Dissenting, high-profile Catholics, that is. In these last two weeks
before the election, the Catholic vote is getting to be a more
contentious topic within the Catholic world.

Another Catholic professor has joined the pro-Obama ranks of public dissenters from Church teaching, and this one (like the others) is parsing what she sees as the different degrees of evil.

Ms. Cathleen Kaveny, one of the three high profile
self-described pro-life Catholics who supports Sen. Barack Obama for
president, has made the case in an article published by the Jesuit
weekly magazine “America,” that abortion is indeed an intrinsic evil,
but that it is still okay to vote for pro-abortion candidates, since
“intrinsic evil,” may not be “grave” enough.

That’s illogical, though she goes on at length to argue the case.

Kaveny admits that the term “intrinsic evil” is used
“not only in such documents as Forming Consciences for Faithful
Citizenship, the 2008 document for Catholics issued by the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, but also in political skirmishes among
American Catholics.” “The term ‘intrinsic evil’ seems to connote great
and contaminating evil—evil that we take inside ourselves simply by
associating with it. The term itself suggests that ‘intrinsic evil’
involves wrongdoing of an entirely different magnitude than ordinary,
run-of-the-mill wrongdoing. Consequently, intrinsic evils must pose
great moral dangers to both individuals and society at large, and these
dangers ought to dwarf all other considerations in casting one’s vote,”
explains the Notre Dame professor.

Quoting Pope John Paul’s encyclical “The Splendor of Truth”, the
Catechism of the Catholic Church and Thomas Aquinas, Kaveny proposes
that “ ‘intrinsically evil’ does not mean ‘gravely evil’,” since
“intrinsically evil acts are acts that are wrong by reason of their
object, not by reason of their motive or their circumstance.”

Some people go to considerable semantic gymnastics to make their
logic work as opposed to the clarity of reason in the Church’s teaching
that the sanctity of life is pre-eminent among all rights.

There are many, many statements and letters coming out now to firmly
establish exactly what that teaching is, since some Catholic
politicians and academics are muddling the debate with their own
versions.

But something I just saw the other day from Cardinal Francis George cuts right through the verbiage to the core. NCR’s John Allen interviewed him recently, and asked him to elaborate on why the bishops put abortion and politics on their agenda for the upcoming November meeting.

G – The discussion came about because the teaching of
the church on the morality of killing unborn children was brought into
doubt. Some public figures, very highly placed, brought it into doubt.

A – You’re talking about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Joseph Biden?

(And now we can add Professors Douglas Kmiec, Nicholas Cafardi and Cathleen Kaveny.)

G – Yes, particularly them. There was a response to that
by the conference, as well as many individuals, including myself,
because the teaching was misrepresented. That, finally, is the bottom
line. Because it was around that issue, however, the whole question of
what happens to people who are consistently in public opposition to the
church’s teaching naturally comes up. It remains a pastoral problem
that troubles us. So, we said we want to talk about it again, even
though we’ve already talked about it twice.

Sorry, Cardinal George, but in the current climate, you and brother
bishops are forced to talk about it again and again. So, thanks for the
clarifications. And for the brevity in some of your answers. Some
people want ’short and snappy’.

How about well-aimed darts?.

A – …some Catholics argue that being pro-life is not the
same thing as seeking the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Is that going to be
part of your discussion?

G – I suppose it is, inasmuch as there are many ways of being
pro-life, but none of them has the same priority as the question of
abortion or euthanasia.

Period. But it doesn’t end there…

A – Therefore, in your eyes it’s not purely a matter of prudential judgment whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned?

G – It can’t be. If you’ve got an immoral law, you’ve got to work to
change that. You’ve got children being killed every day. It goes on
forever. That’s the great scandal, and that’s why there’s such a sense
of urgency now. There’s no recognition of the fact that children
continue to be killed, and we live, therefore, in a country drenched in
blood. This can’t be something that you start playing off pragmatically
against other issues.

A – Therefore, while you would presumably support better health care
and anti-poverty measures, in your mind that’s not an alternative to
efforts to outlaw abortion?

G – Absolutely right.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....