M. Cathleen Kaveny, one of the three high profile self-described pro-life Catholics who supports Sen. Barack Obama for president, has made the case in an article published by the Jesuit weekly magazine “America,” that abortion is indeed an intrinsic evil, but that it is still okay to vote for pro-abortion candidates, since “intrinsic evil,” may not be “grave” enough.
Kaveny, a Professor of Law and Theology at the University of Notre Dame, has joined professors Douglas W. Kmiec and Nicholas P. Cafardi in trying to make a Catholic case for Sen. Barack Obama despite his 100% pro-abortion record.
In “Intrinsic Evil and Political Responsibility,” a long article published in America magazine’s October 27 edition, Kaveny asks, “Is the concept of intrinsic evil helpful to the Catholic voter?”
The Notre Dame professor’s answer, after a long and convoluted argument, comes in the last sentence: “the language of intrinsic evil does not help us here. Only the virtue of practical wisdom, enlightened by charity, can take us further.”
Kaveny admits that the term “intrinsic evil” is used “not only in such documents as Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the 2008 document for Catholics issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but also in political skirmishes among American Catholics.” “The term ‘intrinsic evil’ seems to connote great and contaminating evil—evil that we take inside ourselves simply by associating with it. The term itself suggests that ‘intrinsic evil’ involves wrongdoing of an entirely different magnitude than ordinary, run-of-the-mill wrongdoing. Consequently, intrinsic evils must pose great moral dangers to both individuals and society at large, and these dangers ought to dwarf all other considerations in casting one’s vote,” explains the Notre Dame professor.
Quoting Pope John Paul’s encyclical “The Splendor of Truth”, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Thomas Aquinas, Kaveny proposes that “ ‘intrinsically evil’ does not mean ‘gravely evil’,” since “intrinsically evil acts are acts that are wrong by reason of their object, not by reason of their motive or their circumstance.”
“Furthermore,” she adds, “not all intrinsically evil acts involve a significant violation of justice, the precondition for making an act illegal. No serious candidate for national office maintains that masturbation, homosexual acts or contraception should be outlawed in the United States today; and most Catholic legal theorists, whether conservative or liberal, would agree with them.”
“Some commentators,” Kaveny writes, “have suggested that voters ought to prioritize opposition to gay marriage and abortion because third parties have an overriding duty to prevent intrinsically evil acts and to protect their potential victims.”
“But this argument is incorrect,” she claims. “It is not always most important for third parties to intervene to prevent harm caused by intrinsically evil acts. Sometimes preventing harm caused by other kinds of wrongdoing, or even harm caused by natural disasters, can take priority.”
Trying to make the case for why devout Catholics should vote for Obama, she also argues that “in this fallen world, moral character alone is not enough. Political competence and other practical skills are also required. The person with the best moral character may not be the best president.”
“Finally,” Kaveny points out, “the defender might admit that there is one issue of overriding importance for which the term ‘intrinsic evil’ is useful in political considerations: abortion.”
But the professor argues that the application of this moral term “has moved far beyond the technical use normally employed in Catholic action theory: it is evocative, not analytical.”
And therefore it would be licit, she says, even necessary for a Catholic to consider other “infamies” at the same moral level of abortion and euthanasia, such as “disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons.”
In conclusion, speaking about herself, professor Kaveny says that “for many pro-life Catholics, the issue of voting and abortion comes down to this: what does one do if one thinks that the candidate more likely to reduce the actual incidence of abortion is also the one more committed to keeping it legal?”
Kaveny delivers her answer in an article published on Newsweek´s web site and penned in conjunction with professors Kmiec and Cafardi in response to an article by George Weigel.
“Is Obama the perfect pro-life candidate?” the professors ask. “No. Is he preferable to the self-proclaimed ‘pro-lifer’ McCain? Yes, because promoting life in actuality beats McCain's label and all of Weigel's elegant theorizing and hand-wringing. The Republican alternative familiar to Weigel is simultaneously self-righteous, easy and ineffective. The Democratic path is practical, anything but easy—as no act of bona fide love of neighbor ever is— but inviting of a life-affirming outcome.”