Tag Archives: election

Voting pro-life in a difficult election

As we approach another national election, the pro-life movement — based on logic, arithmetic and the evidence of experience — continues to proclaim that there is no issue more foundational in our choice of a candidate and a party than abortion.

Fr. Frank Pavone

From the declaration of Pope St. John Paul II that legalizing abortion turns the state into “a tyrant state,” to the assertion of St. Teresa of Calcutta that “the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion,” to the U.S. bishops’ teaching that the right to life is the foundation of the “house” of interrelated issues, to the sheer arithmetic showing that nothing takes more life than abortion, to the ongoing evidence that abortion — besides killing the child — harms mom, dad, grandparents, siblings, the whole family, friends, abortionists, and all society, the message is clear: If we don’t re-establish protection of the right to life, all our other efforts for the common good are built on quicksand.

No election gets us there in one step. But to keep moving toward that goal, all have to participate in each election. And in this one, many say they’re finding it hard to vote at all. Unless Jesus and the Blessed Mother are on the ballot, we are always going to be choosing imperfect candidates. In this life, everything is a messy mixture of good and evil.

At the same time, there are always differences between the candidates. We need to do our homework on the candidates’ positions, as well as the parties those candidates represent. Each party has its universe of philosophies and policy preferences. Each party is a whole army of people who are going to surround and advise the candidate, and fill many positions of influence if that candidate is elected.

For instance, what kind of people would a president nominate to serve on the Supreme Court and the other federal courts? In what direction do they and their party lean on the most fundamental issues of life, religious freedom, marriage and family? Remember, it’s not just that the candidate shapes the office — the office also shapes the candidate, as does the party. Who would this president, furthermore, appoint as surgeon general, attorney general, secretary of state, secretary of the department of Health and Human Services, and so many more?

We have to be patient with ourselves and with the process and carefully choose the person and party who are closest to our values, starting with the most important issues. Voting is a moral obligation; participation in the political process is a virtue. The U.S. bishops teach us that “every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts” (Living the Gospel of Life, #34).

If we conclude that no matter who wins, they will do damage, the analogy of the runaway train may help us. Imagine you’re at the controls of a runaway train and you cannot stop it. But you can change the track that it’s on. At the end of one track, the train will kill a large number of people, and at the end of the other track, a small number of people. What do you do?

Obviously, you don’t want it to kill anyone. But you cannot stop the train. You would, of course, change the train to the track where it’s going to do the least damage. In this case, you aren’t choosing evil; you are choosing to limit evil — and that choice is a good.

The guidance here is simple: It’s the difference between certainty and doubt. If you know one choice will definitely lead in the wrong direction and the other might lead in the right direction, you choose the possible good.

We have to remember, too, that our vote is not meant to make us feel good; it’s about advancing the common good. A vote is not an opinion poll about what we think about the candidate. It’s a transfer of power — and it’s a gamble.

The bottom line is that we must not skip an election; we should vote. Sometimes we may think that we’re doing wrong by voting for either candidate. But we have to consider the fact that we influence the election whether we like it or not. Skipping a vote also influences the election because it takes a vote away from the better of the two candidates.

So don’t sit out the election. Go and vote, and help change the train to the best available track!

FATHER FRANK PAVONE is Priests for Life’s national director.

LEARN MOREPoliticalResponsibility.com

The election of our lifetime

Legatus executive director John Hunt updates on the Legatus v. Sebelius lawsuit . . .

John J. Hunt

On Aug. 1, 2012, the effective date of the HHS mandate requiring employers to provide contraceptive services and abortifacients to their employees, I memorialized that unfortunate requirement with an e-mail message of hope and unified commitment to our Legatus family — and to bring a sense of urgency to this critical issue of our day.

The secular media and certain segments within the Church have sought to minimize the gravity of this mandate — and even the legitimacy of our position. When combined with the ever-growing judicial and electoral attacks on traditional marriage, it’s clear that we faithful Catholics are called to be not only defenders of the faith, but also to declare joyfully and courageously the timeless relevance of traditional Christian values.

