Friday, November 07, 2008

FOCA and the Conscience of the King

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has posted another excellent homily by Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo. Click here for Fr. Zuhlsdorf's gloss.

I am in substantial agreement with both men regarding the gravity of the present situation. I take issue, however, with Bishop Finn's use of the biblical "Woe to those," construction. He says:

Woe to those, particularly Catholics, who dare to try to convince us that their “choice” of a radically pro-abortion leader is within the parameters of conscience
I simply do not know that a vote for a pro-choice candidate, even for a "radically pro-abortion" candidate, is evil on its face. I certainly do not accept that no one may ever conscientiously vote for a pro-choice candidate, however careful the justification must be (cf. Ratzinger, 2004).

What we can always say to anyone thinking of voting for a pro-choice candidate is:

Abortion is the single greatest issue facing our country. It is not simply one issue among many. It is the moral challenge of this generation, upon the outcome of which the survival and success of our civilization depends. A vote for N will make it easier and cheaper to get an abortion. A vote for N means a vote for a candidate who would use public funds to accommodate women bent on ripping the living flesh of their very own children from their wombs. Think on this carefully, before you vote.

Beyond this, there is nothing we can surely always say, for the circumstances and combinations of circumstances to be encountered in life are of such infinite variety that we cannot say for certain that x,y,z will always, or never obtain, and we certainly cannot know enough about the moral, spiritual and intellectual circumstances of every individual; it follows that we cannot make sweeping generalizations about conscience.

Please understand that I am not denying the objectivity of the moral order. Right is right and wrong is wrong and it is always wrong deliberately to take innocent life.

I do not disagree with the principle; I am concerned with the application of it.

There is to be no formal cooperation with evil. There may be remote material cooperation with evil, as the man who became Pope Benedict XVI explained in 2004:

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

One may argue that there are no proportionate reasons that could justify a vote for N in a given election, but that is an argument that must be made. Statement is not argument.

There is, further, an important difference, the distinction of which Bishop Finn's and, I think, Fr. Zuhlsdorf's application of the principle tends at least to blur and possibly to destroy: the difference between the character of an act and the moral/spiritual condition of the actor. If I shoot at an intruder in the dark of night, only to discover my son lying dead at my feet when I turn on the light, there has been a tragic accident, and not a murder. Similarly, I can believe there are proportionate reasons to justify voting for N, and be wrong, and still act in good conscience.

There is a further, dangerous consequence to the application of the principle, namely, the loss of the ability to be engaged in the political process and in social life generally. If the distinctions among formal, direct and remote material cooperation are lost, then we lose the ability to distinguish among, e.g. giving money to Catholics for a Free Choice, on the one hand, and using Microsoft products on the other; between giving money to Planned Parenthood, on the one hand, and watching Turner Classic Movies, on the other.

It may be that the time has come for total disengagement from all things that are supportive in any way of the agenda of the culture of death. If that time has come, then I am sinning now in writing this and you are in reading it.

I rather think it is time for fuller engagement in the political process. FOCA can be defeated, if we write to our Congressmen and women, if we educate the public about the nuts and bolts of abortion, if we help people think critically about the positions they hold.

This last is of paramount importance. Many of the pro-life movement's most ardent supporters came to be so by or after shedding a lukewarm, uncritical pro-choice stance that is the default position of so many people, especially young people. In short, they did not realize how little they really knew about abortion, and had not thought all the way through the implications of their stance. It was only after beginning to question their position that they came to recognize it as untenable, and in almost every story I have ever heard from a convert of this kind to the cause, the conversion began when a pro-lifer gently and insistently and patiently challenged the merits of the lukewarm pro-choicer's position.

In fine, we can explain to people how mistaken, how wrong, and even how morally awful their positions are, without demonizing the people who hold such positions. If we begin with demonization, we cannto hope to have people listen to us. We need to make ourselves heard and understood. To hear and understand the pro-life position in its fullness is to know its truth and rightness. Only when people have come to such understanding and knowledge, can they, can we, make real moral choices.


The Hornes said...

two quibbles about conscience:

One can vote in good conscience for a pro-choice candidate, for proportional reasons(whether right or wrong.)

However, keep in mind two things:

1) conscience is not the arbiter of morality, but is rather that which urges us to act. we must, through knowledge, wisdom, and reason, have a well-formed conscience.

2) while one may be acting in good conscience by following a wrong conscience, that does not make the action right! The person's culpability is lessened, certainly. But objective moral evil is objective moral evil, whether or not the agent is ignorant or has a wrong conscience. And should be corrected.

The problem(Catholics voting contrary to church teaching) lies not entirely with the individual, but also with we catechists who have done a poor job in forming those God has put in our lives. If a Catholic does not understand that being Catholic requires a measure of fidelity to the Church, he is ill-formed. And my question to him is, why be Catholic? Why trust the Church on things like the Eucharist, Sacraments, Mary, Saints, and Purgatory, yet go against the church on Women Priests, Abortion, Homosexuality?

Lazy Disciple said...

Dear the hornes,

Thanks very much for your comment. I hope you keep visiting the blog.

Regarding your "quibbles", I wold have a few things to say, by way of reply.

1. I am not sure the second, positive part of your statement about conscience is theologically precise (here I qualify myself as one who is trained in the sacred sciences, who has written a work on Augustine's understanding of the political implications of the relationship between Christian faith and human excellence, or virtus). Augustine tells us that conscience is the voice of the true teacher. How this voice informs the will - the faculty that urges us to act - is an inexhaustible source of anthropological speculation. What is certain is that the human person needs to be attuned to the voice, and that he is never, this side of Celestial Jerusalem, perfectly so.

It is also, therefore, imprecise to say that we must have a well-formed conscience through knowledge, wisdom and reason.

It would be more precise to say that the well-formed conscience informs the way we come to and then handle what knowledge we have, and directs our reason toward true wisdom, which is intellection in charity (or intellect informed by charity, in another formulation).

Anyone deliberately espousing principles contrary to Catholic faith and morals is clearly not in possession of a well-formed conscience. A decision to support this or that political candidate is not, however, on its own, valid as evidence of a poorly-formed conscience, because such a decision may be made in light of prudential reasoning - it may be an exercise in prudential judgment. We can disagree with persons' prudential judgments, but if and when we do, we must be careful, even painstakingly so, not to give even so much as the slightest suggestion that person N may be acting in bad faith - unless, of course, we are absolutely certain that N is in bad faith, and can find no other way to achieve our purposes (this is a requirement of justice). A fortiori, therefore, we cannot pretend that an individual's exercise of prudential reason is necessarily, on its face, a window into his conscience.

2. You will recall that, in the body of the post, I wrote, "Please understand that I am not denying the objectivity of the moral order. Right is right and wrong is wrong and it is always wrong deliberately to take innocent life." I am not quite sure to what end you raise this second point, then, since I clearly and explicitly ststed my basic and substantial agreement with what appears to be the lynchpin of your argument. Could you please elaborate a little?

Finally, I agree that formation has been sorely wanting for some time.