Why I Voted For John Kerry as A Pro-life Catholic
An Examination of Participation in Evil
The elections are over, and my guy lost. The question lingers: Can one be a passionately pro-life active and informed Catholic, and still have chosen John Kerry for President without error?
It is a sign that the Church’s teaching on abortion is reaching people that Kerry so greatly troubled many of us. I worry that the Church’s teaching on other life issues is not penetrating American culture as deeply. Worse, the complex ways we Catholics can legitimately make moral decisions was not respected leading to rash judgments about one another.
Many Catholics made their decision based solely on a comparison of Bush and Kerry on abortion and war. They came to a different conclusion than I did about what conscience demanded. I do not question their salvation or orthodoxy.
Some decided that since abortion is an intrinsic evil and non-negotiable issue, and the Church’s war doctrine does permit some legitimate debate on its application, abortion always trumps war. While I agree with much of what these Catholics say on abortion, I think they are mistaken on war. The Church calls her just war criteria "strict and rigorous", which seems to mean non-negotiable. Those with teaching authority in the Church were unequivocal that the war in Iraq did not meet the conditions for a just war.
Leading up to the invasion through the 2004 campaign, President Bush has consistently stated war is appropriate "before a threat materializes". Pre-emptive or preventative war is not an application of traditional just war doctrine. It is a departure from traditional just war doctrine. A just war waged by a nation and its allies is always a defense against an unjust aggressor or an imminent threat of unjust aggression. In today's world the Church holds that only an international body is authorized to wage war for other reasons of non-defense such as humanitarian reasons.
The choice was not between a pro-choice pacifist and a staunchly pro-life advocate of just war doctrine. Rather, the choice was between a just war advocate supporting laws permitting abortion, and a very moderately pro-life candidate supporting the unjust doctrine of preventative war. War involves the use of deadly force. An unjust war is a life issue, morally on par with abortion.
If the war in Iraq is an unjust war, it does not compare to laws permitting abortion. Rather, the unjust use of deadly military force under state order is akin to laws that would make abortions mandatory. Re-electing Bush by placing abortion above the war was a mistake. Re-electing Bush has made us all complicit in the act of killing innocent people in a way that permitting abortion does not.
Only as the election drew near did I discover the traditional distinctions in Catholic moral theology providing language that expresses why I felt "morally certain" that Kerry was the right choice. We had what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger called "proportionate reason" to vote for a pro-choice candidate. I have crafted an analogy that may help those who want to understand my point. I hope this argument sparks some further discussion in the Catholic community.
To understand the analogy, we need to define some terms.
Explicit formal cooperation with evil: In this type of cooperation with evil, though I am not the person directly performing an immoral act, I intend the act to occur and directly aid another in performing the act. For example: I give a gun to a person knowing they intend to use it to kill an innocent human being, because I share the other’s desire to see the innocent human being killed. This is morally illicit, and never justified. Even though I am not the person who will ultimately pull the trigger, I am guilty of murder if I do this knowingly and deliberately.
Implicit formal cooperation with evil: In this type of cooperation with evil, I do not directly intend evil, but I act knowingly and deliberately to aid a person in performing an immoral act. For example: I give a gun to a person knowing they intend to use it to kill an innocent human being, but I do not share the other’s desire to see the innocent human being killed. I gave it to them for another reason, such as an offer of a large sum of money. This is also morally illicit, and never justified. Even though I am not the person who will ultimately pull the trigger, and I did not intend the murder, I am guilty of murder if I do this knowingly and deliberately.
Immediate material cooperation with evil: This type of cooperation with evil is similar to implicit formal cooperation with evil. My aid may be more circumstantial. For example: I am a gun dealer who distributes guns to people indiscriminately without taking all reasonable and legally required precautions to ensure that the purchaser of my guns will not use the weapons with criminal intent. This is morally illicit, and never justified. Culpability for sin may be reduced under duress, but the act itself is evil. Even though I am not the person who will ultimately pull the trigger, I share some responsibility for every crime committed with the weapons I distributed. The situation of duress may reduce culpability for an individual incidence of distributing weapons to a criminal. For example, if an armed robber enters my gun store and takes my products at gun-point, I am not as responsible for what he did with those weapons afterwards.
Proximate material cooperation with evil: This type of cooperation with evil is more removed from the moral act. The participation is not essential to commission of the act. For example: I am a gun supplier to gun dealers. I knowingly and deliberately distribute my supplies to some unscrupulous gun dealers who may in turn distribute those guns to criminals ignoring reasonable and legally required precautions. It is not my intent that my supplies be used for criminal purposes. This participation in evil can only be engaged in for the most serious proportionate reasons. It is hard to imagine what such reasons could be.