Election Day 2012 is a scant two months away. The years and decades of spiritual decline in our country seem to be converging into this — the election of our lifetime! No longer can we simply lament the ethical and moral equivalencies that routinely insert themselves into our lives; no longer can we rely on the hierarchy and the clergy to be the line of defense against the culture. The time for us is now!

Legatus v. Sebelius update. Federal District Judge Robert H. Cleland of the Eastern District of Michigan has set Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. to hear oral arguments on whether the federal government should be enjoined from enforcing the HHS mandate on plaintiffs Legatus, Weingartz Supply Co., and its president Daniel Weingartz, a member of Legatus’ Detroit Northeast Chapter.

Judge Cleland also ordered an expedited briefing schedule directing the plaintiffs to file their opening brief by Aug. 15, and the government to file a response by Aug. 29. The court also required the plaintiffs to file a separate motion for a preliminary injunction.

Legatus’ counsel, Erin Mersino of the Thomas More Law Center, has observed, “Judge Cleland’s decision to expedite the briefing schedule and set a quick hearing date for oral arguments on our motion for a preliminary injunction against the government was crucial. It best serves our goal of protecting the religious freedoms of our clients. Without the court’s timely intervention, the HHS mandate effectively penalizes their free exercise of religion.”

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the HHS mandate under the First Amendment’s rights to the free exercise of religion and free speech, and the Establishment Clause. It also claims that the mandate violates the Religious Restoration Act of 1993 and the Administrative Procedure Act.

John Hunt is Legatus’ executive director. He and his wife Kathie are charter members of Legatus’ Chicago Chapter.

A culture of religious freedom

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s inspiring address to the Napa Institute . . .

Archbishop Charles Chaput

A friend of mine, a political scientist, recently posed two very good questions. They go right to the heart of our discussion today. He wondered, first, if the religious freedom debate had “crossed a Rubicon” in our country’s political life. And, second, he asked if Catholic bishops now found themselves opposed — in a new and fundamental way — to the spirit of American society.

I’ll deal with his first question in a moment. I’ll come back to his second question at the end of my remarks. But we should probably begin our time together today by recalling that even at the height of anti-Catholic bigotry, Catholics have always served our country with distinction. More than 80 Catholic chaplains died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. All four chaplains who won the Medal of Honor in those wars were Catholic priests.

Time and again, Catholics have proven their love of our nation with their talent, hard work and blood. So, if the bishops of the United States ever find themselves opposed, in a fundamental way, to the spirit of our country, the fault won’t lie with our bishops. It will lie with political and cultural leaders who turned our country into something it was never meant to be.

So, having said that, let’s turn to my friend’s first question.

The Rubicon is a river in northern Italy. It’s small and forgettable, except for one thing. During the Roman Republic, it marked a border. To the south lay Italy, ruled directly by the Roman Senate. To the north lay Gaul, ruled by a governor. Under Roman law, no general could enter Italy with an army. Doing so carried the death penalty. In 49 B.C., when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his 13th Legion and marched on Rome, he triggered a civil war and changed the course of history. Ever since then, “crossing the Rubicon” has meant passing a point of no return.

Caesar’s march on Rome is a very long way from our nation’s current disputes over religious liberty. But “crossing the Rubicon” is still a useful image. My friend’s point is this: Have we, in fact, crossed a border in our country’s history — the line between a religion-friendly past and an emerging America much less welcoming to Christian faith and witness?

Let me describe the nation we were and the nation we’re becoming. Then you can judge for yourselves.

People often argue about whether America’s Founders were mainly Christian, mainly Deist or both of the above. It’s a reasonable debate. It won’t end anytime soon. But no one can reasonably dispute that the Founders’ moral framework was overwhelmingly shaped by Christian faith. And that makes sense because America was largely built by Christians. The world of the American Founders was heavily Christian, and they saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they experienced its influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers and to welcome their active role in public life.

