Has the Catholic Church said it's okay to vote for Kerry?

My daughter has heard from a friend at work that the Vatican has told Catholics that it’s all right to consider a U.S. presidential candidate who is pro-choice (basically, that there are many issues, and that they needn’t base their vote on this one issue).

My daughter asked me confirm or refute this. On the basis of last Sunday’s sermon, I can’t do it. The priest said nothing about such a matter.

Do any dopers have inputs?

If the Catholic church in any way endorsed a specific candidate, they would be in danger of losing their tax-exempt status. They will only say what they consider the issues that are important to a Catholic, not officially endorse anyone.

Now, those bishops in certain diosces (-5 pts, sp.) were saying their parishoners couldn’t vote for Kerry and receive the sacraments.

The Church didn’t make any statement about voting for Kerry.

There was at least one bishop who recanted his previously voiced opinion that no good Catholic could vote for Kerry, but I can’t remember who that was. He had said that it would be a mortal sin to vote for Kerry, but then reversed that and said Catholics must vote their consciences.

But it isn’t an endorsement if the Church simply says “You may vote for him if you wish.”

Right? If necessary the Church could add an unequivocal “This is no endorsement.”

Correct me if I’m wrong but only the Pope can speak for the whole Roman Catholic church. The IRS may have a long reach but their jurisdiction doesn’t extend to the vatican AFAIK so exepmtion doesn’t enter into it. Now if a diocese or parish in the US were to endorse a candidate it would be a different matter.

Are you saying that the Catholic church tells their members who they may or may not vote for? That sounds like a clear violation of the separation of church and state.

That would not be an endorsement, no.

Again, as far as I know, the Vatican hasn’t made a statement about whom Catholics should or shouldn’t vote for. (It’s important to note that the Vatican is very much against some of Bush’s policies, including the war in Iraq and the death penalty.)

I think your daughter’s friend heard about the bishop I mentioned.

I didn’t see this before posting. Apologies for the many posts!

How is that a violation of the SoCaS? The Establishment Clause does not, in any way, affect the internal workings of any church.

If non-profit organizations take certain political stances they can lose their non-profit status. I am unsure (but someone will know) exactly what qualifies as “taking certain political stances,” but being denied non-profit status has nothing whatsoever to do with SoCaS.

In my experience, they don’t come out and say “Vote for Bush.”

Ah, but a couple of weeks ago, our Deacon selected certain issues such as abortion and same sex marriages for his Sunday sermon, and while he didn’t come out and say it, you know that the not-so-subliminal message was Vote Republican.

Um … are you serious? That’s not what separation of church and state means.

This has been interpreted to mean the government can’t take a position favoring any particular religion. It has nothing to do with whether a religious organization can tell the members who to vote for. It isn’t a restriction on religious organizations at all.

Read the contisution again. No where does the phrase “separation of church and state appear.” Further the first amendment only restricts what congress can do. By that very definition a church could not voilate the 1st amendment. Violating the tax code is another matter.

After a considerable amount of confusion, the Roman Catholic archbishop of st. Louis put the issue this way.

There are transcendent issues for Catholic voters:

Abortion (except to save the life of the mother)
Stem-cell research (using human embryos)
Same sex marriage

These are transcendent issues because they are morally wrong in every circumstance.

A Catholic should not vote for a candidate who favors any of these issues. If all the candidates for office favor some combination of these issues in some way, a Catholic should vote for the candidate with the most restrictive position.

In other words, given the choice between a candidate who favors few restrictions on abortion and one who favors abortion only in the case of rape or incest, a Catholic should choose the latter.

The archbishop did not specifically name any candidate for any office, although my guess is that the faithful know who he’s talking about.

Your daughter’s friend probably read something about Cardinal Ratzinger’s memo to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick in which he discussed whether or not pro-choice Catholics can receive the Eucharist in good faith. In the memo, he also discussed the issue of voting for pro-choice candidates. Cardinal Ratzinger also added the following:

In other words, Catholics should not vote for a candidate precisely because he is pro-choice–that would be a mortal sin. However, one can vote for a pro-choice candidate if one’s decision is guided by other factors. This conceivably could apply to Kerry, as it seems to imply that an American Catholic could vote for Kerry because of his stance on the war, unemployment, etc., but not because of his pro-choice stance.

It should be noted that Ratzinger’s memo was not intended as an official Vatican announcement (even though Ratzinger is one of the most powerful cardinals in the Church, and a likely “candidate” for the papacy himself)–it was a private communique between two cardinals. In no way should this be construed as an endorsement of John Kerry (or any other candidate, pro-choice or otherwise).

