Catholic Voting and The Order of Truths

A common mistake that Catholics make is assuming that every Catholic teaching carries equal weight, and that as the faithful, we are equally bound to follow everything that the pope or a bishop says. Related to this is the idea that a politician who goes against Church “teaching” on one issue, like supporting a particular social program, is equal to a politician who goes against another Church teaching, like the right of unborn children to live.

For example, Commonweal’s Margaret O’Brien Steinfels’ described Paul Ryan like this: “sure, like the rest of us he is a Cafeteria Catholic.”  In other words , Rep. Ryan proposing a budget that some members of the USCCB criticized is like a Catholic supporting abortion in spite of the teachings of the Magisterium. William McGurn rightly took her to task for this false equivalency, on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, but it seems to me that one of the reasons that O’Brien Steinfels’ argument works is that most of the people talking about this are trying to score partisan points.

So here, from a Catholic (rather than a partisan) perspective, is what the Church actually teaches about when it is, and isn’t, okay for a Catholic to disagree with a Church teaching.  Everything I’ll cite to is from a Church Council or pope, who I trust we can agree aren’t going around making Magisterial statements in the hope of winning U.S. presidential elections.

I. Vatican II, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the Order of Truths 

The notion of a hierarchy of truths was explicitly mentioned by the Second Vatican Council, in Unitatis Redintegratio:

Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a “hierarchy” of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ.

Now, as the context suggests, this was targeted towards Catholic theologians dealing with non-Catholics in ecumenical dialogue.  And the point appears to be that a religious group that denies the Trinity is less Catholic than one that believes in the Trinity, but denies the authority of the Bishop of Rome.  Not all Catholic teachings are equally central.  Of course, this does not apply directly for Catholics: we must, by definition, believe in both the Trinity and the papacy.  But a similar order of truths exists for Catholics, as well.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II referenced this when he added three paragraphs to the Profession of Faith made by those teaching the Catholic faith.  He explained that these additions were “intended to better distinguish the order of the truths to which the believer adheres.”  Accompanying this was a lengthier explanation of the changes from Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  It’s well worth the read.

In it, Ratzinger explains that there are three distinct levels of Magisterial teaching, signified by each of the three paragraphs: (1) those truths which are divinely revealed, (2) those which are definitively proposed, and (3) those which belong to the authentic ordinary Magisterium.

1. Divinely Revealed

The highest of these three, of course, are those truths which are divinely revealed.  Ratzinger summarized what these beliefs were:

To the truths of the first paragraph belong the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas and Marian dogmas; the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace; the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration; the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ; the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff; the doctrine on the existence of original sin; the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death; the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts; the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.

Most of these are issues which are strictly theological: that is, politicians are rarely asked to deny their belief in the Trinity, or the sacraments, or original sin. But politicians and voters alike are asked to compromise on the last of these truth, about “the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.

Pace O’Brien Steinfels, a Catholic who supports abortion isn’t a “cafeteria Catholic.”  Rather, we rightly call that person a “heretic,” as Ratzinger explains:

These doctrines require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful. Thus, whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Codes of Canon Law.

These are the absolute core of the teachings of the Catholic Church.  You simply cannot deny them and remain “Catholic” in good standing.  Or put another way, there’s no such thing as “Catholics for Choice.” 

2. Definitively Proposed
The second tier of teachings are “those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed.”  That definition is confusing, but Cdl. Ratzinger’s examples explain what is meant: he uses the examples of the validity of papal elections and councils, as well as the invalidity of Anglican orders (as explained  by Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae).
These three areas are all ones in which truths which we know are not Divinely revealed are still necessarily true. Put differently, Jesus didn’t say, “Benedict XVI is the pope,” “Vatican II is a valid Ecumencial Council,” and “Anglican orders are invalid,” but the truths that He revealed necessarily lead us to these conclusions. If Catholics denied the validity of Benedict’s papacy, just because Jesus didn’t tell us who the 265th pope would be, the Church would fall apart.  Also on this list are canonizations of Saints.  Since these individuals lived after the time of Christ, Jesus and Scripture are silent on the matter, but given what the Deposit of Faith reveals about what it takes to be a Saint, we can know infallibly that certain individuals are in Heaven.
The difference between truths of the first and second tier are that we can say for certain that the truths of the first tier are Divinely revealed.  Given this, some of the truths in the second tier may belong in the first tier, once they are dogmatically defined.  This has already happened at least once, with papal infallibility: there was a dispute over whether papal infallibility was divinely-revealed, or simply the necessary consequence of Divine revelation: Vatican I settled that dispute.  Ratzinger notes that another doctrine appears to be going through the same transition:

A similar process can be observed in the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. As the prior example illustrates, this does not foreclose the possibility that, in the future, the consciousness of the Church might progress to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed.

