Vatican Official Sparks Debate: Can Catholics Vote Pro-Abortion?

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 8, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vatican Official Sparks Debate: Can Catholics Vote Pro-Abortion? Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 8, 2004

Washington, DC ( — Comments from a leading Vatican official are sparking a nationwide debate over the question of whether Catholic voters can vote for pro-abortion candidates without violating church teaching.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican department charged with encouraging Catholics to follow church teaching, wrote a note about abortion and voting at the bottom of a recent memo to Washington’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

"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," Ratzinger wrote.

However, Ratzinger added, "When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor 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."

Pro-abortion Catholics are taking the comments to mean that Catholic voters can vote for pro-abortion candidates, such as Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Father Andrew Greeley, also a New York Daily News columnist, says "Catholics can vote for Kerry" and "it would not be a sin to do so."

But, to Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, the question is not whether Catholics can vote for pro-abortion candidates — but whether they should.

"Ultimately, whether a candidate’s support for abortion disqualifies him or her from public office depends not on what a Vatican Cardinal says about it, but rather on what abortion is — and there’s the problem," Pavone told

Pavone says that once Americans learn about abortion and it’s destruction of human life, they will undoubtedly vote pro-life.

St. Louis Bishop Raymond Burke seems to agree.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, Bishop Burke said it would be difficult to find issues that proportionally outweigh a candidate’s support for the grisly practice of abortion.

Burke said, "[voters must] believe the politician’s stance on other moral issues outweighs the abortion issue."

"If the reasons are really proportionate, and the person remains clear about his or her opposition to abortion, that can be done," Bishop Burke explained. However, "it is difficult to imagine what that proportionate reason would be."

In comments to the Washington Post, Susan Gibbs, a McCarrick spokeswoman, clarified Cardinal Ratzinger’s remarks.

She said Ratzinger’s statement means that "a Catholic can never vote for a candidate precisely because the candidate supports abortion."

"However, there could be circumstances where a voter, bearing in mind the primacy of the life issue, supports the candidate for other serious reasons," Gibbs told the Post. "Each Catholic is called to consider these issues from a faith perspective and to weigh the candidates’ positions very carefully before voting."

While Catholic voters will decide whether to support Kerry or vote for President Bush, many Catholics have already said they likely won’t support the Massachusetts senator because of issues like abortion.

A Zogby International poll of 1,388 Catholics conducted in May shows the likely Democratic presidential nominee getting the support of only 20% of Catholic voters on issues where he disagrees with the position of the church.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who would appoint only judicial nominees who backed the Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortion. Only 16 percent said they would be more likely to support such a candidate.