Fr. Newman’s preamble is perhaps the best statement of the status questionis that I have seen anywhere (this fellow has also read his A. MacIntyre, it seems). In part II, Fr. Newman shows that pastoral sensitivity needs “anatomy” in order to be really effective, and that filial piety is perfectly compatible, indeed a prerequisite of the true and responsible exercise of human freedom.
The formulation of (I), however, is theologically imprecise and misrepresents the standing doctrine on the matter, as articulated in then Card. Ratzinger’s 2004 response. I do not question Fr.’s good faith, and I am in broad agreement with his statements. Nevertheless, as a strict, technical matter, (I) is incorrect, as the following shall demonstrate:
1. (I) begins with the words, “Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exits constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil”. This formulation presents two difficulties, to wit: a) voting for a pro-choice candidate is always co-operation with evil, regardless of whether there is a “plausible” pro-life candidate. Thus, the formulation gives the false impression that the moral status of the act is not only possibly conditioned, but entirely established by circumstance, and this is false. b) while voting for a pro-choice candidate is always to co-operate with evil, there are different kinds of co-operation. There is formal co-operation, direct material co-operation, and remote material co-operation. In the voting booth, the kind of co-operation in which one engages by pulling the lever for a pro-choice candidate is determined by the reason, and the moral reasoning process that has brought one to the judgment that informs the act. E.G. if one votes for pro-choice candidate N because of N’s pro-choice stance, then one formally co-operates in evil and should not present oneself for Holy Communion. If one votes for N despite N’s pro-choice stance, then one engages in remote material co-operation, and remote material co-operation is morally permissible in the presence of proportionate reasons. Further, and most importantly, the judgment regarding the presence of proportionate reasons is one of prudence, a judgment that each individual must make, by exercising his practical reason; while conscience informs practical reason, it does not substitute it.
There are certainly grounds for disagreeing with the prudential judgment of people who voted for president-elect Obama; no such grounds, however well established, can provide a window into the conscience.
From the preceding, it follows that Fr. Newman’s conclusion is unwarranted. It does not follow that, “Catholics who [vote for pro-choice candidates, etc.] place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law.”
That, “Persons in this condition [outside the full communion, etc.] should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation,” is certainly true. Church teaching does not warrant Fr. Newman’s sweeping judgment, however, as a correct application of the pertinent principles of moral reasoning informed by Catholic faith shows.