In addition, Ratzinger raises another teaching, the prohibition against euthanasia, going through a similar process.  Unfortunately, this is a teaching increasingly relevant to the political realm, as at least one state already has legal “assisted suicide.”
These truths, like those in the first tier, simply must be believed:

With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).

So both the first and second tier teachings require total assent: the only difference is whether we believe based upon the authority of the Word of God, or on the authority of the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Magisterium. But since both the Second and Third Person of the Trinity are God, we need total faith on these issues.
3. Authentic Ordinary Magisterium
The third tier of teachings are those arising from the “Authentic Ordinary Magisterium.”  Basically, this is everything else worthy of being called Catholic teaching.  These teachings are not infallible.  Since this is a broad category, the teachings require different degrees of assent:

As examples of doctrines belonging to the third paragraph, one can point in general to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.

In the document, Ratzinger does not given any examples of what these other areas are, but elsewhere, he does:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

I can’t make that any clearer than he already did. On some issues, like the death penalty and the justness of a specific war, we’re relatively free to disagree with one another, and even with the pope. But on other issues, there is one, and only one, legitimate Catholic opinion.
II. The Implications for Catholic Voters
Viktor Vasnetsov, Judgement Day (1896)
The biggest risk facing Catholic voters isn’t that they’ll elect the wrong guy. It’s that they’ll ignore or compromise their faith when it’s politically expedient, effectively selling their souls for the sake of a political party.  It’s an odd irony in American culture, that politicians are lambasted as dishonest and slimy, and yet they’re the ones who Catholics seem to be tuning in to for moral guidance, rather than the Church.  It’s as if our nation damns the mass of politicians to Hell, and then willingly follows their lead.  It simply makes no sense, yet plenty of voters (of all political affiliations) do this.
The two traps that Catholics often fall into when talking about politics is: (a) acting as if their own candidate is immaculate, or (b) acting as if all the candidates are equally bad, from a Catholic point of view. Neither of these are true. Every candidate is flawed, but some flaws (like support for abortion and euthanasia) are objectively worse, and simply indefensible.
Having said all of that, I should emphasize that the points I raised here apply well outside of the realm of voting: if you’re a Catholic who argues against original sin, or for women’s ordination to the priesthood, or for euthanasia or abortion, you’re guilty of heresy, and need to repent.  My concern here is less with how you fare on Election Day, and more concerned with how you fare on Judgment Day.


  1. The problem with this is that, as David Cloutier said, “It should be repeated again and again: ‘intrinsic’ is not a word that denotes gravity.” As another blog goes on to comment, “An “intrinsic evil” is simply an evil that cannot be justified in any circumstance; it’s not a category of the most socially harmful actions. The Church calls masturbation an intrinsically evil act. Now something like war may not be an intrinsic evil, but war–even a so-called just war–harms people’s lives and the social order in ways graver than what the 13-year-olds of the world are doing under their covers, even if you accept what the Church says about self-stimulation of the genital organs.”

    When we vote in an election, we vote for a candidate, not for policy. For the individual voter, then, some sort of purely ideological purity cannot be the question. The question for the individual voter is pragmatic. Sure, Paul Ryan may be free to make a different prudential judgment from the bishops about government welfare policies in a way that Catholics aren’t free to support abortion. But if WE agree with the bishops in our own judgment, then the fact that the evil Paul Ryan supports isn’t “intrinsic” categorically doesn’t mean it isn’t gravely evil in practice (and we will be held accountable if we know that!)

    Likewise, we must ask, how much will each candidate actually effect abortion rates. Again, voting is NOT about ideological purity, is not about picking the guy who most matches our ideology in his positions, but is about picking the guy we think will best effect the world we think should exist. If a Catholic thinks a pro-abortion candidate will actually lower the abortion rate, by all means, you should vote for that candidate (criminalization is not necessarily the best way!) That this candidate may be a heretic is not the question for the individual voter, anymore than the fact that Paul Ryan’s position is not intrinsically heretical. The question for the individual voter is a prudential judgment about what, practically, you think this candidate being in power would actually accomplish.

    Abortion may be intrinsically evil in a way that war is not. A candidate is wrong if they believe abortion is a “right” (though not necessarily if they believe, merely, in not criminalizing), whereas a candidate has some latitude to argue that they have prudentially judged that a war they support is Just. But the voter is not the candidate; a voter’s concern is not, really, a candidate’s orthodoxy. Just because war is not an “intrinsic evil,” doesn’t mean it isn’t a practical evil, and in practice, as an evil, may be much worse than some intrinsic evils (“intrinsic” is NOT a designation of gravity). If a candidate supports an unjust war (though he personally may think it is just) that will kill 6 million people, while another candidate will avoid the war even if they support policies that will allow 5 million to be killed by abortion…for a voter, the fact that SOME people are free to judge that those 6 million deaths are justified (in a way the 5 million from abortion never could be) does not change the obvious practical balance between the two: 6 million deaths is the greater evil compared to 5 million, even if it is not “intrinsic” (and thus supporting it may be a valid prudential judgment if done honestly). Intrinsic is not a measure of gravity.