Also, it should be noted that Ratzinger’s memo also stated in pretty clear terms that he doesn’t think that any pro-choice Catholic should present him or herself for communion, and that abortion is a worse sin than either the death penalty or waging war.

Regular Church-going Catholic here…

Never at any time in my local Church have I been told to vote one person over another, but I was asked to carefully look at the issues that each candidate, proposition, etc. represents, and then consider if he/she/it represents favorably on the standards/values of Catholicism and the teachings of Jesus. No threats of communion refusals were uttered, just careful consideration of the issues was voiced by our priest. Seemed reasonable to me. It doesn’t mean that I have to vote for any of those that best clearly represents the standards/values of the Church, just give it careful consideration.

I’m not a practicing Catholic, so I don’t know how these sorts of directives are normally handed down from the Vatican to American parishes. But I found references to a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington. In it, Cardinal Ratzinger said that it’s okay to vote for a pro-choice candidate as long as you agree with the candidate on other issues that are important to you. Of course, you can’t be pro-choice yourself, so you aren’t allowed to agree on that one.

The article says, “Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is the Vatican’s chief doctrinal guardian.” I guess that qualifies him to speak to all Catholics.

Looking further, it seems that Cardinal Ratzinger is the same person who was earlier telling American bishops that they should deny communion to pro-choice politicians. So he isn’t just some sort of soft-on-morals church radical who’s trying to get Kerry elected. Instead, he seems to be allowing American Catholics to rely on their consciences and to look at the many issues involved rather than using a one-issue litmus test.

Again, I don’t know enough about Catholicism to comment further. Or, some may think, to even comment as much as I have. :smiley:

How come this doesn’t apply to the churches here in Memphis that have local candidates speak during sermons, or churches in Orlando that tell African-Americans if they vote Republican they’ll go to hell? Both occur. But probably the fact that African-American churches are 90% Democrat is the reason, whereas Catholics are probably more 50/50. Making a politcal statement will probably offend more people.

The semantic key here being that he’s qualified to speak TO, rather than FOR all Catholics.

And as mentioned, from the context of the letter it looks like the Congregation is adopting the sensible position that if he who you think is the overall best candidate happens to also be on the “wrong” side of the Church on such things as right-to-life, well that’s just an unfortunate situation but it’s not disqualifying.

Yep, with a Republican president (with his Republican Attorney General) and a Republican Senate and a Republican House of Representatives and a majority of Supreme Court Justices appointed by Republicans, the whole US. government is lying down and letting those Democrat store-front churches run roughshod over the Constitution.
(Alternatively, some percentage of pastors exhort their congregations (of varying sizes) to vote in a particular way (either subtley or brazenly) while a majority of religious leaders take a hands-off approach to endorsements and, of the pastors who are more brazen, black churches provide easier stereotypes to ridicule.)

History of abortion politics in the U.S. Catholic Church:

  1. Roe v. Wade stikes down all laws criminalizing abortion.

  2. Catholic Church loudly and continously objects. Though, the rate of abortion among Catholics isn’t much different than non-Catholics.

  3. The strategy: Denounce and protest. Encourage the faithful to vote for ‘pro-life’ candidates. Hope to get Roe v. Wade reversed.

  4. The IRS boundaries: Groups categorized as non-profit charitable/religious organizations may not do three things: a) Make politics the majority of their work or reason for existence; b) campaign for or against a particular political party; and c) campaign for or against a particular candidate. If they break these constraints, they will loose their tax exempt status. OTOH, what they can do is: a) encourage and work for voter registration and voter turnout; b) advocate for or against a particular law or political issue; c) Host balanced forums presenting all candidates.

  5. The Seamless Garment: Cardinal Bernadin guided a development in Catholic thinking on abortion, namely, linking it with all the other ‘right to life’ and ‘dignity of life’ issues, i.e., euthanasia, death penalty, militarism, and even hunger, poverty, and homelessness social justice issues.

  6. Pope John Paul II, in his visit to St. Louis, hammered on the death penalty issue. Though the RCC allows for capital punishment, it does so in only the most extreme situations, namely, when society does not have the means to protect itself from someone who is likely to murder (again) by means of incarcerating that person (e.g., if Gilligan killed the Howells, the rest of the islanders could morally snuff him to protect themselves, since they don’t have the means to incarcerate Gilligan humanely and indefinitely). John Paul said that since such an extreme situation is not the case in the U.S. (we have the means to incarcerate killers), it is never morally acceptable in the U.S. to have state sponsored killing. This certainly strengthened the Seamless Garment position.

