John Gerard Lewis has written a book that might startle many cafeteria Catholics who consider themselves fully liberated from the fixed and objective traditions of Catholic morality. The highly acclaimed Catholic Voting and Mortal Sin (2020) takes for its premise exactly what the title suggests: every vote is gambling on right or wrong; you vote at your peril, but vote you must; indifference is not an option … God and the devil are watching. At the outset Lewis emphasizes that, consistent with Church teaching and the expressed sentiments of the American bishops, voting for self-declared abortion rights candidates may well be a vote for mortal sin. The Church can say this, while at the same time not saying which specific candidate you should or should not vote for. Lewis notes that many American Catholics do not understand the need for them to examine their conscience before they enter the voting booth.
Lewis rightly observes that most Catholics are poorly catechized about morality and sin. Indeed, the frequency of Catholics confessing their sins, which requires the examination of conscience, has greatly diminished. Combine this fact with so many priests and bishops unwilling, or too intimidated, to risk the blow-back from a now largely liberal laity, and one sees why so many Catholics regard abortion as just one of a myriad number of issues to consider when choosing a candidate for office. It is, of course, not just one of many issues. It is the central issue of rampant evil in modern times. Each day in America more than 2,300 children are slaughtered in the womb. The gravity of this sin is such that those who cheer it on by voting for Catholic politicians who defend it are joining them on the broad path to hell, even those who recklessly suppose that they vote for such politicians with the best of intentions.
Are there any longer, as there used to be, true Catholic voters who can be counted on not to sever their religious convictions from their political choices? Separation of Church and State is a hollow phrase if it means that the Church can have no say in the political convictions of its members. What the phrase really means is that the Church must cravenly subject itself to the State. The Johnson Amendment to the IRS tax code of the 1960s made it inevitable that that if the bishops and priests wanted to keep the tax-exempt status of their properties protected, they would have to shut their mouths when it came to speaking from the altar about how Catholics should vote on moral questions in order to be loyal Catholics. Hence, the compliance of the bishops and the priests who follow the lead of their bishops, all too many of them more zealous for pieces of silver than for preaching the gospel.
The Kennedy Capitulation
John F. Kennedy (+1963), as candidate for President, campaigned on the promise that his private Catholic values would never influence his governing of a secular society. This no doubt appealed to many Protestants, Jews, and the un-churched. Because his strategy helped him in some states to win the presidency, it is no wonder that so many Catholics later running for office would adopt it, thus leading to the general dilution of Catholic values in public affairs; as if that celebrated “wall of separation” was deliberately built to protect Americans from the influence of what was surely in Kennedy’s day the single most conservative Christian denomination in America. From that point on any Catholic running for office could trade on the political convenience of being both a devout Catholic and totally free of Catholic values.
Soon after, Vatican Council II unleashed a so-called renaissance of new ways to think about being a Catholic. On the contrary, all the signs pointed to a new liberalism, from more Catholics defiantly practicing birth control to participation in civil rights and feminist causes. A great flock of priests and nuns abandoned their vows and the Church herself. It could not be long before Catholics joined the public craze for new divorce laws and rather friendly support for openly proud expressions of homosexuality. Next on the agenda, most telling of all, was that the single Catholic on the Supreme Court joined the majority in the outrageous decision of Roe v Wade, which liberals framed as merely giving the mother the right to choose, but which the Church rightly recognized as giving the mother the right to kill her unborn child. (Five decades later, a Supreme Court consisting mostly of Catholics would shamefully affirm same-sex marriage, thus totally rejecting the natural law ethics of Thomas Aquinas and the traditional Catholic teaching on sodomy as a mortal sin.)