  2. Ok sinner lets try to look at some facts:
    1) a vote for the pro-life candidate is not designed to change abortion rates immediately ( although to some extent restricting funds for abortion decreases the rate by about 100-200,000/ year. ( roughly the like saving Erie Pennsylvania from being wiped out) So the immediate effect is not negligible. Still the greater effect is long term to eventually work to a day when the prolife movement can successfully make the case that abortion is murder and unborn childred are protected legally. The abortion license must be limited before it can be removed. Obama is against even modest limitations on abortion. Laws which might protect unborn girls from abortion because of their sex, etc.
    2) Your argument that Ryan’s policies would be harmful socially is an assertion based on no evidence. In fact I think their is substantial evidence that objectively Democrat liberal policies hurt the poor. When I see someone argue for Democrats on social justice grounds I am forced to conclude they care so little for the poor they do not bother to see the effects of the policies they support on the Poor. Obama has precided over the greatest increase in the misery index ( unemployment rate (+) inflation) since Carter. One would think this hurts the poor. In fact this index is increase 400% over what was observed in the Bush Presidency. ( and I an not a huge fan of everything Bush did, but facts are facts Obama is catastrophically worse for the poor than Bush) Ryan’s budget is complicated but frankly only increases overall spending a little bit less than Obama ( 3.5%/year verus 4.5%),

    3)I would argue with you Sinner like so.. Obama is pro-abortion, abortion is as Vatican II said an “unspeakable crime” it is murder. We can argue a lot about what set of economic policies are best, but in reality are you such an expert in fiscal and monetary policy that when you die you want to stand before God and say… I was so sure that Obama was better for the economy that I voted for him in spite of the fact that he was pro-murder of the innocent? I think this is an untenable and illogical conclusion. But in fact you do not need to throw the unborn under the bus and have them dismembered at the hands of the abortionist currette to help the poor. The Democrats policies do nothing for the poor except make more of them and the data proves this. Try to look at the objective evidence rather than what a policy is “supposed to do” but rather at what it does. HAve you never looked at Detroit?

    1. mdpie, I’ll address your individual points, but I am already disheartened that they seem to assume my statements are some sort of argument for why Catholics should vote for Obama.

      I’m not voting for him, actually. But my whole point is that the question for Catholic voters is not so black and white as “You cannot vote for a pro-abortion candidate!” THAT rhetoric is flying around this election season, and it is disgusting and not at all in the Church’s favor in the long-term.

      Indeed, even Cardinal Ratzinger reminded us, “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour 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,” and this question of proportionality is more a prudential judgment based on facts (or reasonable expectations regarding future facts) rather than on strict principle.

      Now, as for criminalization of abortion, that’s great and all. But what does criminalization actually look like? This is a question many of the bishops (I remember Tobin looking like a fool in a Hardball interview back in 2009) refuse to answer! In truth, there is something to be said for the fact that there is a right to doctor-patient confidentiality that would make it rather hard to tell when an ob/gyn was privately preforming abortions unless we start probing invasively into women’s medical care. When a woman is restrained by police in the process of seeking an abortion, would she be strapped down for nine months in a facility and not released until she had safely given birth? And without a reasonable right to privacy, to protect the unborn would we start insisting all women of child-bearing age take a weekly pregnancy test to alert the State to the existence of any unborn persons as soon as possible, and then insist that a Federal Marshal be present at all gynecological exams of these pregnant women? And then investigate every “miscarriage” from these pregnancies to make sure that it wasn’t really an abortion? Or treat it as a Missing Person Case when one of those pregnancies that was registered with the government earlier doesn’t later result in a registered birth at the expected time (unless the mother was issued a Certified True Miscarriage death-certificate)??

      As for Paul Ryan, I was actually speaking hypothetically in my post, so trying to argue with it is silly. However, yes, I do tend to agree with the bishops regarding the social harm of it. That is a prudential judgment and we are free to disagree and debate on it, but if at the end of the day MY conscience, my prudential judgment, tells me that it would be (practically) a great evil, the fact that it isn’t “intrinsically” (ie, on principle; in the sense that other people, with a different understanding or interpretation of the facts) evil doesn’t matter one whit. Non-intrinsic evils are still evils, and the fact that other people are free to disagree doesn’t change our obligations regarding them.

      Now, I have no particular interest in debating just how evil or not Paul Ryan’s budget proposals are. My point, however, is this: the question of abortion non-criminalization is not necessarily an intrinsic evil either. Abortion itself is an intrinsic evil, yes, and that can never be discounted. But various levels of decriminalization towards abortion, and abortion itself, are two different things.