Remote material cooperation with evil: This type of cooperation with evil is similar to proximate material cooperation, but further removed from the immoral act. For example: I own a share of stock in the gun manufacturing plant that produces guns going to the gun supplier, who in turn distributes those guns indiscriminately to a variety of gun dealers, including those who would provide guns to criminals without taking reasonable and legally required precautions to ensure the gun will not be used for a crime. This type of cooperation with evil is only justified if there is a proportionate reason to engage in it.
As a voter, I am a person who inherited stock in the gun manufacturing plant. It was not necessarily my choice to own stock in a gun manufacturing plant. This represents the fact that most of us are born in America and inherited our system from our ancestors, rather than choosing to participate in this system.
As a stock holder in the gun manufacturing plant, I have a vote in the future direction of the company and the opportunity to profit from the company. Due to rising crime rates, I personally support gun control, which is not a popular stance among many shareholders. I also lean toward non-violent solutions to contemporary global affairs. A momentous decision for the company is before the shareholders, and I must participate. The entire company could go bankrupt depending on the outcome of this decision. Currently, the stock is in the tank, and the outcome of this decision could save the company.
Many shareholders simply do not share my moral convictions about guns and crime. Many of these shareholders will decide the future of the company based solely on the bottom line. Yet, there is a good deal of discussion of ethics in our shareholder meetings lately, which is encouraging. The board and executive leadership are listening.
John Kerry represents a supplier to gun dealers. He is the largest private supplier in the world, and would bring the company substantial business. It is known that he distributes guns to unscrupulous gun dealers who have either intentionally or unintentionally sold guns to criminals. He justifies this with a glib reference to the right to bear arms in the Constitution and a statement that he is personally opposed to using guns for murder. John Kerry wants a four year exclusive contract with our company.
It is clear that John Kerry participates in some way with evil, though it is unclear to me what level of participation he shares. I cannot judge whether he is worthy of Communion or not, but I can judge that I disagree with him on the issue of gun control. I doubt that he is in explicit formal cooperation with evil, and he has always said he is against crime. Kerry has supported some weak forms of gun control. Yet, he has vigorously opposed almost all gun control measures I would strongly support. Kerry even wants poor people to receive federal assistance in purchasing guns for personal protection.
George Bush is a General in the Army. I acknowledge the right of the Army to possess guns for just self defense. General Bush favors gun control among the general citizenry that would potentially stop some of these unscrupulous gun dealers from selling guns to criminals. His influence on these laws would be indirect, but I agree with his stance.
General Bush looks like an attractive business partner, and initially I'm leaning towards him. He wants the armed forces under his command to have a four year exclusive contract with our company. General Bush also personally ordered the massacre of innocent people using military power and holds to principles that justify similar action in the future. I consider his massacre a crime.
What are my options?
I want to sell my stock, but it is difficult to sell in the current market. Selling my stock represents moving out of the country. The fact that it is hard to sell represents the hurdles the average American would experience in leaving the country, and the hatred of the global community towards Americans. It's an option, but not an easy one.
I can also opt to hold my stock and not vote. This represents the ability of the average American to withdraw from the political process. It would seem to be an immoral cop-out to simply make no decision at all.
I can look for another business partner, but none of the other bidders are offering enough business to attract the majority of shareholders. Seeking another business partner represents the possibility of a third party vote, and appears to be morally similar to not voting at all. None of these options seem practical or morally right.
I can vote to do business with John Kerry. This option is remote material cooperation with evil and could result in increased crime. This should only be done with a strong proportionate reason.
I can vote to do business with General Bush, which does not contribute to rising crime rates. General Bush will fight for gun control. However, General Bush personally ordered what I consider an unjust massacre in another country and thinks such a massacre was just. I consider General Bush’s own actions to be criminal behavior that takes innocent lives.
If I am right that the military action ordered by General Bush was unjust, it follows that General Bush is undoubtedly in explicit formal cooperation with evil. It seems to me that doing exclusive business with General Bush supplying him weapons changes my participation with evil from remote to immediate material cooperation. The manufacturing plant would no longer act as a producer to suppliers who deal with gun dealers who deal with criminals. Instead, we would be directly supplying guns to the criminal. To directly distribute a weapon to a criminal is either immediate material cooperation with evil, or even implicit formal cooperation, either one of which is never justified.
