The Cardinal Ratzinger Letter
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the memo
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about voting for pro-abortion candidates and
worthiness to receive Communion.
Below, I offer some clarifications about this memo. However, I
offer a few strong pieces of advice first.
a) The time between now and November 2 should be used by
pro-life people to mobilize other pro-life people to vote. The principle of the
"low-hanging fruit" is that if, in the limited time we have, we can mobilize 10
votes by convincing people who don't yet agree with us, or mobilize 75 votes of
people who already agree (but may not have voted if we had not nudged them),
then we should nudge the 75 and talk to the ten after pro-life candidates have
been elected! In other words, this is not the time to be distracted by abstract
theological debates. This is the time for practical action to get
out the vote!
b) I used to work in the Vatican, and as a priest and a
Catholic, I obviously place great weight on what Vatican Cardinals say. However,
we do not need a Vatican Cardinal in order to know how horrible abortion is. We
simply need to look at abortion. If
descriptions of the procedure or the horrifying pictures do not convince
someone, Vatican documents hardly will. Of course, Cardinal Ratzinger, as I
indicate below, does not justify support for abortion in the least. But even if
he did, or if the Bible did, we would still not be able to support it ourselves.
Abortion speaks for itself, that it is inhumane, barbaric, and
unacceptable. No Church can ever change that, nor can anyone or anything else.
Click here for
the September 9 Priests for Life Press Release on this matter.
"The Ratzinger Fiasco" -- Column by Fr. Frank
by Archbishop John Myers of Newark
A Further Explanation of the Memo
The memo of Cardinal Ratzinger was included with a letter to
Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, and the memo became public at the beginning of
The memo is a single page (to
read it, click here). While it is not too difficult to understand, it has to
be kept in mind that this memo is from a Cardinal to a Cardinal, and therefore
the writer presumes that the recipient is already very familiar with the terms
and concepts used in the memo. Were the writer sending the letter to a different
audience, some of those terms and concepts would be given longer and more
explicit explanation (for example, "remote material cooperation" or "obstinate
persistence in manifest grave sin.") These terms, from Catholic moral theology
and canon law, are terms that every priest has to study for years in the
seminary. Now, the secular media is translating them into headlines of a few
words for throngs of unchurched Catholics and people of every other faith and no
All six paragraphs of the letter plus half of the footnote make
it clear that Catholics who support abortion by voting for pro-abortion
candidates are cooperating in evil and may not receive Communion.
The second half of the footnote addresses cases where a person
who opposes abortion could cast a vote for a pro-abortion candidate, in the
presence of "proportionate reasons." The single sentence of the Cardinal simply
applies a standard Catholic moral teaching about "remote material cooperation."
Again, this is a brief reference to terms that carry centuries of reflection by
Catholic (and other) ethicists.
It would be a mistake to interpret this teaching to mean that
all issues are equal, and that a voter can choose a pro-abortion candidate
because they don't like the pro-life candidate's position on capital punishment
or war. Cardinal Ratzinger, in the same letter, stated, "Not all moral issues
have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. …There may be a
legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and
applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and
An example of the "proportionate reasons" that would justify
voting for a candidate who approved of some abortions would be the case when the
only two candidates able to win an election were both in favor of abortion. It
is morally permissible to vote for the one who supports fewer abortions than his
The Pope and bishops have indicated that other human rights issues, like
health, education, and poverty, are not proportionate to abortion and
euthanasia. Click here to see
various quotations that emphasize this point.