      Furthermore, the fact that we aren’t even talking necessarily about any direct effect (things remain pretty much the same after GWB’s presidency? Are we all so happy we voted for him now???) but about hypothetical incremental changes and the implementation of hard to enforce lip-service laws…and it makes the question even more gray.

    2. There’s no doubt abortion is intrinsically evil. Each abortion is the murder of a human being, is absolutely equivalent to one more human life being lost. That establishes the (grave) weight in considering the proportionality. What to do, as a matter of policy, regarding that intrinsic evil…is somewhat more debatable for Catholics, and must be based in pragmatism, not ideogoguery. And voting is even an additional step removed from the policy question, because voters [“strategically”] elect individual candidates who are then inserted into a complex political context (where their practical effects are far from guaranteed), rather than voting for policy directly.

      You asked if I would be willing to say “I was so sure that Obama was better for the economy that I voted for him in spite of the fact that he was pro-murder of the innocent? I think this is an untenable and illogical conclusion.” I would not be, honestly. But I’d in turn ask if you are willing to say that “I was so obsessed with the lip-service and easy-ideological-affiliation of electing a nominally pro-hard-to-enforce-criminalization (“pro-life”) candidate, that I was willing to not consider ANY other social issues or accord them any sort of weight, even the structural issues that lead to abortion in the first place”??

  3. Watch it “A Sinner” — you’re logic is a little slippery. Why don’t you simply present and defend your individual list of priorities, based on Joe’s very clear thesis.

    1. Well, if you’re asking whether I put simply HAVING life in the first place before quality of life, I certainly do. Obviously, quality of life doesn’t matter if you don’t have life.

      My prioritization, then, would be to vote for the candidates that I think, when inserted into the political context, the political process…will actually achieve, in practice, the maximization of life, and the minimization of State participation in evil (for the ends don’t justify the means).

      However, just how much any given candidate is actually going to affect abortion rates is a VERY complicated question of causation. Criminalization doesn’t end abortion. In fact, some studies suggest that addressing the structural socio-economic issues behind abortion would have a much greater affect on abortion rates. Of course, the government actively participating in abortion (funding, defending by force, etc) is more concerning than passive decriminalization.

      It if were guaranteed that bringing a candidate in would end government participation in abortion AND end abortion in practice, that would be a no brainer. If it were guaranteed a candidate coming in who would not criminalize abortion, but would change the economy such that it eventually largely evaporated on its own, that would also be an easy choice for me. When it’s a question of someone who would evaporate it long-term, but also continue participate actively in the short…that’s trickier (the ends don’t justify the means; that’s the “If killing one child could save all the others” question, but then, I would presume a Catholic voter was voting FOR the eventual evaporation, and just passively accepting the “side effect” of participation continuing in the short term).

      But it’s especially tricky when NOTHING is guaranteed, when there’s a difference between criminalizing and actually stopping, and when a candidates stated positions don’t necessarily tell us anything about what he will be able to achieve, or actually achieve, in practice.

  4. By the way sinner the idea that Obama would lower abortion rates in practice is absurd. Presumably this means his great solicitude for the poor will lower the need for abortion. This is not credible any longer. There is no evidence of this during his tenure as President. What there is evidence of is that this is the highest poverty rate since 1959. It will do no good to blame Bush, because when Reagan took office the economy was many times worse. he entered office with high inflation, a misery index of 19%, and the third recession over 11 years prior to his taking office, After Reagan enacted policies opposit of what Obama is doing the econmy grew for 90 straight months and the poverty rate in Reagans second term fell every year. What you seem to favor ( if inadvertently) is policies that harm the unborn as well a policies that hurt the poor. My question to you Sinner is what have you got against poor people?

  5. From Evangelium Vitae:

    Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. 51

    It’s very close to the formula used in the Marian definitions on Assumption and Immaculate conception. The citation to Lumen Gentium doesn’t appear to refer to directly taking an innocent human life, but seems to refer to infallability in ecumenical and magesterial teachings.

  6. @A Sinner: I think the reason priests give for the sinfulness of voting for a candidate like Obama is that it represents a ‘formal cooperation in a grave sin’. Because the rest of the ‘issues’ are often prudential matters or, if evil, or not as grave an evil, they therefore cannot be equal in gravity on a persons conscience, until the democratic platform repeals it’s unqualified support for abortion, or the republican platform caves and gives over to unqualified support for abortion, the democratic party will always be at the moral disadvantage and one would not therefore be able to vote for them. At least this is my understanding of why so many priests tell Catholics they should be single issue voters. Again I’m no expert, just thought it might be a contribution. Joe, as always correct me if I’m wrong 🙂 Also Joe, say something about double effect, since I’m not great with that one.

    1. Except it doesn’t represent formal cooperation! Cardinal Ratzinger made it quite clear that: “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour 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.”