The Founders also knew that religion is not just a matter of private conviction. It can’t be reduced to personal prayer or Sunday worship. It has social implications. The Founders welcomed those implications. Christian faith demands preaching, teaching, public witness and service to others — by each of us alone and by acting in cooperation with fellow believers. As a result, religious freedom is never just freedom from repression, but also — and more importantly — freedom for active discipleship. It includes the right of religious believers, leaders and communities to engage society and to work actively in the public square. For the first 160 years of the republic, cooperation between government and religious entities was the norm in addressing America’s social problems. And that brings us to our country’s current situation.

Americans have always been a religious people. They still are. Roughly 80% of Americans call themselves Christians. Millions of Americans take their faith seriously. Millions act on it accordingly. Religious practice remains high. That’s the good news. But there’s also bad news.  In our courts, in our lawmaking, in our popular entertainment and even in the way many of us live our daily lives, America is steadily growing more secular. Mainline churches are losing ground. Many of our young people spurn Christianity. Many of our young adults lack any coherent moral formation. Even many Christians who do practice their religion follow a kind of easy, self-designed Gospel that led author Ross Douthat to call us a “nation of heretics.”[1]  Taken together, these facts suggest an American future very different from anything in our nation’s past.

There’s more. Contempt for religious faith has been growing in America’s leadership classes for many decades, as scholars like Christian Smith and Christopher Lasch have shown.[2] But in recent years, government pressure on religious entities has become a pattern, and it goes well beyond the current administration’s HHS [Health and Human Services] mandate. It involves interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers and individual citizens. And it includes attacks on the policies, hiring practices and tax statuses of religious charities, hospitals and other ministries. These attacks are real. They’re happening now. And they’ll get worse as America’s religious character weakens.

This trend is more than sad. It’s dangerous. Our political system presumes a civil society that pre-exists and stands outside the full control of the state. In the American model, the state is meant to be modest in scope and constrained by checks and balances. Mediating institutions like the family, churches and fraternal organizations feed the life of the civic community. They stand between the individual and the state. And when they decline, the state fills the vacuum they leave. Protecting these mediating institutions is therefore vital to our political freedom. The state rarely fears individuals, because, alone, individuals have little power. They can be isolated or ignored. But organized communities are a different matter. They can resist. And they can’t be ignored.

This is why, for example, if you want to rewrite the American story into a different kind of social experiment, the Catholic Church is such an annoying problem. She’s a very big community.  She has strong beliefs. And she has an authority structure that’s very hard to break — the kind that seems to survive every prejudice and persecution and even the worst sins of her own leaders. Critics of the Church have attacked America’s bishops so bitterly, for so long, over so many different issues — including the abuse scandal, but by no means limited to it — for very practical reasons. If a wedge can be driven between the pastors of the Church and her people, then a strong Catholic witness on controversial issues breaks down into much weaker groups of discordant voices.

The theme of our time together today is “building a culture of religious freedom.” How do we do that?

We can start by changing the way we habitually think. Democracy is not an end in itself.  Majority opinion does not determine what is good and true. Like every other form of social organization and power, democracy can become a form of repression and idolatry. The problems we now face in our country didn’t happen overnight. They’ve been growing for decades, and they have moral roots. America’s bishops named the exile of God from public consciousness as “the root of the world’s travail today” nearly 65 years ago. And they accurately predicted the effects of a life without God on the individual, the family, education, economic activity and the international community.[3] Obviously, too few people listened.

We also need to change the way we act. We need to understand that we can’t “quick fix” our way out of problems we behaved ourselves into. Catholics have done very well in the United States. As I said earlier, most of us have a deep love for our country, its freedoms and its best ideals. But this is not our final home. There is no automatic harmony between Christian faith and American democracy. The eagerness of Catholics to push their way into our country’s mainstream over the past half century, to climb the ladder of social and economic success, has done very little to Christianize American culture. But it’s done a great deal to weaken the power of our Catholic witness.