There can be no doubt that certain “Catholic” politicians are at war with the teachings of the Church on major questions of morality. Among them is Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, the most hearty endorser of liberal causes, and especially of legalizing abortion. She has contradicted what the Church teaches about killing the unborn, has been corrected by various bishops, and persists in her description of herself as a devout Catholic. She is only one of many who by their example and propaganda are giving Catholic voters (especially those who are poorly catechized) the notion that the Catholic Church is behind the times and Catholic voters ought to be free to choose their candidates accordingly. The fact that there are no weighty reprimands by bishops such as withholding Communion, collective censure, even excommunication (possibly the liberal media would not pay attention even if these measures of discipline were tried) gives many people, both within and outside the Church, the impression that the bishops are not serious about disciplining purveyors of heresy.
The Seamless Garment Torn apart
But Lewis is very serious about what he takes to be the most damning aspect of the Catholic vote in recent decades. He spends four whole chapters on the “seamless garment” theme promoted by many Catholic theologians and bishops. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in the 1980s is most often associated with promoting the seamless garment thesis: that all matters of morality deserve to be considered when deciding for whom to vote, and that no one issue can eclipse others and be decisive. Thus, abortion, while an important issue, stands beside other equally important matters, such as, according to the American bishops: education, unemployment, health care, arms limitations, and other social justice issues. Catholics then became free to juggle these important balls according to their inner light, and of course the abortion ball was likely to be dropped more often than the others. Cardinal Bernardin himself finally recognized the ruse and sought to correct it in remarks cited by the National Catholic Register:
I know that some people on the left have used the consistent ethic [seamless garment] to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important any more, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire just on abortion. This is a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it.
Cardinal Bernardin thus rightly put himself in the camp of those who regard abortion not as a negotiable item about which honest people can disagree, but as a deliberate and intrinsic evil. Catholics may not support intrinsic evil by voting into office those who champion it, for then they would be supporting the industry that profits by killing a million unborn children each year. Most Catholics are unaware of this distinction and never take it as an obligation when they enter the voting booth. This is largely because pastors do not like to bring up the gross fallacy of the seamless garment, it being so crucial to keeping peace with the liberals in their parish who worship that garment with all their hearts and souls. Occasionally (every four years) a bishop may dutifully (to save his own soul) write a letter to his flock in the diocesan newspaper making the salient points against abortion, but the letter is soon forgotten and the message never gets hammered home in such a way that the bishop and laity have much impact on weeding out pro-abortion candidates.
The Seamless Garment Ripped to Shreds
In 1998 the American bishops released the following statement:
“Any politics of of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. … If we understand the human person as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” – the living house of God – then those issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation.” (italics mine)
Building on that statement, Reverend Richard J. Neuhaus in 2004 remarked:
Is it possible for any politician who persistently – publicly, defiantly and in the face of repeated pastoral efforts at reproach – continues to support Roe v. Wade? Rome has made it clear that abortion is not one issue among others. It is intrinsically evil.
Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran remarked:
Several years ago I remember being criticized for urging people to vote pro-life. … I am proud to be called a single issue voter in this regard for there is no other issue as basic, as fundamental, and as urgent. Abortion is the most serious and critical problem we are faced with today.
Archbishop Raymond L. Burke remarked:
… there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, that a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also supports and endorses the killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, human cloning, or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as legal marriage. The elements are so fundamental to the common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter how good.
Bishop Robert Hermann remarked:
More than anything else, elections are about saving our children or killing our children. This life issue is the overriding issue facing each of us … All other issues, including the economy, have to take second place to the issue of life.
Cardinal James Hickey remarked:
There is one issue that rises above the others. When you vote … I hope and pray that you will not forget the most disenfranchised citizens in this land – the unborn.
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland remarked:
When we choose a candidate for whatever level of office, we MUST inquire into their stand with regard to the life of the unborn. … Our vote is very often the only voice we have and we MUST VOTE NO to abortion.
Father Stephen F. Torraco remarked:
A candidate for office who supports abortion rights or any other moral evil has disqualified himself as a person that you can vote for.
The Bishops of Massachusetts collectively remarked:
When it is a matter of choosing between two candidates, where one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice, then we must always choose pro-life.