      Abortion is an intrinsic evil. The question of how the State should address that evil, is different; the lack of a certain level of criminalization (or effort to enforce such a criminalization)…is not necessarily (the State needs to judge, prudentially, how to best use its limited resources to maximize life). And voting for a given candidate who happens to express support for certain policy is even an additional step removed, because voting for a candidate is a LONG way from actually implementing any specific policy.

    1. Not all of them. Virgil Goode (Constitution Party) opposes all abortion. Unfortunately he supports torture. The most popular candidate opposing both abortion and torture is Tom Hoefling (America’s Party).

  7. No Scotty, Lets look at Evangelium Vitae again. Blessed John Paul II said “In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.” Similarly than for a voter if it is not possible to elect a compltely pro-life candidate we elect the one who will at least not enhance the pro-abortion message and in fact whose pro-life VP candidate will may himself have a role in influencing the President. ( May even become President himself one day)
    Lets face it, if you vote Democrat you are
    1) voting to further the unspeakable crime of abortion or what John Paul II calls murder.
    2) Voting for economic policies that harm the poor
    3) Voting for a policy that forces your fellow Catholics to pay for contraception, and abortifacient drugs. So you may think contraception is fine, but what about the person in the pew next to you, what if this is a sin for him/her, If they run a business how is it jsut to make them violate their conscience?

    If you vote for Obama on what basis are you a “catholic” any longer

  8. Just in case you aren’t sure what Mitt Romney believes here are a few of his stances on the issues accompanied by some other statements that give you insight into the man…

    “The Massachusetts healthcare plan should be a model for the nation.” – Mitt Romney
    “Healthcare reform should be left to the states.” – Mitt Romney

    “The Arizona immigration policy is a good model.” – Mitt Romney
    “I didn’t really support the Arizona immigration policy.” – Mitt Romney

    “I was not responsible for what happened at Bain Capital.” – Mitt Romney
    “I was the sole shareholder, sole director, Chief Executive Officer and President of Bain.”
    – Mitt Romney

    “Let Detroit go bankrupt.” – Mitt Romney
    ”I’ll take a lot of credit for saving the auto industry.” – Mitt Romney

    “I believe Roe v Wade has gone too far.” – Mitt Romney
    “Roe v Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain and support it.”
    – Mitt Romney

    “I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose.” – Mitt Romney
    “I never really called myself pro-choice.” – Mitt Romney

    “It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam.” – Mitt Romney
    “I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and represent our country there.”
    – Mitt Romney

    “I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.” – Mitt Romney
    “Ronald Reagan is . . . my hero.” – Mitt Romney

    “I think the minimum wage ought to keep pace with inflation.” – Mitt Romney
    “There’s no question raising the minimum wage excessively causes a loss of jobs.”
    – Mitt Romney

    “I saw my father march with Martin Luther King.” – Mitt Romney
    “I did not see it with my own eyes.” – Mitt Romney

    “I would like to have campaign spending limits.” – Mitt Romney
    “The American people should be free to advocate for their candidates without burdensome limitations.” – Mitt Romney

    “I supported the assault weapon ban.” – Mitt Romney
    “I don’t support any gun control legislation.” – Mitt Romney

    And last but not least: “I stand by what I said, whatever it was.” – Mitt Romney

    1. Holy out of context quotes, Batman!

      The fact that you need to resort to subterfuge to slander Mitt Romney should tell you something. I could do the exact same thing that you just did with Barack Obama quotes as long as I take quotes from his 2008 presidential campaign, or quotes from his Senate tenure, or quotes from his Illinois tenure, and present them with no other context – especially considering that he’s now “the first gay president.”

  9. @Scotty Wright: A thing which did in fact bother me about the Romney/Ryan ticket is the support for abortion in the case of rape/incest… This excerpt is about voting for legislation from Evangelium Vitae, but also would apply in ‘voting for legislators or executives’:

    “A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. “

    In the case of rape and incest, it is clear that this represents an absolutely overwhelming minority of abortions…In 2000, cases of rape or incest accounted for 1% of abortions.[46]

    this is from wikipedia but it would be foolish to think it was 99% off the mark…

    So this situation would seem to fall under that voting to reduce abortion. In this case it is overwhelmingly clear that a candidate who is an unqualified supporter of abortion would not even come close, prudentially, to a candidate who supports abortion in rape and incest 🙁

    Pope Benedict or (Cardinal Ratzinger):
    [N.B. 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 favour 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.]

    The part of that statement that some leave out is: WHICH CAN BE PERMITTED IN THE PRESENCE OF PROPORTIONATE REASONS

    This is not anything other than a candidates support for some sinful public policy manifestly as grave or more grave than abortion. What happens to medicare doens’t count, what happens to the budget doesn’t count, what happens in capital punishment wouldn’t count, what happens in government job programs wouldn’t count. The only thing that counts is whether the candidates you can vote for support an equally grave evil, and in this case (Romney vs Obama) to a proportionate degree. And Obama’s support from abortion is vastly ‘disproportionate’ to Romney’s in this case.