In the words of scholar Robert Kraynak, democracy — for all of its strengths — also “has within it the potential for its own kind of ‘social tyranny.’” The reason is simple: Democracy advances “the forces of mass culture which lower the tone of society … by lowering the aims of life from classical beauty, heroic virtues and otherworldly transcendence to the pursuits of work, material consumption and entertainment.” This inevitably tends to “[reduce] human life to a one-dimensional materialism and [an] animal existence that undermines human dignity and eventually leads to the ‘abolition of man.’”[4]

To put it another way: The right to pursue happiness does not include a right to excuse or ignore evil in ourselves or anyone else. When we divorce our politics from a grounding in virtue and truth, we transform our country from a living moral organism into a kind of golem of legal machinery without a soul.

This is why working for good laws is so important. This is why getting involved politically is so urgent. This is why every one of our votes matters. We need to elect the best public leaders, who then create the best policies and appoint the best judges. This has a huge impact on the kind of nation we become. Democracies depend for their survival on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square — legally and peacefully, but zealously and without apologies. That includes you and me.

Critics often accuse faithful Christians of pursuing a “culture war” on issues like abortion, sexuality, marriage and the family and religious liberty. And, in a sense, they’re right. We are fighting for what we believe. But, of course, so are advocates on the other side of all these issues — and neither they nor we should feel uneasy about it. Democracy thrives on the struggle of competing ideas. We steal from ourselves and from everyone else if we try to avoid that struggle. In fact, two of the worst qualities in any human being are cowardice and acedia —and by acedia I mean the kind of moral sloth that masquerades as “tolerance” and leaves a human soul so empty of courage and character that even the devil Screwtape would spit it out.[5]

In real life, democracy is built on two practical pillars: cooperation and conflict. It requires both.  Cooperation, because people have a natural hunger for solidarity that makes all community possible. And conflict, because people have competing visions of what is right and true. The more deeply they hold their convictions, the more naturally people seek to have those convictions shape society.

What that means for Catholics is this: We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice. We have a duty to seek common ground where possible. But that’s never an excuse for compromising with grave evil. It’s never an excuse for being naive. And it’s never an excuse for standing idly by while our liberty to preach and serve God in the public square is whittled away.  We need to work vigorously in law and politics to form our culture in a Christian understanding of human dignity and the purpose of human freedom. Otherwise, we should stop trying to fool ourselves that we really believe what we claim to believe.

There’s more. To work as it was intended, America needs a special kind of citizenry: a mature, well-informed electorate of persons able to reason clearly and rule themselves prudently. If that’s true — and it is — then the greatest danger to American liberty in our day is not religious extremism. It’s something very different. It’s a culture of narcissism that cocoons us in dumbed-down, bigoted news, vulgarity, distraction and noise, while methodically excluding God from the human imagination. Kierkegaard once wrote that “the introspection of silence is the condition of all educated intercourse” and that “talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness.”[6] Silence feeds the soul. Silence invites God to speak. And silence is exactly what American culture no longer allows. Securing the place of religious freedom in our society is therefore not just a matter of law and politics, but of prayer, interior renewal — and also education.

What I mean is this: We need to re-examine the spirit that has ruled the Catholic approach to American life for the past 60 years. In forming our priests, deacons, teachers and catechists — and especially the young people in our schools and religious-education programs — we need to be much more penetrating and critical in our attitudes toward the culture around us. We need to recover our distinctive Catholic identity and history. Then we need to act on them. America is becoming a very different country, and as Ross Douthat argues so well in his excellent book Bad Religion, a renewed American Christianity needs to be ecumenical, but also confessional.  Why?  Because: “In an age of institutional weakness and doctrinal drift, American Christianity has much more to gain from a robust Catholicism and a robust Calvinism than it does from even the most fruitful Catholic-Calvinist theological dialogue.”[7]

America is now mission territory. Our own failures helped to make it that way. We need to admit that. Then we need to re-engage the work of discipleship to change it.