Distributing a weapon to a person who will give the weapon to someone else that might or might not use it to kill innocent people is remote material cooperation with evil. This may be licit if there is proportionate reason to be distributing guns. Immediate material participation with evil is never morally licit. Remote material cooperation is sometimes licit. When the two come head to head, the right action is to choose the remote.
Some will argue that because I am merely a shareholder, rather than a company executive, giving Bush my vote is removed a step from immediate material cooperation to proximate material cooperation. This is still too close for comfort.
Many shareholders maintain that General Bush is not a criminal, and that his philosophy on war makes sense to them. I accept that they have a right to their opinion, but I think they are gravely mistaken. The primary issue troubling me is that General Bush ordered this massacre against a group of people that had not initiated or declared themselves combatants or acted as such. It was an act of aggression, which I believe is intrinsically evil.
Those who hold the view that General Bush did nothing wrong, seem to base their argument entirely on the notion that a "competent authority" can sometimes be possessed by a military leader. They further argue that the military has a right to exist and the authority to wage just wars when circumstances warrant it. This is true. Yet, these folks ignore the moral requirements placed on the military to submit to higher authority, avoid unjust wars, and to use force judicially and prudently. If I did not perceive the massacre as a crime, I would likely choose to do business with General Bush. However, his massacre seems to have violated every principle of judicial and prudent use of military force.
There are others who agree with me that General Bush's massacre was a crime, but argue that the number of people killed by individual crimes far outweigh the number of people killed in General Bush's massacre. I do not believe that we should decide by this criterion. To do so is to argue that moral decisions should be weighed on the criteria of the greatest good for the greatest number. In turn, such an ethics leads to the ends justifying the means. For example, we could argue that torturing ten people in order to save the lives of one hundred is a just action under this line of reasoning. General Bush has suggested such a thing. I believe torture is intrinsically evil, and never justified. The ends do not justify the means. The Church holds the same position. Besides, General Bush may massacre people again.
Some argue that we should do business with General Bush instead of John Kerry because the types of individual crimes that occur without proper gun control are graver. Defenseless people are killed by criminals who wind up with the guns John Kerry indiscriminately distributes to unscrupulous gun dealers. The people General Bush massacred were not entirely defenseless. This argument is not compelling to me for two reasons.
First, the gravity of killing another human being is not determined by whether the victim is able to defend himself or not. Rather, the gravity of killing another human being is determined by whether the victim was innocent or not. If I intend to kill you unjustly with my bare hands while facing you, I am just as morally wrong as if I shot you in the back from a distance. In one case, you could defend yourself, and in the other, you can't. Yet, in both cases, the crime is the same. What makes General Bush’s massacre a crime is that the victims were innocent of any wrong-doing that specifically warranted military action.
Second, when General Bush ordered the massacre, it was foreseeable that defenseless people would be caught in the cross-fire. Civilians died. While I do not believe General Bush intended defenseless people to die, his actions had the foreseeable consequence that defenseless people will die. This fact was not given sufficient consideration before General Bush ordered his massacre.
Some argue that this decision is too momentous to make ourselves. They argue that we need to appeal to a higher moral authority than we shareholders. These folks decided to appeal to the Church, which in this analogy has taken a strong stance for gun control, representing the Church's opposition to abortion. The Church acknowledges the right of generals and the army to own weapons. Thus, it is argued the case is closed.
However, the Church has also taken a strong stance against General Bush's massacre and the principles that underlie his justification for it, represented by just war doctrine. Taking account of the full range of Church teaching, rather than isolating statements on gun control, would not lead to clarity based on authoritative statements alone.
These distinctions between various types of participation in evil are also the teaching of the Church. The Church has been clear that one can engage in remote participation with evil through a vote for someone like John Kerry if there is proportionate reason. Though Kerry’s way of doing business makes me uncomfortable, it seems that the remote proximity of my vote to the criminal act provided proportionate reason to participate in the evil of a lack of effective gun control. The alternative was a more proximate participation with evil by distributing weapons directly to a criminal.
Of course, the real issues were not gun control and an isolated military attack. The guns in this analogy represent the power I give the state over life through my vote. The real moral objects under consideration are permissive abortion laws compared to a unilateral war of aggression. The proportionate reason to vote pro-choice was that the alternative was a more proximate material cooperation with killing innocents through wars of unilateral aggression.
Peace and God Bless!
Pro-Life Roman Catholic Layman and American citizen
For authoritative Church teaching on the war in Iraq, see my Church Teaching on the War in Iraq
For an independent explanation of the Catholic teaching on the degrees of participation in evil, go to www.ascensionhealth.org.
Readers may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org