The Cardinal Ratzinger Letter

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the memo Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about voting for pro-abortion candidates and worthiness to receive Communion. 

Below, I offer some clarifications about this memo. However, I offer a few strong pieces of advice first.

a) The time between now and November 2 should be used by pro-life people to mobilize other pro-life people to vote. The principle of the "low-hanging fruit" is that if, in the limited time we have, we can mobilize 10 votes by convincing people who don't yet agree with us, or mobilize 75 votes of people who already agree (but may not have voted if we had not nudged them), then we should nudge the 75 and talk to the ten after pro-life candidates have been elected! In other words, this is not the time to be distracted by abstract theological debates. This is the time for practical action to get out the vote!

b) I used to work in the Vatican, and as a priest and a Catholic, I obviously place great weight on what Vatican Cardinals say. However, we do not need a Vatican Cardinal in order to know how horrible abortion is. We simply need to look at abortion. If descriptions of the procedure or the horrifying pictures do not convince someone, Vatican documents hardly will. Of course, Cardinal Ratzinger, as I indicate below, does not justify support for abortion in the least. But even if he did, or if the Bible did, we would still not be able to support it ourselves. Abortion speaks for itself, that it is inhumane, barbaric, and unacceptable. No Church can ever change that, nor can anyone or anything else.

Click here for the September 9 Priests for Life Press Release on this matter.

"The Ratzinger Fiasco" -- Column by Fr. Frank

Comments by Archbishop John Myers of Newark

A Further Explanation of the Memo

The memo of Cardinal Ratzinger was included with a letter to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, and the memo became public at the beginning of July.

The memo is a single page (to read it, click here). While it is not too difficult to understand, it has to be kept in mind that this memo is from a Cardinal to a Cardinal, and therefore the writer presumes that the recipient is already very familiar with the terms and concepts used in the memo. Were the writer sending the letter to a different audience, some of those terms and concepts would be given longer and more explicit explanation (for example, "remote material cooperation" or "obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.") These terms, from Catholic moral theology and canon law, are terms that every priest has to study for years in the seminary. Now, the secular media is translating them into headlines of a few words for throngs of unchurched Catholics and people of every other faith and no faith.

All six paragraphs of the letter plus half of the footnote make it clear that Catholics who support abortion by voting for pro-abortion candidates are cooperating in evil and may not receive Communion.

The second half of the footnote addresses cases where a person who opposes abortion could cast a vote for a pro-abortion candidate, in the presence of "proportionate reasons." The single sentence of the Cardinal simply applies a standard Catholic moral teaching about "remote material cooperation." Again, this is a brief reference to terms that carry centuries of reflection by Catholic (and other) ethicists.

It would be a mistake to interpret this teaching to mean that all issues are equal, and that a voter can choose a pro-abortion candidate because they don't like the pro-life candidate's position on capital punishment or war. Cardinal Ratzinger, in the same letter, stated, "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. …There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

An example of the "proportionate reasons" that would justify voting for a candidate who approved of some abortions would be the case when the only two candidates able to win an election were both in favor of abortion. It is morally permissible to vote for the one who supports fewer abortions than his opponent.

The Pope and bishops have indicated that other human rights issues, like health, education, and poverty, are not proportionate to abortion and euthanasia. Click here to see various quotations that emphasize this point.

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