Catholics, Elections, and the Specter of ‘Intrinsic Evil’

Often during election season, the phrase “intrinsically evil” gets bandied about to infer that Catholics who don’t vote a right-wing political agenda are somehow going against the teachings of the Church.

A recent NCR editorial takes on these alternative Catholics’ argument; arguments not in line with the teaching of the Church. Here’s an excerpt:

” “Intrinsically evil” — that perennial election year canard that is meant to tell us Catholics how to vote and whom to avoid — has gotten much play this cycle. But it is truly a deception. So-called Catholic voter’s guides that use intrinsic evil as the measuring stick to choose among a half-dozen issues as “nonnegotiables” are partisan distractions and should be ignored.

Catholics who bring with them a conservative political agenda — and who have garnered the support of not a few bishops and other Catholic opinion leaders — generally select these as nonnegotiable issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, gay marriage, and euthanasia. While this makes a tidy list, convenient for pamphlets stuck under car windshield wipers in church parking lots, we will dispute that they are “nonnegotiables,” because they are in fact cherry-picked from long lists of actions that are intrinsically evil by church teaching.

Let’s borrow a list from Pope John Paul II. Quoting Gaudium et Spes, he says that intrinsically evil acts are “any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace … and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator” (Veritatis Splendor, 80).

We might even add climate change to the list. After all, if the right to life is the most basic human right, then human-caused global warming threatening the entire life of the planet must be the ultimate evil.

“Wait, wait,” the perpetrators of the intrinsically-evil canard will protest. “These are evil, but they can’t be treated as all the same. For some of these we must exercise prudential judgment.” Therein lies the deception, because dealing with any evil — and especially determining the best solutions in a plural democracy — will always require prudential judgment. Further complicating matters is that we must make these judgments within the context of specific electoral and legislative processes. …”

Read the whole article.

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