Thursday, September 9

Voting with the Vatican

In a gesture of retraction and perhaps remorse, the Vatican has stepped back from its previously thunderous declarations concerning Catholics who would dare vote for political candidates supporting abortion rights.[article]
Consider the progress this signals. First, "in radio and newspaper interviews in June, Archbishop Burke said, 'It's objectively wrong to vote for a pro-choice politician,' and said Catholic voters who did so 'would need to confess that sin.'" Perhaps it was the Catholic Church's increasingly haunting resemblance to the Taliban that caused one of its chief doctrinal authorities to offer less prophetic judgments on voting citizens who profess to be Catholic and feel it is permissible to think of more than a single issue when assessing the political figures in their respective nations. Whatever the case, compare today's decidedly less sententious offering from the Archbishop, who now says that a Catholic who opposes abortion could vote for a candidate who supports keeping abortion legal "for what are called proportionate reasons." Or, as stated in the authoritarian cadence of Cardinal Ratzinger:
When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.
The first implication is that abortion is no longer the only issue Catholics are allowed to ponder. By itself, that is quite a remarkable sign of intellectual and moral progress (assuming that single-minded Catholics are in fact able to divert their attention from this one issue). But the vagueness of "proportionate reasons" leaves open the possibility that Catholics might still be vulnerable on another score that has divided the passions of some of them for some time now, especially in America. A remark made the other day by Cornel West, Princeton professor of religion and African-American studies, goes right to this point:
[Bush and his advisors] recognize that right now never in the history of America has organized Christianity had such power and clout, and especially an organized Christianity which is in the back pocket of corporate America. So, we're seeing explicit appeals as well as manipulation and a lot of times these Christians are very sincere. They're just very, very short on history, and [have] very little sense of the way in which they're being manipulated, especially around issues of gay marriage, appeals to the homophobia, as well as issues of abortion.[full interview]
Now that Catholics have been allowed to bring "proportionate reasons" into their deliberations without feeling that the wrath of eternal hell will strike them where they stand, will the homophobia in this nation only grow? Or might they actually look beyond this double reduction of Christianity (to pathological obsession with the destiny of the fetus and homophobic rage) and realize that cynically-justified acts of corporate aggression are killing innocent civilians and homeland defenders in Iraq and elsewhere, that human dignity and international law have been mocked in U.S.-run prisons and detention centers in Guantanomo and Iraq in particular, that the health care system in the U.S. is the shame of the civilized world, that the environment is being belched upon by U.S. corporations in a way that will harm human health for generations to come, etc., and all at the more or less direct command of their recently anointed anti-abortion hero, Mr. George Bush?

The Archbishop’s final comments in this article do not leave much room for hope:

"The sticking point is this -- and this is the hard part," the archbishop added. "What is a proportionate reason to justify favoring the taking of an innocent, defenseless human life? And I just leave that to you as a question. That's the question that has to be answered in your conscience. What is the proportionate reason?"
This is a remarkable moment. Just as the Archbishop admits to his followers that treating abortion as something other than the only issue of justice in the world may not be wholly sinful, he seems incapable of thinking outside the uterus. "That's the question that has to be answered in your conscience" sounds like a threat, and it's followed with the strangely insistent, "What is the proportionate reason?" (as if there could only be one, if there could really be one, which possibility he seems to want to deny even as he begrudgingly acknowledges doctrinal flexibility on the matter). In short, the Archbishop seems less to be asking a hypothetical, moral, or pragmatic question than to be denying the very possibility of a "proportionate reason." The waffling is apparently calculated to demonstrate that he, personally, rejects wholly all those who favor abortion rights, even if, on pragmatic or political grounds, he has to accept the possibility of "remote material cooperation" among the faithful; as if "remote material cooperation" were itself an isolated moral failing that one could protect oneself against in all matters or in the matter of abortion, rather than the very essence of moral existence. Still, the very phrase "remote material" is oxymoronic. It is laced with the bad conscience of dogmatists who have been forced to rethink their own rigidity. Apparently, the Archbishop has forgotten that there exist other ways of ending an innocent, defenseless human life than by abortion. In America, the extremist elements of the Republican party encourage well-meaning Christians to forget this fact, but what is the Archbishop's excuse? And whence the contemporary obsession with the fetus? Jesus Christ never mentioned it, and euthanasia was a common practice in his day.