By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Bishop Joseph F. Martino of the diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania caused quite a stir when he made a surprise visit to a parish-sponsored election forum where Catholics were discussing whether or not they could vote for a pro-abortion candidate.
The forum took place Oct. 19 at St. John’s Catholic Church in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and consisted of four panelists who shared their views with the audience: a local businessman and a college professor who both support Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a county commission who supports Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sister Margaret Gannon of Marywood University who did not state her voting preference.
According to the Wayne Independent, Bishop Martino arrived at the forum just as the panelists were giving their opinions. Sister Gannon began her statement by quoting from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) document, “Faithful Citizenship,” which says a political candidate’s position on abortion must be weighed against other moral issues, such as unjust wars or stem-cell research, when it comes time to vote.
The USCCB statement says: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. ”
Bishop Martino immediately took issue with the statement and the fact that a letter he had written to his flock on Sept. 30 was not even mentioned at the forum.
“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” Bishop Martino informed the crowd. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
He went on to say: “The only relevant document . . . is my letter. There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
His letter, published Sept. 30 and circulated throughout the diocese, states that a candidate’s abortion stance is a major voting issue that supersedes all other considerations due to its grave moral consequences.
“Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns,” his letter said. “Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences as the recent financial crisis demonstrates. However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does.”
The letter goes on to say: “Another argument goes like this: ‘As wrong as abortion is, I don’t think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.’ This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. . . . National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973. One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price.”
After saying he no longer supported the Democratic Party for its stance on this issue, he said, “No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people. This is madness people.”
Most of the audience gave the Bishop a standing ovation while about a quarter of the audience left in protest.
Bishop Martino left shortly after making his comments and the forum continued with its scheduled question and answer session.
On Monday morning, a diocesan spokesman issued a statement to the press saying: “Certain groups and individuals have used their own erroneous interpretations of Church documents, particularly the U.S. Bishops’ statement on “Faithful Citizenship,” to justify their political positions and to contradict the Church’s actual teaching on the centrality of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.”
“ … He reminded those in attendance, and by extension all the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton, that groups such as Catholic United … and other like-minded groups and individuals who make statements about Catholic teaching do not speak with the same authority or authenticity as their bishop.”
Some people who attended the forum felt the Bishop “torpedoed” the event while others were thrilled by his courage. Father Martin Boylan, the pastor of St. John’s said they “were very careful not to endorse anyone,” and that the forum was meant to be “a political slash editorial forum about the presidential election.”
He also explained that the state church guidelines were “carefully followed” for the event.
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1. What does the Church say about whether or not we can support abortion with our vote? (See No. 73 in The Gospel of Life, which can be found here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae_en.html )
2. In a confidential memorandum entitled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. 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.”
What is the difference between formal cooperation in evil and remote material cooperation? (See an easy-to-read explanation of this under the heading “Formal Versus Material Cooperation in Evil” in an EWTN document at: http://www.ewtn.com/vote/voting_faq.htm )
3. Are all life issues equal when it comes to voting? (See No. 23 in the the USCCB’s statement “Living the Gospel of Life” available here: http://www.usccb.org/prolife/gospel.shtml and the explanation provided by Bishop Martino in his letter to the people of the Scranton Diocese available here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/martnrespsun.HTM )
4. What about those people who say we must either vote for candidates who are 100 percent pro-life, i.e., those who oppose all abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, etc., or not vote at all? (See a statement by Bishop Rene Henry Gracida, D.D., Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas, available here: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6159 )