I want to close by returning to the second of my friend’s two questions. He asked if our nation’s Catholic bishops now find themselves opposed — in a new and fundamental way — to the nature of American society. I can speak only for myself. But I suspect that for many of my brother American bishops the answer to that question is a mix of both No and Yes.

The answer is No in the sense that the Catholic Church has always thrived in the United States, even in the face of violent bigotry. Catholics love and thank God for this country. They revere the American legacy of democracy, law and ordered liberty. As the bishops wrote in 1940 on the eve of World War II, “[We] renew [our] most sacred and sincere loyalty to our government and to the basic ideals of the American republic … [and we] are again resolved to give [ourselves] unstintingly to its defense and its lasting endurance and welfare.”[8] Hundreds of thousands of American Catholics did exactly that on the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific.

But the answer is Yes in the sense that the America of Catholic memory is not the America of the present moment or the emerging future. Sooner or later, a nation based on a degraded notion of liberty, on license rather than real freedom — in other words, a nation of abortion, disordered sexuality, consumer greed and indifference to immigrants and the poor — will not be worthy of its founding ideals. And, on that day, it will have no claim on virtuous hearts.

In many ways, I believe my own generation, the “boomer generation,” has been one of the most problematic in our nation’s history because of our spirit of entitlement and moral superiority; our appetite for material comfort unmoored from humility; our refusal to acknowledge personal sin and accept our obligations to the past.

But we can change that. Nothing about life is predetermined except the victory of Jesus Christ.  We create the future. We do it not just by our actions, but by what we really believe — because what we believe shapes the kind of people we are. In a way, “growing a culture of religious freedom” is the better title for this talk. A culture is more than what we make or do or build. A culture grows organically out of the spirit of a people — how we live, what we cherish, what we’re willing to die for.

If we want a culture of religious freedom, we need to begin it here, today, now. We live it by giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ — by loving God with passion and joy, confidence and courage. And by holding nothing back. God will take care of the rest. Scripture says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). In the end, God is the builder. We’re the living stones. The firmer our faith, the deeper our love, the purer our zeal for God’s will — then the stronger the house of freedom will be that rises in our own lives and in the life of our nation.

Archbishop Charles Chaput is archbishop of Philadelphia. He delivered this address at the Napa Institute on July 26. An abridged version of this address was published in the September issue of Legatus magazine.


[1] For patterns of religious belief in various age groups, see Barna Group and Pew Research Center data.  For the state of moral formation among young adults, see Christian Smith, editor, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011.  For an overview of American religious trends and their meaning, see Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Free Press, New York, 2012

[2] See Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, W.W. Norton, New York, 1995; and Christian Smith, editor, The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2003

[3] “Secularism,” a pastoral statement by the Administrative Board of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, on behalf of the bishops of the United States, November 14, 1947; as collected in Pastoral Letters of the American Hierarchy, 1792-1970, Hugh J. Nolan, editor, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN, 1971

[4] Robert Kraynak, “Citizenship in Two Worlds: On the Tensions between Christian Faith and American Democracy,” Josephinum Journal of Theology, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2009; see also a more extensive discussion of this theme in his book, Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2001

[5] C.S. Lewis, see his “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” in The Screwtape Letters, HarperCollins, New York, 2001

[6] Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion, HarperPerennial, New York, 2010, p. 44-45

[7] Douthat, Bad Religion,  p. 286-287

[8] “The American Republic,” a statement by the bishops of the United States, November 13, 1940; as collected in Pastoral Letters of the American Hierarchy, 1792-1970

An election year thought

Throughout Advent, we hear the message loud and clear: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” The Church calls us to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming — not just his coming as our Savior, born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem — but for his coming anew into our hearts during Advent, for his second coming in glory, and for the moment we leave this life and see Him face-to-face.

