Thoughts on “Roman Catholics for Obama ’08”

From Archbishop Chaput in First Things:

In fact, I can’t name any pro-choice Catholic politician who has been active, in a sustained public way, in trying to discourage abortion and to protect unborn human life—not one. Some talk about it, and some may mean well, but there’s very little action. In the United States in 2008, abortion is an acceptable form of homicide. And it will remain that way until Catholics force their political parties and elected officials to act differently.

Why do I mention this now? Earlier this spring, a group called “Roman Catholics for Obama ’08” quoted my own published words in the following way:

So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is: I can’t, and I won’t. But I do know some serious Catholics— people whom I admire—who may. I think their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And most important: They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up; they keep lobbying their party and their representatives to change their pro-abortion views and protect the unborn. Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if they vote for them despite—not because of—their pro-choice views.

What’s interesting about this quotation—which is accurate but incomplete—is the wording that was left out. The very next sentences in the article of mine they selected, which Roman Catholics for Obama neglected to quote, run as follows:

But [Catholics who support pro-choice candidates] also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life—which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.

On their website, Roman Catholics for Obama stress that:

After faithful thought and prayer, we have arrived at the conclusion that Senator Obama is the candidate whose views are most compatible with the Catholic outlook, and we will vote for him because of that—and because of his other outstanding qualities—despite our disagreements with him in specific areas.

I’m familiar with this reasoning. It sounds a lot like me thirty years ago. And thirty years later, we still have about a million abortions a year. Maybe Roman Catholics for Obama will do a better job at influencing their candidate. It could happen. And I sincerely hope it does, since Planned Parenthood of the Chicago area, as recently as February 2008, noted that Senator Barack Obama “has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record both in the U.S. Senate and the Illinois Senate.”

Changing the views of “pro-choice” candidates takes a lot more than verbal gymnastics, good alibis, and pious talk about “personal opposition” to killing unborn children. I’m sure Roman Catholics for Obama know that, and I wish them good luck. They’ll need it.

2 Responses

  1. What do Catholics who supported Bush note? Do they still feel justified?

    Chaput moved on his discussions of voting for pro-choice candidates. He changed his stance from a hardened near-complete endorsement of Bush to a fuzzier set of possibilities.


    Was there reflection on the uber-holy, orthodoxy-lite pick of Bush from 2004 (such as endorsed by the Deal Hudson arm of Catholic blogland)?

    What does this the selection of any candidate mean? What are the voter’s responsibilities before and after the election, particularly when such a vote is publicly called noted (on a blog, for instance)? Should those promoting Bush’s election who now have grave misgivings note these publicly if they endorsed the candidate publicly?

    I think a little more openness on the part of Chaput would give rise to insight into his now-developed position. And shed light on this very new area of ethics and morality-that of the responsibility of a citizen in an ethically-flawed democracy.

    This is what he offers as teaching, not new pronouncements that were obvious to those of us who found Bush an awful choice in 2004, but the right wing was too stubborn to listen since it came from non-conservative, and hence polluted sources.

    How and why did he change? Why did others’ change?

  2. A fascinating post on this subject by Cathleen Kaveny on the commonweal blog:

    “Archbishop Chaput, in 2004, strongly implied that it was a mortal sin to hold your nose and vote for Kerry–that those of us who thought four more years of Bush were insupportable were not only wrong, but doomed to hell unless we changed our minds. (That’s what a mortal sin is and does). I didn’t think then, and don’t think now, that fellow Catholics who vote for the Republican candidate because of abortion are committing a mortal sin.

    Even now, while his rhetoric has changed, Archbishop Chaput’s test or frame has not. Other issues are functionally invisible to him–those of us who won’t be voting for McCain need to explain ourselves to aborted babies in eternity. The burden of proof is on us. But those people who vote Republican–no explanation necessary, to anyone. What strikes me about him is that virtually all other issues than abortion are uninteresting–invisible to him. In contrast, I don’t think people on this blog aren’t deeply interested in and troubled by abortion as a moral question. Some of us spend a large part of our professional lives thinking about the relationship of law and morality.”

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