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Pre-Election Letter to the People of Arlington

By Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Special to the Herald

(From the issue of 10/28/04)

October 31, 2004

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Nov. 2 marks a quadrennial, pivotal date in our nation — a date when we again are given the opportunity of electing a president, a vice president, and in Virginia, all of the members of the House of Representatives. This is an opportunity that the 394,000 Catholics of our diocese cannot but take seriously, for we must continue to build a "Culture of Life," as our Holy Father calls it — a culture in which our nation’s leaders will "contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced" (cf. The Gospel of Life, 90).

Since the last national election, our nation and world have witnessed Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Domestic issues such as the threat of human cloning, the attempt to legalize same-sex marriage and the ban and subsequent challenging of the ban on partial birth abortion have caused us to sharpen our focus on what is important for us as Catholics. As we examine the positions of candidates on numerous issues in the presidential and other election contests, we must allow our conscience to be guided by fundamental principles.

As my brother bishops and I have stated in "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium," the critical principles by which we should judge those who run for elected office are the protection of human life, the promotion of family life, the pursuit of social justice and the practice of global solidarity.

The foundation for these principles is the first, the protection of human life, since without it the other three would be rendered meaningless. If we do not uphold and protect human life in its beginning at conception, there will be no life to uphold and protect thereafter. As we read in Living the Gospel of Life, "We cannot simultaneously commit ourselves to human rights and progress while eliminating or marginalizing the weakest among us … We must begin with a commitment never to intentionally kill, or collude in the killing, of any innocent human life, no matter how broken, unformed, disabled or desperate that life may seem" (20, 21).

To be a faithful Catholic necessarily means that one is pro-life and not pro-choice. As my brother bishops and I said in our statement "Catholics in Political Life" this past June, "Failing to protect the lives of the innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice." To be pro-choice essentially means supporting the right of a woman to terminate the life of her baby, either pre-born or partially born. No Catholic can claim to be a faithful member of the Church while advocating for, or actively supporting, direct attacks on innocent human life. In reality, protecting human life from conception to natural death is more than a Catholic issue. It is an issue of fundamental morality, rooted in both the natural law and the divine law.

The Church’s God-given responsibility is to propose the Truth, thereby offering people the proper criterion for examining issues and making informed decisions that are morally right and serve the common good. "The Church must be committed to the task of educating and supporting lay people involved in law-making, government and the administration of justice, so that legislation will always reflect those principles and moral values which are in conformity with a sound anthropology and advance the common good" (The Church in America, 19, Synod for America, 72). There is no doubt that protecting all human life, promoting the family, pursuing social justice and practicing global solidarity are in conformity with a sound anthropology and do, indeed, advance the common good.

Keeping in mind the four priorities that I have outlined, some have wondered whether one may vote for a candidate whose stand on abortion and other life issues is contrary to the teaching of the Church if one believes that that candidate has a better position on other issues of importance to Catholics and indeed to our nation (e.g., national security, taxation, job growth, economic policy, etc.). Let me be clear: to vote for a candidate precisely because of his or her pro-abortion stance is an instance of formal cooperation in a grave evil. Such formal cooperation is, according to the constant teaching of the Church, never morally permissible.

In our common life together in society, it is sometimes not possible to avoid entirely all cooperation with evil. This may be the case in electing to office our state and national leaders. In certain circumstances, it is morally permissible to vote for a candidate who supports some immoral practices while opposing other immoral practices. This is called material cooperation with evil. In order for material cooperation to be morally permissible, however, there must be a proportionate reason for such cooperation. Proportionate reason does not mean that each issue carries the same moral weight; intrinsically evil acts such as abortion or research on stem cells taken from human embryos cannot be placed on the same level as debates over war or capital punishment, for example. It is simply not possible to serve and promote the common good of our nation by voting for a candidate who, once in office, will do nothing to limit or restrict the deliberate destruction of innocent human life.

If, however, a candidate supports abortion in a limited number of cases but opposes it otherwise, a Catholic may vote for such a candidate over another, more unsuitable candidate who is unwilling to place any restrictions on abortion. In this case, the voter makes an effort to limit the circumstances in which procured abortion would be deemed legal. This is not a question of choosing a lesser evil, but rather the Catholic, by his or her vote, expresses the intention to limit all the evil that one is able to limit at the time.

As citizens and Catholics, we must be involved in the political process and in the electing of our local, state and national leaders. "The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government but the voting booth as well" (Living the Gospel of Life, 33). Once again, I urge you to weigh carefully the issues and the candidates from the perspective of the four moral priorities I outlined above, especially the priority to protect the life of all persons, pre-born and born.

In these days preceding the elections on Nov. 2, please pray and fast that the citizens of our nation will elect those leaders who will renew our communities, our state and our society by enabling all citizens to restore the culture of life.

One with you in prayer and in the exercise of our privileged right to vote, I remain

Faithfully in Christ,

Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde

Bishop of Arlington

Priests for Life
PO Box 141172 • Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. 888-735-3448, (718) 980-4400 • Fax 718-980-6515
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