instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Back to the future

On the subject of Commonweal and the politics of abortion, I think Dr. Cathleen Kaveny lands a few blows (as they say in circles where the politics of abortion is treated as a sporting event) on Archbishop Chaput and his published comments prior to the 2004 general election.

He could have been clearer -- and I don't just mean "it's not impossible to have been clearer," I mean, "it would have been very easy to have been clearer" -- in disentangling the moral principles of cooperation with evil from their application to the act of voting, and both from his personal judgment, and all three from the problem of politicians representing themselves as Catholic while freely embracing positions contrary to Catholic moral belief.

I'll even go so far as to say he misspoke in saying, "And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes." The answer is maybe, and I don't think even the full context of that statement supports the proper reading.

That said, in re-reading his comments three years later it seems to me that what was particularly up his nose was less the question of Catholics voting for pro-abortion candidates (though that was certainly part of it) and more the question of John Kerry selling himself as a good Catholic. (Ah, the memories.)

I also think there's little or nothing to Dr. Kaveny's supposition that, with his statement quoted in Melinda Henneberger's Commonweal column, Archbishop Chaput "is reinterpreting his past stance in light of changed political and ecclesiastical circumstances."

And by "there's little or nothing to [it]," I mean I think she's just making up a weaselly motive for someone she doesn't like very much. (Note also the tendentiousness of the only other explanation she considers possible: "He was tragically misunderstood at the time, due to hostile secular forces incorrectly presenting his views.")

I think, finally, that she misses the mark altogether with the complaint that in none of his recorded words on the subject does the Archbishop distinguish between "formal" and "material" cooperation with evil. She calls this "the key distinction in that concept."

It may be the key distinction when diagramming the concept, but immediate material cooperation is morally indistinguishable from implicit formal cooperation. If you're not trying to define and distinguish all five subclasses of cooperation with evil, there's not much to be gained by stressing the formal-material distinction. And, granting that you aren't voting in support of a candidate's evil positions, voting for him in any other circumstances is material, not formal, cooperation in his future acts.

Update: The last sentence has been rewritten to be less false.