The Bishop of Dallas Kevin Farrell and the Bishop of Fort Worth Kevin Vann have issued a joint document concerning Catholics’ political responsibilities, receiving significant reaction for insisting that there are no “truly grave” or “proportionate” moral reasons to vote for a pro-abortion rights candidate that can outweigh the intrinsic evil of the millions killed by legal abortion each year.
The bishops’ October 8 letter noted the observance of Respect Life Month, which they said takes on a “more profound meaning” in an election year in which “the protection of human life itself, particularly that of the unborn, is very much at stake.”
Citing the U.S. bishops’ 2007 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” Bishops Farrell and Vann noted that not all issues have moral equivalence, some of them being “intrinsic evils” that can never be justified. The bishops labeled as such evils legalized abortion, the promotion of same sex unions and "marriages," repression of religious liberty, and public policies permitting euthanasia, racial discrimination or destructive human embryonic stem cell research.
“The destruction of the most innocent of human life through abortion and embryonic stem cell research not only undercuts the basic human right to life, but it also subverts and distorts the common good,” the bishops wrote. “We cannot make more clear the seriousness of the overriding issue of abortion.”
While stating that abortion is not the only issue, the bishops called it the “defining issue” of the last 35 years.
A candidate’s correct position on other issues “does not outweigh a candidate's unacceptable position in favor of an intrinsic evil such as abortion or the protection of ‘abortion rights.’”
The bishops explained that a Catholic voter may only vote “in good conscience” for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil when they are no other candidates who do not endorse such a position. “If both candidates running for office support abortion or ‘abortion rights,’ a Catholic would be forced to then look at the other important issues and through their vote try to limit the evil done,” they wrote.
Catholics could conscientiously support a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil “if another intrinsic evil outweighs the evil of abortion.”
However, they emphasized:
“While this is sound moral reasoning, there are no ‘truly grave moral’ or ‘proportionate’ reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.”
Some Catholics interpreted the letter as an endorsement of Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee who says he supports overturning Roe v. Wade.
The reading of the letter during Mass on Sunday at Holy Trinity Church in downtown Dallas prompted about two dozen parishioners to walk out.
Paul Dickel, who was at the Sunday Mass, told CBS station KTVT-TV: “I feel like that Bishop was really testing the division between church and state.”
According to political commentator Deal Hudson, about two dozen people on Wednesday held a protest at the diocesan chancery objecting to the letter.
Karen Garnett, Executive Director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas, spoke about the statement and the reaction in a phone interview with CNA on Friday.
Garnett explained that the statement was read at one Catholic parish last weekend in place of the homily.
“About two dozen people got up and walked out and went to the media to complain,” which she said created the story furthered by the protest outside the Bishop of Dallas’ office.
She reported that the document had generated an “overwhelming” and a “strong, supportive” response, estimating that positive reactions made up about eighty percent of the messages and calls sent to the diocese.
In Garnett’s view, some people are upset because don’t understand the statement.
“They think the bishops are telling them who to vote for. That’s not what the statement does,” she continued, explaining that the statement was issued to “clarify Church teaching.”
In response to the controversy, Bishop Farrell has agreed to meet with those who are protesting
Garnett said her office is “just issuing the clarification that this is not partisan, it’s not about any particular candidate.”
She added that the Catholic Pro-Life Committee in Dallas “cannot be more grateful” to the bishops, calling their document a “really clear statement” that addresses what she called the “confusion” and “misunderstanding” concerning paragraph 35 of the U.S. bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document.
That paragraph concerns the “morally grave reasons” which could justify a vote for a candidate who holds morally unacceptable positions.
“It’s an answer to our prayers, we couldn’t thank them enough,” Garnett said of Bishops Farrell and Vann’s statement.
Garnett added that the Dallas Morning News, which featured the story about the controversy on the front page of their metro section, invited the Dallas public to read the statement by including a link to the bishops’ letter reproduced on their own web site.
This produced “way more exposure than we could ever hope for through the Catholic press alone.”
“The media is actually helping us here,” she said, inviting people to read the statement themselves.
The statement may be read at http://www.prolifedallas.org/pages/Joint_Statement