BEFORE THE CROSS | Not all election issues carry same weight

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

This is the first in a series of four columns about forming Catholic consciences for voting. 

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Many issues confront us in this election. Abortion and euthanasia. Immigration and national security. The list goes on.

The issues don't carry the same weight. In one sense that means different issues appeal to different people. But is there an objective scale of values to weigh the issues? How do we consider all the issues, while giving each issue its proper weight?

The U.S. Catholic bishops provide guidance in a document issued every four years in preparation for the election: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

Intrinsically Evil Acts

Some actions are what the Church calls "intrinsically evil acts." Please understand that term. It doesn't mean the people who do them are intrinsically evil. It means that these acts never are morally good. We should never approve or perform or support these actions.

Among these actions are abortion, euthanasia, embryo-destructive research, acts of racism, and same-sex marriage.

"There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called 'intrinsically evil' actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned." ("Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," #22)

In terms of giving each issue proper weight, intrinsically evil actions have extra weight because they represent direct assaults on human dignity.

Other Serious Concerns

Other issues, even if they don't involve intrinsically evil acts, are so important that faith requires us to give them serious consideration. Among these are the economy, immigration, foreign policy, the approach to terrorism, the environment, systemic racism, health care and religious liberty.

"Although choices about how best to respond to these and other compelling threats to human life and dignity are matters for principled debate and decision, this does not make them optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore Church teaching on these important issues." ("Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," #29)

Faith doesn't give us one way to address these. What's the proper balance between generosity and national security in an immigration policy? What's the best way to secure basic health care for everyone? What kind of educational reform or job creation plan will make the best contribution toward healing racial inequality? There's room, within the faith, for different answers to those questions, but there's no room for not asking them. In terms of weighing things, these issues shouldn't be ignored.

Number and Kind

The distinction between intrinsically evil acts and other serious issues is a first step in developing an objective scale of values for the issues. But it's only a first step. What kind of moral calculus will help us give each issue its proper weight?

Consider a simple example. The Church is opposed to abortion and the Church is opposed (when society can protect itself by other means) to the death penalty. But these issues don't carry the same weight for the Catholic conscience. Why not?

First, they differ in number. Abortion results in the killing of almost 1 million children every year — more than 50 million since 1973, the year when the Supreme Court declared that abortion was a constitutional right. The death penalty resulted in the killing of 28 people in 2015, has never resulted in the deaths of more than 100 in a year (the high was 98 in 1999) and the total is 1,437 since 1976, the year when the Supreme Court found the death penalty to be constitutional.

Let me be absolutely clear: 1,437 deaths from the death penalty is 1,437 too many. But the number of deaths from abortion and the number of deaths from the death penalty are objectively different. That objective difference factors into the weight we give to each.

Second, these issues differ in kind. Abortion is the directly willed killing of the innocent; the death penalty is the willed killing of those found guilty in a court of law.

Once again, let me be absolutely clear: it's a violation of human dignity whether the person is innocent or guilty. But the death of the innocent and the death of the guilty are objectively different in their moral quality. That objective difference factors into the weight we give to each.

Abortion weighs more heavily than does the death penalty on the Catholic conscience. The difference isn't merely a subjective matter of preference. It's an objective difference in number and kind.

Weighing All the Issues

Comparing the weight of abortion with the weight of the death penalty is a fairly straightforward case for the Catholic conscience. Placing all the relevant issues in the scales, and assigning each its proper weight, is an enormously complex task. But that's what it means to consider the issues and measure the candidates as a Catholic.

If we're going to form our consciences and vote as Catholics, we need to develop a new and deeper kind of moral calculus. Classifying issues as intrinsically evil, or by number and kind, isn't the last step in that process, but it's a step in the right direction. It helps us replace a subjective scale of preferences with a more objective scale of values. It helps us replace party identification with Catholic identity. It helps us engage in the deeper conversation we need to have with each other: How do we consider all the issues while giving each its proper weight? 

Appointments

Deacon James R. Powers, a permanent deacon, assisting the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson, is appointed to assist the pastor of Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin, effective Aug. 29, 2016.

Rev. Mr. Jacob Carlin, a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Wichita, is appointed to assist the pastor of Hoy Infant Parish in Ballwin.

Rev. Mr. Andrew Hoffman, a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Wichita, is appointed to assist the rector of the Basilica Cathedral of St. Louis.

Rev. Mr. Gregory Luger, a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Bismarck, is appointed to assist the parochial administrator of St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood.

Rev. Mr. Nicholas Mishek, a transitional deacon of the Archdiocese of Omaha, is appointed to assist the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant.

Rev. Mr. Justin Palmer, a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Salina, is appointed to assist the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in St. Charles.

Rev. Mr. Scott Schilmoeller, a transitional deacon of the Archdiocese of Omaha, is appointed to assist the pastor of Ascension Parish in Chesterfield.

Rev. Mr. Evaristus Ucheonye, a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Belize City-Belmopan, is appointed to assist the pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in St. Louis. 

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