Father Matthew Harbiger remarked:
It is a scandal that Catholic politicians vote for bills which fund or otherwise advance abortion. They should be named, publicly shamed and admonished so that they can cease their evil and return to God.
Voting Can Be a Mortal Sin
Lewis assures us that many Catholics are now poorly catechized regarding the abomination of abortion. Worse still, given the lack of instruction and warning by their bishops (and worst of all the assurance by their bishops and priests that single issue voting is wrong) they imagine themselves free to vote for whomever they please. This is, after all, an American right. Well no, not exactly – the law of God trumps the law of the land. We are obliged to know the law of God, to instruct Catholics in what it is, and then to demand they recognize that voting for certain abominable laws and the candidates who support them can be a mortal sin, thus risking the fate of one’s immortal soul. Lewis then provides a list of 21 clerics willing to argue that voting can be a mortal sin. Among them are the following:
Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki:
… you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote. Because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your soul in jeopardy.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput:
In the United States … abortion is an acceptable form of homicide.. If you vote this way [for a candidate that supports or promotes abortion] are you cooperating in evil? And if you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession. The answer is yes.
Bishop Daniel Jenky:
Today Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord. They are objectively guilty of grave sin. For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life.
We hear it said too often by the “seamless garment” Catholics, who ought to know better, that when voting Catholics should not weaponize themselves with one moral issue that outweighs all others, such as protecting the unborn. But the Democrats ever since Roe v Wade have weaponized their support of abortion as a device to obtain votes from those millions on the Left who have no respect for the lives of the unborn. Repeat! Supporting abortion is a device Catholic candidates for office have constantly weaponized to get the liberal vote. The Catholic bishops of America have in no uncertain terms condemned abortion. Unfortunately, they have failed to likewise resoundingly condemn in public the “Catholic” politicians who refuse to protect the infant in the womb. The issue is simple: we cannot have the promise of the Founders fulfilled, the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” if we do not first have the right to life itself.
And that is precisely the point. The infant is not a diseased organ of the mother’s body that must be surgically removed to save the mother’s life. The infant has his or her own DNA, immortal soul, and personal destiny, a full life ahead that cannot be denied because of a temporary inconvenience to the mother. What insanity is it that puts the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn in jeopardy because of a woman’s right to choose? It is the same insane society that would tolerate mothers killing a recently born child because they have the right to choose whether the child should live or die? A society that is already in hell.
The tragedy produced by liberal Democrats, the tragedy of 60 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, could have been averted if the Democrats had stood with the Church and the Republicans by using every weapon at their disposal to prevent the holocaust of the unborn. Too late now for the 60 million already killed in the womb. Not too late to save the next 60 million. The sinful stain of abortion makes it irrational and impossible to believe that when voting, we may rightly choose more welfare for those who are born but more death for those who are unborn. Perhaps it is possible that in one election cycle, if all Catholics and other Christians stood together against those Democrats who are pro-choice, there would be a tidal wave of defeat for Democrats that would teach them to stop supporting the “right” of a mother and a doctor to kill an unborn child. And it would certainly purge from politics those Catholic candidates who perversely insist they are opposed to abortion but have to defend and support Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. What horribly insane and unjust law of the land cannot be opposed and undone? Isn’t that what ending the insane abomination of slavery was all about?
Since ancient Greece, historians note, democracies have contained within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. This is because voters are adept at being fooled, or at fooling themselves. They can choose to endorse political or economic hell by voting for candidates who will make easy the path to that kind of hell. Or they can choose to endorse spiritual hell, the kind that does not end, but rather begins, with the taking of our last breath; the kind that Jesus in Matthew 25:41-46 warned would be waiting for us if we do not do the right thing; the worst kind of hell that contains an “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And we should make no mistake about it. God is watching. The secret vote we deposit in the ballot box is no secret to God. If we vote for those who defend the intrinsic evil of killing unborn infants, we could be sealing our own well-deserved fate on Judgment Day.