Catholic voters must ‘limit evil’ with their vote, Kansas City bishops say

Archbishop Naumann / Bishop Finn
Archbishop Naumann / Bishop Finn


The bishops of Kansas City have issued a joint pastoral letter on the voting responsibilities of Catholics, explaining the need to weigh candidates based on their support or opposition to policies that would enable “intrinsic evils.”

Calling the dissent of Catholics in public life concerning these evils “particularly disturbing,” the bishops exhorted all Catholic voters to form their consciences properly and vote in the upcoming election to “limit evil” when it cannot be eradicated.

Writing in a pastoral letter dated September 9, Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas John Naumann and Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert Finn explained that the Catholic bishops’ practice of never endorsing political candidates. This practice was not instituted to escape regulations for tax-exempt organization, but rather, is traced back to Archbishop of Baltimore John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States.

“The Church in the United States realized early on that it must not tether the credibility of the Church to the uncertain future actions or statements of a particular politician or party,” the bishops wrote. They then referenced the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that the Church is “not identified with any political community nor bound by its ties to any political system.”

However, the bishops insisted, the Church in the United States has insisted on its right “to speak to the moral issues confronting our nation,” acting with the understanding that her role is to form properly the consciences of the citizens of a democratic society.

Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn wrote that Catholics should care about policies that “promote a just and lasting peace,” welcome and defend immigrants, enable accessible and affordable health care, and show a “special concern” for the poor. Continuing their list, the bishops praised policies that protect the rights of parents to educate their children, create business and employment opportunities, and foster stewardship of the earth.

They also urged support for policies that reform the justice system through helping crime victims, rehabilitating inmates, and eliminating the death penalty.

Legitimate disagreement is possible on such issues, the bishops wrote, saying they are the objects of “prudential judgments.” Such judgments, the bishops explained, are circumstances in which people can ethically reach different conclusions.

While Catholics can disagree about the best policies and the most effective candidates related to such issues, the bishops insisted:

“Catholics have an obligation to study, reflect and pray over the relative merits of the different policy approaches proposed by candidates. Catholics have a special responsibility to be well informed regarding the guidance given by the Church pertaining to the moral dimensions of these matters.”

Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn then noted what issues can never be justified, which they said included: “legalized abortion, the promotion of same-sex unions and ‘marriages,’ repression of religious liberty, as well as public policies permitting euthanasia, racial discrimination or destructive human embryonic stem cell research.”

“To vote for a candidate who supports these intrinsic evils because he or she supports these evils is to participate in a grave moral evil. It can never be justified.”

The bishops wrote that any Catholic who deliberately votes for a candidate “precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia” would be guilty of “formal cooperation” in evil and should not present himself or herself for communion.

When it comes to issues of intrinsic evil, a properly-formed conscience “must give such issues priority even over other matters with important moral dimensions,” they explained.

In an ideal situation, there would be a choice between two candidates who both fully oppose policies that involve intrinsic evils.

However, when both candidates advocate policies that support intrinsic evils, the bishops wrote, “the appropriate judgment would be to select the candidate whose policies regarding this grave evil will do less harm. We have a responsibility to limit evil if it is not possible at the moment to eradicate it completely. ”

According to the bishops, a voter would have “insufficient moral justification” voting for a more permissive candidate, but could justifiably vote for a write-in candidate or abstain from voting at all in such a case because of a “conscientious objection.”

Explaining that “remote material cooperation” by voting for a candidate who supports intrinsic evils is permissible for “proportionate reasons,” Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn questioned whether consideration for a candidate’s position on prudential issues could outweigh considerations regarding the candidate’s support for intrinsic evils.

“What could possibly be a proportionate reason for the more than 45 million children killed by abortion in the past 35 years?” they asked. “Personally, we cannot conceive of such a proportionate reason.”
Claiming that Catholic influence has “never been greater” in U.S. politics, the bishops cautioned: “It would be wrong for us to use our numbers and influence to try to compel others to accept our religious and theological beliefs.”

However, they add, “it would be equally wrong for us to fail to be engaged in the greatest human rights struggle of our time, namely the need to protect the right to life of the weakest and most vulnerable.”

Lamenting Catholic dissent in public life, they wrote: “It is particularly disturbing to witness the spectacle of Catholics in public life vocally upset with the Church for teaching what it has always taught on these moral issues for 2,000 years, but silent in objecting to the embrace, by either political party, of the cultural trends of the past few decades that are totally inconsistent with our nation’s history of defending the weakest and most vulnerable.”

Concluding their statement, the bishops called for committed Catholics in both major political parties to insist upon respect for human life, support for the institution of marriage between a man and a woman, and religious liberty.