OPINION: Doug Kmiec’s Book, the Nature of Freedom and a 'good' Conscience


Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - In the “Afterword” of his recent book, “Can a Catholic Support Him?”, written to endorse the candidacy of Barack Obama and attempt to persuade fellow Catholics to do the same, Doug Kmiec writes: “Barack Obama has my vote. Your only duty is to cast your own in good conscience. As a Catholic and as an American, you may do so in perfect freedom. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”. Make no mistake; this is a moral claim. It uses phrases like “good conscience” and “perfect freedom”, which speak to the morality of human action and the acting person.

Consciences are “good” when they are properly formed in the truth which then leads the person to do what is good. Freedom “perfects” a human person only when it is exercised in accordance with the truth and furthers what is truly good. In our last verbal joust, Doug expressed his irritation with my efforts to oppose his support of Senator Obama with this comment, “To just engage in systematic theology or philosophic discourse loses sight of the unborn children, we might actually – right now, this day -- save by improving the life circumstance of expectant mothers.” He argues in this book that the Democratic Party, by emphasizing economic support for women who “choose” not to abort and “sex education” for young people (whatever that term means),is somehow acting more “morally” than the Republican Party. He knows he will not receive an argument from me on the absolute need to provide support for mothers who have children - and for those children. However, both major Party platforms now pledge to do just that.As to who will really deliver, lets save that for future articles. In this article, I want to address Doug’s disparagement of philosophic discourse and his own moral claim.

It seemed a bit odd to me. After all, Doug is being presented by the supporters of Barrack Obama, a candidate who I labeled in my last article as an “Abortion Hawk” because of his unrelenting support of the undeclared war on the occupants of the once safe first home of the whole human race (the womb), precisely to try to make a theological, philosophical and allegedly “moral” argument for voting for Obama. Doug is the intelligent “Catholic scholar” they hope will help them to win more Catholics to the Obama candidacy. They have a serious “Catholic problem” because their candidate has absolutely promised to sign the so called “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA) into law as soon as he is elected. He will thereby guarantee the so called “right” to abort (kill) children in the womb. Yet, at the same time, this candidate continues to call abortion a “moral issue”. He then attempts to sound like he wants to make the prevalence of abortion less “necessary”. Just this past week, Cardinal Rigali addressed this kind of contradictory approach in a letter which he sent to the Congress on behalf of all Bishops in the United States. He wrote “…there is one thing absolutely everyone should be able to agree on: We can’t reduce abortions by promoting abortion…. No one who sponsors or supports legislation like FOCA can credibly claim to be part of a good-faith discussion on how to reduce abortions.” So, Doug has opened the moral discussion and I will continue to engage him on it.

He attempts in this book to explain a “moral” analysis. Namely, how one can determine whether an action, in this instance, voting, is moral when the end result will be to entrench “legal” abortion in American law and make all efforts to limit it even more difficult. Doug makes a great deal of asserting that in voting for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil (in this instance abortion) he does not “intend” to support that position. So, the real question now becomes whether an intention can change the morality of an act? Doug makes much of the moral concept of proportionality. However, after reading the book I wonder if he is properly presenting the concept of proportionality for his readers or actually falling prey to the error of “proportionalism”? The Catholic Catechism puts the issue quite clearly, “There are certain kinds of behavior that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will”.

Our particular "intentions" must therefore be in accord with reason. Reason itself rightly understood must be in accord with the good. St Paul addressed the early Christians in Rome concerning the implications of misusing the concept of intention in the process of making moral choices. He cautioned them about an errant approach which seeks to argue that evil may be done as long as there is a good intention. “There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just’ (Rom 3:8) Catholics are called to form their consciences in accordance with what is true and then to act morally, that is to act in accordance with that truth. This is what true freedom is all about.

The great struggle of this hour is being waged over the very nature of human freedom and almost every contemporary concern that we face as Christians can be positioned within this struggle. As Christians, freedom is to be exercised in relationship to truth. Freedom has consequences. Our choices not only change the world around us, but they make us to be the kinds of persons we become. The very capacity to make choices is what makes us truly human. What we choose either humanizes us further or leads us into slavery. Our capacity to choose reflects the “Imago Dei”, the Image of God, present within every human person. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their document on the Mission of the Church in the Modern World, "Authentic freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image within man." (Gaudium et Spes, “Joy and Hope”, Par. 17) Classical, orthodox Christians of every community, confession and ilk, must listen closely to those who are using the word “freedom” today and ask what is meant when they speak the word. We must also examine their actions. Freedom is as freedom does. Shortly after Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was installed as Pope Benedict XVI, he warned of a mistaken notion of freedom. He addressed an assembly of families and coined a phrase that was heard around the world, “anarchic freedom”: “Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man."

Pope Benedict will soon release his third encyclical letter which will be entitled “Love in Truth” (Caritas in Veritate).In this letter he teaches about exercising the theological virtue of Charity in relationship to the truth. This follows his first two encyclical letters on love and hope. “Social Justice” is an expression of social charity. It must be exercised in relationship to the truth concerning our obligations in solidarity to one another. One another includes the littlest human persons, children in the womb. They are our neighbors. In his warning about “anarchic freedom” Pope Benedict echoed what the Servant of God John Paul II referred to as a “counterfeit” notion of freedom as a right to do whatever once chooses. This can lead to something John Paul warned of in his extraordinary encyclical letter “The Gospel of Life”, the “death of true freedom” One of the overriding themes of The pontificate of Pope John Paul II was his clear teaching concerning a true and authentic definition of human freedom. The Catholic Church exists to proclaim and point the way to this authentic human freedom. According to Pope Benedict , this was Pope John Paul II's mission, "…when, in face of all attempts, apparently benevolent, in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he underlined in an unequivocal way the inviolability of the human being, the inviolability of human life, from its conception until natural death." In “Introduction to Christianity”, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “…one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom.”

The men and women of this age are asking the fundamental questions men and women of every age have asked. They hunger for truth and they yearn to be truly free. They will never be really free without God who is the source, author and way to true freedom. When freedom is authentic in its exercise it leads men, women and Nations to true liberation because it connects them with the good and thereby makes them more fully human. The contemporary age has become intoxicated on the wine of a false notion of freedom as a raw power over others who are weaker and a “right” to do whatever one wills. Pope Benedict recently opined concerning legal abortion and creeping euthanasia: "The freedom to kill is not true freedom,but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery."

By calling what is always wrong a “right”, contemporary men and women are becoming imprisoned by the lies and empty promise of “anarchic freedom.” To this age the Catholic Church proclaims the unchangeable truth that some “choices” are always and everywhere wrong. Choosing them does not make one free, rather it erodes freedom. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that: “Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself.” (CCC, 1861.) What we choose is what truly matters. Authentic Human Freedom will never be found in decisions that are made against God and against the Natural Law. As Pope Benedict XVI stated, with the kind of moral clarity that the world so desperately needs in this crucial moment, such a “freedom” is anarchic.

So, I once again question my friend Doug Kmiec’s claim. A “good” conscience can never cooperate with or further intrinsic evil. Such an exercise of human freedom is “anarchic” and will not lead the one who engages in the action to be perfected. Rather, it will erode freedom and perpetuate the Culture of death and use.