But how do we prepare our hearts for Christ when we’re living with a difficult economy in a secular world that cares little or nothing for Judeo-Christian spirituality? Saint Augustine had some advice for us: “The times are bad! The times are troublesome!” This is what humans say. But we are our times. Let us live well and our times will be good. Such as we are, such are our times.

Augustine’s point is simple: Live your faith and you will be a bright light in dark times. But living our Catholic faith in the world seems to be getting more and more difficult, especially when many our fellow Catholics seem to have abandoned themselves to a secular worldview. In November, 54% of Catholics voted for the most radically pro-abortion presidential candidate in American history despite the urging of more than 50 bishops to support pro-life candidates. Among those who go to Mass every Sunday, however, Sen. John McCain captured 55% of the vote.

Exit polls indicate that even many faithful Catholics chose Presidentelect Barack Obama because they believe he can do a better job of rebuilding the American economy. What they failed to recognize at the voting booth is that Obama has promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), legislation that would eliminate virtually every pro-life law and policy in the country. Funding limitations, informed consent, parental notification, clinic health/safety regulations, conscience protections for healthcare providers and hospitals — all would end under FOCA. Times are indeed difficult when even the faithful put the economy ahead of the lives of the unborn.

The new political climate requires that faithful Catholics be engaged like never before to demand that all human life be respected. Despite the tidal wave of new abortions that will follow his signing FOCA, President-elect Obama has pledged to help reduce the number of abortions and help women with unplanned pregnancies who choose to keep their babies. As one of my friends rightly stated: “He works for us now.” It’s our job to keep him accountable to the electorate.

It’s also our job to study, live and spread our faith. The Legatus mission has never been so relevant. The more we know our faith, the more we immerse ourselves in the wisdom of the Church, and the more we prepare a place in our hearts for the Lord, the bigger impact we will have on our families, our parishes, our communities, our nation and our world.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.

Catholics, politics and the challenge of voting

With the 2008 election just around the corner, it’s time for Catholics to start thinking seriously about the candidates they may intend to vote for as president and in Congress. As usual, both political parties are busy appealing to the “Catholic vote.”

Frankly, I’m not sure there is such a thing. Such talk tends to conflate practicing Catholics with those Catholics who attend Mass only for baptisms, first communions and funerals, not to mention those Catholics who have effectively left the Church.

Given the extent to which “identity politics” permeates and disfigures the American political landscape, we probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that American politicians from both main parties will try to spin their message in ways they think will attract Catholic citizens to their various causes.

This means it’s all the more important for faithful Catholics to be clear about the principles of the Catholic faith that ought to inform our Catholic conscience when it comes to voting choices.

The good news is that, with the exception of a relatively small number of issues, Catholics enjoy enormous room for prudential judgment when it comes to their political positions on most questions.

Let’s take economic questions. Some Catholics respectfully maintain that private enterprise and free markets promote the economic dimension of the common good and help the poor better than government programs. Other Catholics disagree. The point is that on almost all economic issues, Catholics are free to advocate different positions precisely because they reflect empirical and prudential judgments reasonably in dispute among well-informed people.

Unfortunately you won’t hear this from a good number of Catholic social justice activists. When pressed, however, they will usually — albeit reluctantly — admit that almost all economic questions, ranging from taxation levels to wages rates, fall squarely into the prudential judgment realm.

In other words, Catholics — including bishops and clergy — are free to disagree among themselves about these matters. What we can’t do is claim that our different positions on, say, the size of the welfare state is the Catholic position.

There are, however, a small number of questions that are non-negotiable for Catholics. No one put it better than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — in a 2004 letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C.:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s this: Catholics cannot in good conscience — except in rare circumstances — vote for a politician of any party who consistently works and/or votes for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws.

