I've been listening carefully to how Catholics are talking about the upcoming election. I've also been sincerely hoping that the number of those who consider abortion to be a deciding issue in their choices will increase.
In the course of doing so, I cannot help but think of my spiritual father and mentor, Cardinal John O'Connor, who ordained me and authorized me to direct the Priests for Life movement. If he were still with us on earth, I know his voice would be loud and clear as we approach this national election. Fortunately, we can still hear that voice through the writings he has left us. One of them, a booklet called "Abortion: Questions and Answers," was published in the Catholic New York in 1990. A few excerpts from it are especially helpful in regard to choosing candidates for office:
"Bishops are told they should not criticize a political candidate for simply being "proabortion," or favor a candidate simply for being "pro-life." It is argued that a candidate's entire record, his or her entire set of attitudes must be considered.
"There are several things to be said about this. First, with the staggering increase in abortion in less than 20 years, other issues, important as they are, are secondary to this direct taking of human life.
"Secondly, in regard to many other issues, the question is one of public policy strategy, a question of the best way to do things. But abortion is not a question of mere strategy, or of how best to accomplish a particular public policy objective. Abortion—every abortion—is the destruction of human life. There is no "best way" of destroying human life. That is an absolute.
"For example, everyone can argue that we need a stronger police force. How is that achieved? That's a matter of strategy. For example, some might recommend raising taxes. Others believe that higher taxes will ruin the economy and result in a very high rate of unemployment. Are they right or wrong? That's an economic judgment more than it's a moral judgment. Many such examples could be given.
"In reality, aren't "single issues" always driving forces in American political life? Doesn't the state of the economy or employment strongly influence thinking? Could any candidate win office today who favored a return to slavery, even if he had a wonderful record in regard to all other issues? Could a candidate win who supports drug traffic? Suppose a candidate said the vote should be withdrawn from women? Clearly, these are "single issues" which many people consider serious enough that no other qualities of a candidate would compensate. Why is it wrong, then, to look at abortion in this light, if one believes that abortion is the taking of innocent life?"
The Cardinal's words are echoed in this year's statement on political responsibility which comes to us from the bishops' conference. Faithful Citizenship states it clearly and succinctly: "Calls to advance human rights are illusions if the right to life itself is subject to attack." The same theme was stated by the Holy Father in his 1988 apostolic exhortation, The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (Christifideles Laici): "The inviolability of the person, which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination . . . "
The multitude of issues, in other words, about which we have to be concerned and active, are not evaluated linearly and arithmetically. In other words, we don't see them as just a collection of issues, and count how many a candidate gets right and how many he gets wrong, and then vote for the one with the better score.