  7. In this election cycle, I don’t know why… maybe because the U.S. bishops are despairing of every reversing Roe v. Wade… maybe because the Gay Marriage thing is making them panic… maybe because the sexual abuse scandal has them shaken… maybe because they’ve just gone bat-shit crazy… The U.S. bishops (at least some of them) have laid down a line in the sand and are looking to ecclesiastically censure politicians who are pro-abortion and even lay Catholics who vote for politicians are pro-abortion.

  8. Background on the Church censuring its own: The Church as an institution, is like a country (mostly like a monarchy). All those subject to its rules (i.e., anyone baptized Catholic) is granted by its own laws certain rights and are expected to follow certain obligations. There are censures for those who break certain rules (much more so for clergy than laity). And there are due process rules so that those in charge (bishops and the pope) don’t unfairly penalize Catholics. One such penalty is barring those who have divorced and remarried from receiving Holy Communion. Banning someone from receiving Communion is different from being ex-communicated. And speaking of which, anyone who has an abortion or materially helps someone procure an abortion (the doctor, the one who drives her to the clinic) is automatically ex-communicated (although, by the rules of due process, they have to know the penalty exists for the penalty to incur). Politicians who vote pro-abortion don’t materially assist the abortion, therefore, are not included in this censure. Also, with the way the democratic legislative process works (e.g., many issues linked in one bill), it may be difficult or impossible to never vote ‘pro-abortion.’

  9. At times, some bishops have had pointed words with certain pro-abortion politicians: Hinting that they shouldn’t receive communion, threatening them with banning them from receiving communion, and in a few cases refusing them communion at Masses in which they’ve attended.

  10. Cue in the crazy ultra-conservative bishop, who, about six months ago, declared all pro-abortion candidates as being banned from receiving communion (at least, in his diocese), naming Kerry by name. He also banned any Catholic voting for a pro-abortion candidate (without naming Kerry by name in this instance, thus avoiding the IRS censure) from receiving communion. [Of course, you wouldn’t know who voted for whom, so this would have to be a system of self-abstention based on the honor system.]

  11. This embolden some other bishops to doing the same or some variation of the same. Additionally, they started to distance themselves from the ‘Seamless Garment’ stance against the death penalty. They started claiming that abortion was singularly different from the death penalty since abortion was always wrong in every situation (unlike capital punishment which can be allowed at times). Thus, they started to overlook Bush’s and the Republican’s stance for death penalty (how convenient) and only hone in on abortion as a political problem worthy of censure.

  12. A few bishops publicly distanced themselves from such an extreme position. Some pointed out to these other bishops, “you know, simply banning someone from communion is a censure which requires you go through the due process procedures as stated in our own laws… did you do that?”

  13. Out of public view, all the bishops were furiously calling and lobbying Rome looking for the final word.

  14. Rome responded, “Are you guys bat-shit crazy!!” Well, something a bit more nuanced. As bishops were visiting Rome during this time, the Pope was discouraging using receiving communion as a political club. And, of course, you have Ratzinger’s letter, posted above, also discouraging the harsh line.

  15. The U.S. bishops established an ad hoc committee to put together a common policy on this issue. Cardinal McCarrick chaired the committee (this is why Ratzinger wrote to him). The U.S. bishops couldn’t agree what to do (which, despite their own usual internal divisions, is difficult to do, since, in order for any policy to be binding, they have to agree on it unanimously, or have Rome approve it as particular law for all the U.S.) And so, you have basically the policy that each bishop decides for himself, as is stated in Catholics in Political Life:

  1. And so, depending on who your bishop is: Kerry may or may not receive communion; and, anyone voting for Kerry may or may not receive communion. Check with your local bishop.

  2. Without stong leadership from Rome (the Pope is too feeble), and with the increasing secularization and liberalization in American society (three words for you: gay, gay, gay), and with the continued decline in priests (a great difficulty now and approaching cataclysmic proportions by the year 2020), and still reeling from the sex abuse scandal, look for the U.S. bishops to go into full blown meltdown (especially if Kerry wins). Bat-shit crazy is just a start.


The Church is a lot less monolithic in its political tone than non-Catholics seem to think. I remember two churches a couple of miles apart where I grew up (Reston and Herndon, VA) that were as different as night and day in this regard (although both sermonized against abortion).

Catholics really, really don’t vote as a bloc, or buy as one or think as one.