I say “except in rare circumstances.” Perhaps the candidate who stands for life is a well-known and unrepentant wife-beater who should not be elected local dog-catcher, let alone to Congress. Maybe every candidate on the ballot favors permissive anti-life practices.

What does the faithful Catholic do in these difficult conditions? One option might be to abstain. Another may be to decide that there is what the Church calls a proportionate reason for vote for one of these candidates.

By “proportionate reason,” the Church does not mean employing the proportionalist method of moral reasoning (pioneered by dissenting theologians in the 1970s) of attempting to “weigh” competing goods and evils on an imaginary scale.

The great Pope John Paul II condemned such “reasoning” in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) as incompatible with the Catholic faith (i.e., heretical).

A very sound American archbishop explained “proportionate reason” in the following vivid, powerful and direct way. It means that after you die, you think you can look aborted children in the eye when we are judged by God and explain to them — and God — why we voted for politicians who promoted laws allowing innocent human beings to be killed.

I don’t claim to be able to judge the state of any person’s soul. Only the Lord Jesus can do that. But somehow I don’t think pleading that you thought raising the minimum hourly wage from $7 to $8 was more important than protecting innocent human life is going to cut it.

As Catholics, we believe that we are saved through God’s grace, the sacrifice of Christ’s death and the triumph of his Resurrection. But we also believe we can embrace the opposite. Through our actions — including our voting choices — we can freely reject God’s love and enter the eternal separation from God that we call Hell.

That’s not fear-mongering. As St. Thomas More reminds us, the possibility of Hell reflects the fact that God has given us the capacity to deny him and his love. Let’s keep these realities in mind when we vote in 2008.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute and author, most recently, of “The Commercial Society” which was awarded a 2007 Templeton Enterprise Award for outstanding writing on the culture of enterprise.

The future is in our hands

If I’ve learned anything from watching the past few election cycles, it’s that politics follows culture. Lawmakers tend to take their cues from the prevailing cultural wind. From their perspective, they stand a better chance of getting elected by following popular mores than sticking to their own convictions or to Judeo- Christian notions of right and wrong.

Every once in a while, the common folk take control of the culture and decide a key political issue. In just a few weeks, voters in California, Florida and Arizona will choose whether or not to amend their state constitutions to protect traditional marriage — the union of one man and one woman.

Twenty-seven states have constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex “marriage” — 11 approved by voters in 2004, when the issue became a central part of President Bush’s re-election, and seven more in 2006. Another 18 states have statutes on the books protecting traditional marriage, but those statutes tend to be overturned by activist judges. This happened in Massachusetts and California, the only states that recognize same-sex “marriages.” Homosexuals in those states have lobbied hard to redefine marriage to suit their misguided purpose.

The law is a great teacher. It sets norms for society and tells us what is right and what is wrong. When the law itself is wrong, however, the repercussions for society can be tragic. When the courts sought to redefine when human life is protected under law with Roe v. Wade in 1973, it opened the floodgates to the wholesale slaughter of unborn children.

By redefining marriage as something other than an exclusive life-long relationship between one man and one woman, the courts have begun to destabilize the fundamental building block of society: the family. If the three states with upcoming amendments fail to protect marriage, they will open the door for the courts to change fundamentally the definition of not only marriage, but of family.

Top science and sociological studies affirm that children are most likely to reach their potential when they live with their biological parents. Growing up with Mom and Dad can mean the difference between excelling in school and getting involved with crime, drugs or other illicit activity.

Even the left-leaning Center for Law and Social Policy, a child advocacy organization, reported in 2003: “Most researchers now agree that … on average, children do best when raised by their two married biological parents.” Did you catch that subtle detail? Homosexual couples can never become “biological” parents of their own child.

Some say the culture has already spoken. Same-sex marriage is a done deal. It’s a lost cause. But for those of us who struggle daily to live holy lives according to biblical principles guided by the Church, it’s not a done deal even if the culture says otherwise.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.