In a recent conversation, I observed that if Obama gets re-elected it will be due to the “help of the U.S. Catholic bishops - most of them.” My comment was in response to a statement by an Illinois bishop which reads as follows:
"There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils...I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against...But I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy."
The instruction seems sufficiently stern and consistent with the recent warnings of many of the nation’s bishops. But the word “promotes” as in “promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil” is the wide-open hole big enough to drive an Obama-size bus right through.
Politicians, including Obama, normally don’t actively “promote” abortion. They don’t have to. Abortion is already legal and there are few politicians advocating for it to be MORE legal. They may defend it and fund it (e.g. tax dollars to Planned Parenthood) but this is not seen by the average voter as “promoting” it.
Thus, because Catholics are only advised to not vote for politicians who “promote” abortion, and none actually “promote” it, abortion never makes it on to the moral radar of most Catholic voters, and pro-abortion politicians get elected and re-elected.
By contrast, consider the statement by another Illinois bishop:
"Today, Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin."
This bishop hits it out of the park. The key difference is the word “enable”. Pro-abortion politicians know better than to stray into the abortion controversy and especially do not want to be seen promoting it. As mentioned, they don’t need to. They need only protect it, “enable” it.
They “enable” abortion in a variety of ways: by voting against pro-life legislation, neutering it with amendments, inserting provisions which allow the legislation to be enjoined once it has passed, and meddling with its enforcement - all the while covering for themselves with the “personally pro-life” label.
The troublesome USCCB document Faithful Citizenship uses the muddled instruction of the first bishop, which, in the end, leaves the average Catholic voter to decide which issues he actually cares about, or worse, justifies his penchant for sticking with his party regardless of the issues or principles involved.
In addition to the problem with the word “promote”, the first bishop ultimately torpedoes his entire intent when - after a stern instruction about the consequences of the material participation in evil - he tells his flock to “pray about it”. Sadly, for most contemporary Catholics this means “make up your own mind.”
In short, almost all episcopal instructions of the first type, though they employ words like “intrinsically evil” and “gravely sinful”, in effect, achieve the exact opposite of their intent. After several months of similar episcopal warnings, a September 2012 Pew Poll shows the pro-abortion Obama leading the pro-life Romney among Catholic voters 54-39 percent, up from 49-47 in June.
But from whence comes this timidity, this penchant for self-neutering what might have otherwise been a forthright, unequivocal, and magisterial instruction - like that of the second bishop? Some critics think that Catholic leaders pull back at the brink because they don’t want to endanger their 501(c)3 tax exempt status.
That may be. But Dr. Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College traces this diffidence back to the New Deal when the American Church began to accept the notion that public provision was akin to charity, and tax-code mandated redistribution of wealth became an article of social justice.
Rahe observes that the willing embrace of an increasingly paternalistic state by the American Church would one day come with a price, the loss of religious liberty:
"It did not cross the minds of these prelates that the liberty of conscience which they had grown to cherish is part of a larger package – that the paternalistic state, which recognizes no legitimate limits on its power and scope, that they had embraced, would someday turn on the Church and seek to dictate whom it chose to teach its doctrines and how, more generally, it would conduct its affairs."
That day has come.