By John Jalsevac

Kentucky, February 15, 2008 ( – Catholics cannot vote for a political candidate that takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion, unless there is a morally grave reason to do so, the Kentucky bishops have instructed the faithful in a pastoral letter released this past January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

As one would expect, given the release date, the bishops’ pastoral letter, entitled Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship, focuses significantly on the life issues

“Catholic social doctrine is not limited to the defense and promotion of economic and political rights,” begins the letter. “Human life issues such as abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and the violence of war also fall within the scope of social morality.”

Indeed, the letter indicates, human life issues ultimately supersede strictly political and economic considerations, since the life issues address the most fundamental human right, the right to life, which underpins all other human rights.

“Consistent with our nation’s legal tradition we hold that all human laws must be measured against the natural law engraved in our hearts by the Creator….In particular, respect for human life is numbered among those basic values that underpin the very foundation of civilization. What we profess in defense of the sacredness of unborn human life harmonizes with our historic legal tradition founded on the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“Abortion on demand,” the bishops stress, “does not.”

The letter, the release of which is clearly meant to coincide with the looming federal elections, informs Catholics that it would be cooperating with grave evil to vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor an intrinsic evil, such as abortion, unless there is a sufficiently grave reason to vote for the candidate.

“A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil,” explain the bishops.

“There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable moral position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.” However, the bishops continue, clarifying what might constitute a “grave moral reason”, “Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”
  In the letter the bishops do not ultimately give a definite guideline for what a Catholic should do when all of the candidates presented for consideration support intrinsic evils. Instead the bishops lay out the underlying principles that a Catholic must consider in such a situation, and leave the final decision up to the conscience of the voter.

“When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for a candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position but more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.”

Nevertheless, say the bishops, even should a Catholic discern that all of candidates running for office support grave evils, this can never justify indifference towards the political sphere. Instead, the Catholic should consider this unfortunate situation an encouragement to become even more involved, and thereby to introduce Catholic values into the political sphere.

“In unison with our brother bishops throughout the nation, we ‘encourage all citizens, particularly Catholics, to embrace their citizenship not merely as a duty and privilege, but as an opportunity meaningfully to participate in building the culture of life. Every voice matters in the public forum.’”

The letter also reserves strong words for Catholics and politicians who claim a personal opposition to intrinsic moral evils, but who do not act on those supposed personal convictions in the personal sphere.  “No Catholic voter or politician can hide behind the evasion – ‘Personally I oppose abortion, but I cannot impose my religious beliefs (or my morality) on others.’ It is a moral contradiction. Living the faith in the context of democratic pluralism cannot justify such self-deception.”

“No one can be exempted from the logical step to translate moral opposition into effective strategies. If there is a lack of public consensus to effect full legal protection, no one can be excused from working toward creating consensus as a first step.”

To read the full document Reverence for Life: Conscience and Faithful Citizenship, see: (Scroll down to January 28, and click on the link for the PDF)