Remarks by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal-elect Raymond Burke in recent days have caught the attention of media outlets as we approach Election Day in the United States. Essentially, these Church leaders have told the faithful that the position of a candidate on abortion matters more than other issues, and that they cannot vote for those who support abortion without betraying the very nature of democracy.
Perhaps the first thing to be said about these statements is that they say nothing new. They reflect teachings of the Church as found in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical The Gospel of Life (1995), and in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. If these statements seem new, it’s probably because they aren’t spoken as clearly and frequently as they should be.
And that is often due to fear of partisanship. But the Church is not partisan, and the test of that is simple: If the major political parties or the candidates in any race were to suddenly swap their positions on abortion, not one word of the Church’s message about voting and abortion would change. The message stays the same. What candidate or party that message helps or hurts depends on the position the candidate or party chooses to take.
The reason a vote for a supporter of legal abortion betrays the foundation of democracy is that such a foundation consists of a society where all are safe, all are welcome, and the rights of all are recognized as beyond the governing power to take away or transgress. Roe vs. Wade violated that principle by pretending that the government could determine the circumstances or stages at which one’s life does nor does not require protection. In the view of the Church, no human authority – secular or religious – has the power to make such determinations or distinctions. Every human being is to be treated as a person, at every stage of development, and law is meant to protect every person. To fail to protect life is to take away the very foundation for every other right. Hence, in the view of the Church, it isn’t that other issues don’t matter; rather, to champion other rights while holding the right to life as negotiable is to contradict oneself and undermine the progress of those other rights as well.