American Catholics out of luck on election day
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

The producers of this epic Catholic election ad want you to remember that "some issues are not negotiable." Life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom are specifically called out as the non-negotiable issues. "Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?"

I do not have anything to share about traditional marriage or religious liberty, but I would like to share a bit about life issues from a Catholic perspective.  I have little doubt that abortion and assisted suicide are the issues which the video producers have in mind. The Republicans have a clear advantage on these issues. But allow me to point out some other aspects of Catholic teaching on "life" which are not so clear-cut:

Capital punishment

According to John Paul II and the Catechism, situations in which capital punishment is permissible are "very rare, if not practically non-existent." These would be cases in which it was otherwise impossible to protect society from mortal harm at the hands of the condemned. However, given our modern penal system, this is virtually never true.

Support for capital punishment is enshrined in the Republican party platform. Indeed, Texas Governor Rick Perry is not ashamed by having given the order to execute over 235 people who were already safely sequestered from society.

The Democratic party platform calls for thorough review of capital punishment cases, but not for a ban. There are some US states where capital punishment has been repealed or placed on a moratorium. Most Catholics will not find a candidate on their ballot who opposes capital punishment.

Nuclear Disarmament

What could be a bigger life issue than nuclear weapons, which continue to threaten the existence of billions of people? Pope John's Pacem in Terris makes it simple: "nuclear weapons must be banned."

The Republicans want to reduce our stockpiles to "the lowest number consistent with our security requirements" in order to help prevent proliferation. In addition to this, the Democrats call for no new development of nuclear weapons, and a continuing test ban. Yet neither of the mainstream parties pass the test of Catholic teaching on nuclear disarmament.


The Catechism has a good summary on the church's teaching on war (paragraphs 2307-2317). "All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war," and there are "strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force." Here the tenants of Just War are spelled out.

Unfortunately for American Catholics, both major political parties in the US share an enthusiasm for international aggression. Take the Iraq war for example. It has been condemned by the previous and current Popes, yet it was widely supported by the Republicans and Democrats in congress. In spite of what we like to tell ourselves, most US military actions are acts of aggression, and they stand condemned in Catholic teaching, arguments of "pre-emptive war" notwithstanding.


If life issues are non-negotiable for American Catholics, they will find themselves in a terrible quandary come November. Even Roman Catholic politicians are unlikely to hold positions which are in alignment with the church's teachings on these matters. Neither major party holds a clear advantage. So Catholics wanting to heed the call to exclusively vote their life values should find themselves abstaining or looking for third-party candidates.

Date: 2012-06-04 22:14