  10. @mdepie: re. If you vote for Obama on what basis are you a “catholic” any longer

    Voting for a pro-abortion candidate, while being ostensibly grave sin, does not carry a penalty of excommunication as far as I know, so they are catholic by virtue of baptism at least, more likely confirmation as well. Not trying to ruffle feathers, just urging charity/discretion in fraternal correction :).

  11. I liked the part where, in the same sentence as “abortion”, I have to repent for thinking the church is missing out on an entire perspective by excluding women priests. How childish.

  12. Joe:

    I don’t think you ruled this out, so I’m honestly asking. Don’t you think (certain elements of) the left has a point when it says:

    “To be clear, and to repeat: The moral obligation to help the poor is absolute. The moral obligation to protect human life is absolute. How we achieve such help and such protection, in the world of practical political and legal realities, requires prudential judgment in both instances. If Mr. Ryan were saying, ‘My way of helping the poor is better than yours,’ that would be one thing, but he has offered no way of helping the poor just as Mr. Biden has offered no way of protecting the right to life of the unborn.” –(Quoting Michael Sean Winters)

    Now, factually, I guess, I’d disagree. Ryan has at least claimed that his approach is best for the poor. But then again, many on the left have argued that although abortion is wrong, it should be legal for various practical reasons and that this is, in fact, the best way to protect the unborn. Now, quite frankly, I think both of these positions are false and, probably mostly used as pretexts. But the point is that both the left and the right are dissenting on absolutes.

    And there is a practical point here. As Ross Douthat has repeatedly argued, Christianity needs to be holistic to be persuasive. Just as the Church’s position on homosexuality can only be seen plausibly in light of its position on straight sex (much of which we often ignore, of course), the Church’s position on abortion is most plausible when tied together with its position on the poor and vulnerable (who we often ignore). When we allow ourselves to distance from one, we undermine our credibility. We seem to be among the throngs of people who let their political views determine their theological views, rather than the other way around.

    This is why, as a practical matter, I think it would be very good to issue specific condemnations of the errors of both parties. The truth is, we don’t have to choose one or the other. And in an age where both parties have such serious problems, the moral course may well be to choose neither.

  13. “But the point is that both the left and the right are dissenting on absolutes”

    Good Grief, this is in fact a falsehood. Multiple Bishops have pointed out that Ryan is not dissenting, Including specifically Archbishop Chaput. Ryans budget actually increases spending over todays budget for Medicare, Social security and is basically unchanged for Medicaid, The theory is that 1) lowering the tax rates, and broadening the tax base, along with fiscal restraint results in economic growth and the increased opportunity increases everyones wealth including the poor, decreases unemployment and benefits everyone. In fact this is precisely what Reagan did and in fact the results where exactly this. It is a calumny to say that Ryan is not concerned about the poor, the things that most help the poor are those things that create economic Wealth. It is why the poor in The United States are infinitely better off than the poor in India ( in fact they are better off than much of the Indian Middle Class, it is because we are a wealth generating country. The Democrats in contrast are for the protection of abortion as a right, that is they are calling legalized murder right in principle. As Evangelium Vitae points out, this is itself is a grave moral wrong.

    It is time to stop commiting the calumny of saying things like there is no difference between the parties. It is not necessary to see the obvious fact that 1 party supports legalized murder and the other does not, and one party has a record of enacting policies at least most of the time that increase economic growth and its economic growth that alleviates the plight of the poor. What about that is so difficult to understand? Is there evidence that economic growth does not help the poor but economic stagnation does?

  14. Most Catholics who vote for pro choice candidates don’t do so because they are pro choice, but because they believe–rightly or wrongly– that doing so will bring about pro-life consequences despite the wrong beliefs of the candidate. This highlights two different philosophies of voting. One that emphasizes beliefs vs. one that focuses on consequences and what is possible for the candidate to do. One might say a platonic voting philosophy vs. a utilitarian/pragmatic voting philosophy.

    1. Right! Exactly! Actual practical “consequences and what it is possible for the candidate to do” is HUGE. The “platonic” (or what I’d call “ideological purity”) philosophy of voting is NOT the Catholic philosophy (but it sure makes voting an easy 1-issue thing for some!)

    1. You’re welcome to try that comment again, sans profanity. But it’s sort of a ridiculous argument, anyhow. Where did I (or anybody) say anything about letting the poor “starve, go barefoot, uneducated and unloved”?

      If you have to resort to straw men and logical fallacies, that might just mean your actual argument is weak (in this case, arguing that aborting millions of kids is okay because we support social programs).

