The current Presidential race has witnessed an unprecedented drive, especially by the GOP, to court the Catholic vote.  Democrats, who for decades snookered Catholics into believing that theirs was the party of the laborer and the immigrant, are finding their social-justice platform of little use among Catholics who find Democrat enthusiasm for infanticide and “gay marriage” repugnant.  Blessed-are-the-peacemaker Catholics (like the Holy Father) can take no more solace in the voting record of Senator Kerry than they can in the foreign policy of the Bush administration.  There remain pro-life Catholics who still feel the pull of loyalty to the Democratic Party, but their numbers are decreasing.

While a small number of courageous bishops have denied Communion to pro-abortion candidates, at least one has seemingly lowered the stakes to the partisan level.  René Henry Gracida, bishop emeritus of Corpus Christi, has published a letter (enjoying wide internet circulation) in which he describes Senator Kerry as “completely for abortion on demand,” President Bush as “in favor of greatly restricting abortion,” and Michael Peroutka as “universally recognized as being unelectable.”  In case you cannot connect the dots, Bishop Gracida does it for you at the end of his letter: “Those Catholics who love moral absolutes would have no choice but to vote for Peroutka, but those Catholics who recognize that in the real world it is sometimes necessary to choose the lesser of two evils in order to prevent greater harm—in this case harm to innocent children—would vote for Bush.”

Abortion is key to the GOP’s courting of the Catholic vote.  The letter asserts, as have other Catholic commentators, that abortion is so singularly wicked that no question of proportionality can inform the Catholic voter.  Following Gracida’s reasoning, a Catholic voter who stays home on Election Day is guilty of a sin of omission for his role in “assisting in the election of Kerry.”

Abortion is a grave evil and is justly identified as one of five “non-negotiable” issues by Catholic Answers’ Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics, a guide that admirably stays above party politics.  For a Catholic to vote for a candidate because he is likely to introduce or support pro-abortion legislation would constitute formal cooperation in a mortal sin.

With a different set of motives and circumstances, however, the morality of a vote becomes a complex question.  Single-issue (abortion) voters will hear no argument that war is a proportionate issue.  Their deliberate deafness may be the result of their support for the war, or it may be a recognition that the body counts aren’t anywhere near equal—though, if we count Iraqi civilians (especially deaths of women and children caused by sanctions and a decade of air strikes) the gap closes.  If we ponder the possibility of plunging a major region of the world into decades of war, the gap closes even more.

Moreover, a politician may be pro-life, but, if he cannot bring his influence to bear on the matter, the merits of a vote for him are diminished.  Or a candidate may be marginally pro-life, such as President Bush, but altogether unwilling to go the mat on the question.  Bush’s judicial appointments, or the four abortuaries that operated in his state capital when he was governor of Texas, say more than his claims that human life is sacred.

A third element of the proportionality question is urgency.  If a pro-life candidate cannot or will not meaningfully address the abortion problem, there may be another pressing matter—a foreign policy that is antagonizing our enemies and our allies, for example—that might be solved by the pro-abortion candidate.  An America-first Catholic could reason it this way: Neither Ralph Nader nor George W. Bush is likely to slow abortion, but the former may at least try to arrest the growth of the American Empire.

Cardinal Ratzinger has neatly distilled the moral complexity of voting: “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation with evil . . . if he were to deliberately [sic] vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stance on abortion or euthanasia.  When a Catholic does not share the candidate’s stance in favor of abortion 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.”  Leftists journalists have given Ratzinger’s words the usual spin, arguing that they are a green light for Catholics to vote “pro-choice.”  They aren’t, of course—only a concise rendering of a moral question that the simpletons in both parties have no interest in trying to understand.