Archbishop Lori’s comments on voting for a politician who supports intrinsic evils have created quite a stir. He stated:
For Catholic voters in November, Lori advises, “The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.”
Three thoughts on this matter. First, that means that it was unacceptable for Catholics to vote for John McCain, since he supported embryonic stem-cell research. And for that matter, Romney has said that he supports abortion in situations of rape and incest. That is an intrinsic evil. He has also been unclear on torture. So it seems that we cannot vote for him, according to this logic. But this seems not to be the case according to then Cardinal Ratzinger’s memorandum in 2004 to Cardinal McCarrick:
“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.”
Second, one of the problems with using the category of intrinsic evil this way is that it conflates “intrinsic” with “grave social evil.” But things like lying, masturbation, and stealing candy are also intrinsic evils. Yet I would much rather support a politician whose only flaw was that he supported masturbation rather than a politician who did not support any intrinsic evils but advocated, for example, for the immediate rounding up and deportation of all illegal aliens, or supported the death penalty. Intrinsic simply refers to a kind of evil action. It does not correspond necessarily to the most grave of evil actions.
Finally, there seems to be a confusion that is going around concerning the issue of cooperation with evil. Back in 2004 Archbishop Chaput explained:
“Does our voting for someone make us responsible for what that person does as a legislator or as a judge?…And the answer is yes, because we are in some ways materially — we use the word “materially” — cooperating in that person’s activity because we’ve given [him or her] the platform to be elected.”
“Now, if the person does something wrong, are we responsible for that? Well, if we didn’t know they were going to something wrong, our participation is remote, but if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we approved of it, our responsibility would really be close, even if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we voted for them for another reason, we would still be responsible in some ways.”
“The standing is that if you know someone is going to do evil and you participate in that in some way, you are responsible. So it’s not…’if you vote this way, should you go to confession?’ The question is, ‘if you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?’Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes.”
The problem with this analysis is that the Church actually allows for material cooperation. In situations of duress or for the sake of the common good, a person can vote for a person who holds opinions that they do not agree with, even on intrinsic evils, such as McCain’s position on ESCR. One may simply not vote for that person because they support such an evil. The question of approval that Chaput raises is actually a question of formal cooperation. So he seems to conflate the two. However, as long as one does not vote for a politician because of an evil position they hold, one may vote for them, as long as in one’s judgment, they are the better of the two options.