    2. supporting polices that radically change the social state will affect the poor. My statement was meant as a satyrical in nature. i find it hysterical how in one breath you can say im for helping the poor and in the other breath say hey don’t vote for people who might actually want to do something about the problems that create the poor in the first place. business as usual does not work we need to shake things up. Romney/Ryan are the same failed stupid and heretical idea’s that the last guy had and what a wonderful job he did.

      also no candidate is perfect look at todd akin a man who actually believes nonsense or highly educated people who believe that the earth is 5,000 years ago many of whom are in power in this country. if you can vote for a man/woman who denies scientific facts and lives in a dream world what else is next?

    3. I’m not endorsing a candidate here (nor do I think that Catholics are bound to support one of the two major-party candidates in the first place). Certainly, we live in a fallen world, and there are no perfect candidates. I think that I addressed that above, when I said:

      “The two traps that Catholics often fall into when talking about politics is: (a) acting as if their own candidate is immaculate, or (b) acting as if all the candidates are equally bad, from a Catholic point of view. Neither of these are true. Every candidate is flawed, but some flaws (like support for abortion and euthanasia) are objectively worse, and simply indefensible.”

      Are you saying that being against a particular domestic welfare program is actually worse that supporting the legalized murder of millions of human beings? What moral calculus are you using here?



    4. i would say we can and should do both. it disheartens me to see the cycle of death the democratic party has endorsed over these last 30 years and it also disheartens me to see the republicans not supporting the poor and weakest among us. as i tried to say in a wise sort of way in my first comment being either for or against only one issue is not the way we should be. We need to look at the broader view and say how does this affect our lives and our faith.

      as another commenter said above catholics who vote for pro choice candidates do not do so because they like abortion nor do they only vote on the basis that a candidate is pro or anti anything.

    5. Joe, if it’s a question of which candidate is PERSONALLY “worse”…then, of course, a candidate who believes abortion is a “right” (and should be government funded) is worse, objectively, than one who merely has an erroneous understanding/interpretation of facts that leads to defending an evil that is not intrinsically so (exactly because the evil is debatable depending on how one sees the facts).

      But when we vote, we are not engaged in a personal moral judgment of the candidates soul, certainly, nor even a judgment of their philosophy or orthodoxy. We are engaged in a “strategic” choice regarding who we think, in practice, in context, in the real future that is going to play out…will actually maximize life and the common good. Sometimes that may be the more evil person, or the person with the more theoretically incorrect philosophy.

      [And, I will point out again, though it’s not necessarily what we’re dealing with this year in the presidential election: there is a difference between “supporting abortion” and merely not supporting criminalization.]

  15. The most indispensable adjunct to a happy life is money. For the poor it is on the whole better to be married, and those even less fortunate it is to be religious. Of course, none of these exemplify anything essential but that is what your vote should reflect.

  16. Look “Me”, It is not particularly rigorous to say Romney/Ryan are the same as Bush, or even that everything Bush did economically was wrong. We have a moral obligation to look at evidence, so lets look at evidence. Bush inherited a recession that began seven weeks after he took office. Most economists think this was a result of the bust among other factors. Nasdaq stocks began crashed in March 2000, before Bush took office and the recession was world wide , so it would be hard to blame specific economic policies of one government or another. The primary Bush responses to this, were the Bush tax cuts. We can debate the exact effects of the tax cuts, but there is no question that after them the economy improved and in fact the rich paid more in actual dollars, so while in 1990 the richest 5% paid 40% of all taxes it increased to 60% in 2005 under Bush. Moreover the economy recovered and there was 6 years of uninterrupted economic growth. The unemployment rate under Bush was 4.2 to 6.1 % for all 8 years of the bush presidency, save the final two months. The current recession was initially caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. The causes of the housing Bubble are complicated but the roots reach back to legislation passed by Clinton administration like the Community reinvestment act, but let us stipulate that the causes of the housing bubble are complicated and there is plenty of blame to go around. The collapse of this bubble triggered the current recession, but Obama’s quadrupling of the debt, ineffective stimulus etc is very likely extending it. So to be fair “Me” You are just repeating talking points if you say Romney/Ryan= Bush. To the extent Bush can be faulted it is not for the policies that he might share with Romney. There is much to criticize in the Bush presidency ( the Iraq war, for sure) Failure to do enough to discipline Freddie Mac/ Fannie Mae, but it is simply ignorant to rant about Bush without thinking carefully. Something the left seems to disdain.

    As Catholics we have a moral obligation to work for the common good. Part of this is to put aside our political ideologies to some extent and test them against the evidence. Conservatives could be faulted for continuing to support the Iraq war when it was clear that Jihadism was not going to be fixed but over throw of Saddam Hussein, but those on the Catholic left need to wake up and see their economic policies are hurting ( indeed crushing) the poor they claim to care for, and their party ( the Democrats) favors legalized murder.

