:36 PM.

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