I have heard faithful Catholics agonize over this year's presidential election. They know that a vote for Obama is morally impossible (they are correct), but they are conflicted about voting for Mitt Romney, who is not 100% pro-life. Should they sit out the election or vote for a third party or write-in candidate, knowing that those options boost Obama's chances of winning?
Or should they vote for Romney and possibly commit a sin?
I hope to assure you today that you will not commit a sin if you vote for Mitt Romney. Not only is the faithful-to-the-Magisterium organization, Catholic Vote, endorsing Romney, but pro-life warrior Fr. Frank Pavone will be voting for him as well:
Speaking as a private citizen and not on behalf of any of the organizations I lead, it is clear to me that taking account not only of the teachings of the Church but of the demands of conscience in the light of the holocaust we continue to face with abortion, voting for the Romney-Ryan ticket is a smart way to mitigate the present evil we are facing.
Priests for Life has laid out "Ten Easy Steps to Voting with a Clear Conscience", and I'd like to draw your attention to number eight, which helps us make some critical distinctions. Please note that all emphases are from the original:
8. Distinguish “choosing evil” from “limiting evil.”
What happens if two opposing candidates both support abortion [in all or some cases]?
First of all, refrain from putting any labels or endorsements on anyone. Don't call them anything. Or, if you prefer, call them both pro-abortion. Then just ask a simple question: Which of the two candidates will do less harm to unborn children if elected?
For example, is either of the candidates willing at least to ban late-term abortion? Is either of them willing to put up some roadblocks to free and easy abortion? Will either support parental notification, or parental consent, or waiting periods? Has either of them expressed a desire to support pregnancy assistance centers? How about stricter regulation of abortion facilities? Has either candidate expressed support for that idea? Nobody is saying that's the final goal. But ask these questions just to see whether you can see any benefit of one of the candidates above the other.
One of the two of them will be elected; there is no question about that. So you are not free right now, in this race, to really choose the candidate you want. Forces beyond your control have already limited your choices. Whichever way the election goes, the one elected will not have the position we want elected officials to have on abortion.
In this case, it is morally acceptable to vote for the candidate who will do less harm. This is not "choosing the lesser of two evils." We may never choose evil. But in the case described above, you would not be choosing evil. Why? Because in choosing to limit an evil, you are choosing a good.
You oppose the evil of abortion, in every circumstance, no matter what. You know that no law can legitimize even a single abortion, ever. If the candidate thinks some abortion is OK, you don't agree.
But by your vote, you can keep the worse person out. And trying to do that is not only legitimate, but good. Some may think it's not the best strategy. But if your question is whether it is morally permissible to vote for the better of two bad candidates, the answer -- in the case described above -- is yes.
Cardinal John O’Connor, in a special booklet on abortion, once wrote about this problem, “Suppose all candidates support ‘abortion rights’? … One could try to determine whether the position of one candidate is less supportive of abortion than that of another. Other things being equal, one might then morally vote for a less supportive position. If all candidates support "abortion rights" equally, one might vote for the candidate who seems best in regard to other issues” (1990, “Abortion: Questions and Answers”).
In this context, the question also arises as to whether one is required to vote for a third candidate who does not have a strong base of support but does have the right position. The answer is, no, you are not required to vote for this candidate. The reason is that your vote is not a canonization of a candidate. It is a transfer of power. You have to look concretely at where the power is really going to be transferred, and use your vote not to make a statement but to help bring about the most acceptable results under the circumstances.
Of course, our conscience may be telling us, “Don’t say it’s impossible to elect the candidate who doesn’t have a strong base of support.” Of course, it is possible to elect almost anyone if the necessary work is done within the necessary time. God doesn’t ask us to base our choices on “the possibility of miracles,” but rather on solid human reason. The point is that if there’s a relatively unknown but excellent candidate, the time to begin building up support for that person’s candidacy is several years before the election, not several months. What you have to ask as Election Day draws near is whether your vote is needed to keep the worse candidate (of the two, less acceptable but more realistic choices) out of office.
After you chew on that for a bit (I know I did!), you can continue to form your conscience on these matters by considering what Blessed John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae (paragraph 73), concerning the legislative votes of elected officials (emphasis mine):
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.
Look, it would be nice to have the perfect candidate running against Barack Obama this November. But we live in the real world, the fallen world. We have a viable candidate in Mitt Romney, a man who will not actively persecute the Church (can you believe that's even an issue?), and who will mitigate the evil that has come and will continue to come through Obama's policies, executive orders, mandates, and (lifetime!) judicial appointments. As we read above, "by your vote, you can keep the worse person out. And trying to do that is not only legitimate, but good."
You will not be in sin by voting for Romney. I beg of you not to "make a statement" this election, but to make sure that Obama is voted out of office for good. There is no greater threat to both the Catholic Church and unborn children in America than four more years of Barack Obama in the White House.
According to the principles of the Catholic Church, you may vote Romney-Ryan with a clear conscience.