  17. Daniel:
    But what is the evidence for this assertion? Lets take judges, Do you seriously believe that the judges appointed by Romney will be more Friendly to Roe than the judges appointed by Obama? I was not a Romney supporter in the Republican primary ( I was a Santorum supported) but I was pleased that instead of picking a moderate on social issues Romney picked a strongly pro-life vice president. In fact when confronted about this ( I have seen the interview) Ryan said he was proud of his pro-life record. Ryan has a 100% rating from the NRLC. In addition and perhaps most telling is that “the Hill” hardly a right wing journal has reported that Planned Parenthood is spending significant funds in swing states to defeat Romney. Now Daniel please explain why PP would do this if they do not see Romney as a threat. Romney is not the pro-life hero I would have picked, but he is an improvement over Obama who is a disaster and a menace to the unborn. What I find frustrating is that the combined responses of the blog posters “Me”, “Daniel”, “Scotty” and “Sinner” are representative of the Catholic left in general, they are never tethered to evidence and facts. Facts and evidence do exist however and these things matter. There is a terrific book about this not related to politics, but every Catholic should read it. It is called “Faith and Certitude” by the late Fr. Thomas Dubay, primarily about religious certainty, but he makes several points and one of these is that most serious subjects require some study and thought before we can have a reasoned opinion, and that opinions require some evidential support. Most people on the left are just repeating talking points, that they have never questioned.

  18. I liked the aricle but had one issue. Is a person who ARGUES for women’s ordination guilty of heresy? I am not sure that is a key tenet of the Church but rather tradition. If you ordain someone improperly would be a sin but arguing for it?

    1. Rian,

      It’s not a sin simply to be wrong. But it is a sin to obstinately hold to an opinion you know to be wrong (or that you know that the Church condemns).

      So a person might believe that women’s ordination is possible, just because they don’t know any better. That’s called “material heresy,” because the belief that they hold (the matter) is heretical. Material heresy, on its own, is not sinful, just ignorant. But a person who obstinately persists in arguing for women’s ordination, despite knowing the Magisterium’s clear teaching that it will never and can never happen is guilty of “formal heresy,” also called “the sin of heresy.”

      Because ultimately, the person isn’t just saying that they think that women can be ordained, but that they think that the Magisterium could get infallible teachings wrong. It evidences a distrust in the Magsterium’s ability to teach infallibly, and thus, evinces a distrust in the Holy Spirit. So it’s must bigger than simply women’s ordination in isolation.

      (Likewise, if someone persisted in claiming that Easter happened on a Wednesday, it wouldn’t be simply a question of being off by a couple dates, but would have implications for how much faith they had in the New Testament accounts of the Resurrection).



    2. Dear Joe,

      Let me first say that I really appreciate this blog. Here’s my question: has the Church ever endorsed some position by the same means it endorses the male-only priesthood and then come to reject that position? I mean this to be a genuine question: I’m not holding a trump card close to the vest, or anything.


    3. Good question. No, they haven’t. And furthermore, they can’t. So to switch wouldn’t mean that we go from having the male-only Catholic priesthood to having a sex-neutral Catholic priesthood. It would mean declaring that the Magisterium was wrong about something it taught “infallibly,” and therefore, the Magisterium (and by extension, the Catholic priesthood) is a fraud. So it’s not a question about a priesthood with only-men or sex-neutral, but about the male-only priesthood or none at all.

      This is one of the arguments that I find so glaring in these discussions. The people advocating for women’s ordination seem completely blind to the fact that the Church has never once retracted an infallible definition. That is, even if one rejects the Church’s claims to Magisterial infallibility, how likely is it that the Church is going to suddenly renounce Her own belief in Magisterial infallibility in order to ordain women?

      So to those who support (or entertain the possibility of) women’s ordination, I would suggest that the onus should be on them to show that such a change has ever happened on any issue falling within one of these top two tiers of truths.

      If they can’t meet this basic burden, it suggests that (a) their push for women’s ordination is a waste of time and mental energy, and (b) they grossly misunderstand the nature of the Church and Her Magisterium, thinking She’s a political institution that can change on the whims of the vox populi.



    1. It doesn’t, but what “means” are you talking about. Abortion itself could never be justified; abortion is intrinsically evil. Non-criminalization on the part of the State is not necessarily intrinsically evil, however, and much less so merely voting for a candidate (which is a practical choice, and NOT in any sense a judgment of their philosophy).

  19. Joe:

    Should the Romney-Ryan support of legalized abortion in some cases (i.e. rape or incest) disqualify them from our vote? This sounds like a snarky gotcha question, I know. But I think it gets to something really interesting in how we are to evaluate candidates and I honestly am not confident in what the answer is.

    1. And, tangentially, is there a better microcosm for Catholic politicians since Roe than Biden attacking Ryan for (gasp) opposing abortion in all cases… and Ryan furiously distancing from the charge?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *