...in two ways.

First, one reader responds to Monday’s column with a standard piece of boilerplate:

I am surprised that ncregister has a Pharisee writing for them.There is no comparison between waterboarding the mastermind of the 911 terrorist attack in order to try to prevent another terrorist attack and the mass murder of babies by abortion on demand.  If Mark Shea cannot distinguish between the two he needs to be committed.

Is there a comparison between beating an innocent man to death as we did to Dilawar and tearing an innocent baby apart in the womb?  How about handing an innocent man over for ten months of torture in Syria as we did to Maher Arar and torturing a baby with a failed saline abortion? To me, the torture and murder of innocent babies and innocent adults is rather similar.  For this reason, I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a pol who advocates either abortion or torture.

Arar’s case is particularly interesting because, despite the fact that his own Canadian gov’t gave him an apology and several million dollars in reparation for handing him over to us to rendition to Syrian torturers, our gov’t has solved the problem of our obscene treatment of him by keeping him on a no fly list and lying that he is a terrorist rather than admit we tortured an innocent man.  That’s the thing about torture: the state has extremely strong incentives to lie when they torture innocents because otherwise, they are, you know, exposed as war criminals.  Similarly, the state tends to euphemize and lie about the victims of failed abortions and cover up their fate too.  Gosh!  I wonder if these patterns have anything to do with one another?

More than this, we find that torture was a waste of time that actually harmed rather than helped us.  But above all, we discover that the real reason apologists for torture excuse it is because they believe in torture as a form of punishment, not as a form of intelligence gathering.  If they did not—if they really believed that torture was deployed primarily to get information and not to punish—then they would make excuses for our abuse of children as well (such as, for example, our abuse of Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed’s little children and our threats against their lives).  After all, as the CIA reasoned with KSM, parents are much more likely to say whatever it takes to spare their loved ones, so abuse and threats against children are an even more “efficient” way to get intel. 

But our excuse-makers in the Catholic communion have not yet deadened their consciences that far.  Instead, they prefer to simply not look at this shocking and repulsive act by the CIA rather than try to defend it. (Of course, they also prefer not to look at the fact that nobody was ever called to account for it.) But still and all, the refusal to try to defend it is a good sign that Catholic torture defenders are not utterly corrupted and so a good start to recovery of a Catholic conscience. In short, if the beloved waterboard is so harmless as all that, why is nobody calling for some good-natured “dunking” of KSM’s children?  Answer: it’s torture and the children are innocent, so we mustn’t punish them.

But though nobody outside the CIA is depraved enough to abuse children, Catholic torture defenders still are making excuses for torture by blinding themselves to the torture and even murder of innocents such as Dilawar while pretending that, as long as the victim is bad enough, torture’s okay. In short, they believe in torture as punishment, not primarily as intelligence gathering. The fact that the torture of KSM was fruitless and destructive of our intelligence efforts makes no difference to them.  A hairy bad guy suffered and, despite the fact that all this was deeply corrupting of our rights and our souls as well as deeply counter-productive to our efforts to fight terrorism, those who question it are Pharisees.  Let’s just not look at the torture and murder of innocents, nor at the stupidity and counter-productiveness of torture, nor at its fundamental immorality in the teaching of the Magisterium.  That’s prissy perfectionism, doncha know.

My reader’s notion that opposition to abortion forgives all other mortal sin and that opposition to inconvenient mortal sin is “phariseeism” is precisely the issue I am trying to point out. He is sacrificing the fullness of inconvenient Catholic moral teaching on an altar of anti-abortion idolatry.  If an occasional swarthy innocent human being with a foreign-sounding name is beaten to death or tortured for months, no problem.  Opposition to abortion taketh away the sins of the world.  The irony of it is that it’s sold exactly the way abortion was forty years ago:  only a few innocents will die in our pursuit of the Greater Good.  Let’s make it safe, legal and rare, etc.  That’s not just immoral, but incredible folly in a civilization that is rapidly coming to regard Catholics as “extreme, radical, divisive, dangerous, and destructive”.  You know, like terrorists.

Somebody who has no qualms about beating an innocent man to death because it gets in the way of his desire to torture the guilty is, at best, anti-abortion, not prolife.  Such dissent from CCC 2297 is as deeply Catholic as Nancy Pelosi or John Kerry.  More than that though, such a man may well have some serious ‘splainin’ to do to his family when the People’s Democratic National Security State of America comes for him and his family and deploys their “enhanced interrogation” against them for their dangerous Catholic beliefs.  Should that day come, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Now the funny thing is, that’s not all the angry mail I’ve gotten.  In addition to the charge of “phariseeism” for my fussy prissiness about beating and torturing innocent people to death, I’ve also gotten mail from other folk declaring that all that stuff in Cdl. Ratzinger’s letter concerning remote material cooperation with evil (which conservative Catholics routinely read to mean “It’s fine to vote for a pro-torture candidate so long as you want to oppose abortion”) is *only* applicable when it’s conservatives doing the remote material cooperation.  As one reader magisterially declared:

The number one issue in America today is abortion.  Anyone who votes for a candidate condoning abortion commits a mortal sin under all conditions.  That should be a no brainer. Any practicing Catholic that voted for the Socialist Democrat Obama was automatically excommunicated, and every time they receive the Eucharist is a sacrilege.  How many have been penitent and returned to the Church?  From their indicated actions, very few I suspect.

The problem is, this is a downright studious misreading of what Cdl. Ratzinger actually said.

Here is what Cdl. Ratzinger actually wrote:

“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

In short, just as many conservatives think there is a proportional reason to vote for a pro-torture guy without supporting torture, so Cdl. Ratzinger specifically acknowledges the possibility that somebody could vote for an Obama for what they consider proportional reasons, provided they do not mean to support abortion.  This is why we are not to sit in judgment of others when they vote for people we ourselves would never be able to vote for in good conscience and it’s why I pass no judgment on anybody who votes for a pro-torture or pro-abortion candidate. 

Bottom line: unless you know for absolute certain that that somebody voted for a candidate who advocates intrinsic grave evil because they wanted to support that evil, you cannot (as my reader does above) don a paper mitre and declare, “Any practicing Catholic that voted for [the pol advocating intrinsic grave evil] was automatically excommunicated, and every time they receive the Eucharist is a sacrilege.”  If the person who voted for the pol believed they had a proportional reason to do so (say, wanting to get us out of an unjust war or lower taxes that were crushing his family) but were not voting because they supported the intrinsic grave evil, then it was morally permissible according to Cdl. Ratzinger.  We cannot judge others for we cannot know their hearts.

But we are expected to judge ourselves.  So while I will not join the Inquisition against others who vote for pols advocating grave evil (since I cannot read hearts), I will say that I could never, in good conscience, vote for a pol who I know will advocate grave and intrinsic evil.  That goes for Obama and for whoever finally floats to the top of the GOP pool (since they all support torture except for Ron Paul and he will never be nominated).

The funny thing about all this is that my position, which seems to me to be obvious and straightforward, is at such cross purposes with so many of my readers.  According to one reader, I’m a fussy Pharisee who is arrogantly sitting in judgment of conservatives because I won’t vote for a torture supporter (though I agree with Cdl. Ratzinger that remote material cooperation with evil is morally permissible if somebody has proportional reasons for it, and so will not condemn somebody who votes for a pro-torture candidate if they are not trying to advance the cause of torture).  Accordingly, I will not vote for such a candidate myself and will not bullied into doing so by those who call me “sanctimonious” for doing my conscience.  However, according to another reader, I’m a secret Obama supporter because I also will not sit in judgment of those who engaged in remote material cooperation with evil by voting for Obama for what they thought were proportionate reasons.  In both cases, I uphold the Church’s full moral teaching by refusing to support grave intrinsic evil and in both cases I agree with Cdl. Ratzinger that I also cannot sit in judgment of people who vote for candidates I object to for reasons they deem proportional.  I myself would never vote for either Obama or whatever torture supporter the GOP burps up, I affirm the Church’s teaching on both abortion and torture and agree with Cdl. Ratzinger completely, but somehow I’m allegedly “pro-abortion” and “not a real Catholic[TM]” according to some.  And all I want to do is obey my conscience, obey the Church completely and not pretend I’m God by judging others.  How determination to uphold the full teaching of the Catechism and adherence to Cdl. Ratzinger’s wise teaching became a mark of “sanctimony” and “moral superiority” for self-described “faithful conservative Catholics” is an impenetrable mystery to me.

Finally, as icing on the cake, lunatic Randian hyper-individualists are, just as weirdly, trying to argue that (as one reader put it):

Do not assign to politicians and the “state” the duties, such as contending against abortion and euthanasia, that fall to individuals. It is individuals who engage in abortion and euthanasia. Why not persuade individuals that these actions are wrong rather than tilting against the windmills of the “state”?

Your argument makes the state our nanny and takes away from individual rseponsibility. This is clearly not Church teaching.

This argument, in translation, runs thus:

Do not assign to politicians and the “state” the duties, such as contending against murder, that fall to individuals. It is individuals who engage in murder. Why not persuade individuals that these actions are wrong rather than tilting against the windmills of the “state”?

Your argument makes the state our nanny and takes away from individual rseponsibility. This is clearly not Church teaching.

In addition to politely dissenting from the theory that I am morally bound to support candidates who advocated grave and intrinsic evil on pain of being called a Pharisee, I also dissent from the lunatic notion that asking the state to oppose murder makes the state our nanny and takes away from individual responsibility.  This is the libertarian lunacy that subsidiarity is the only facet of Catholic social teaching, strung out on crack.  Back in the reality-based community of responsible Catholic social thought, the state has responsibility for the common good and should not leave the protection of innocent human life to the whim of the individual.