I believe presidential candidate John Kerry and some members of the media have distorted the Catholic Church’s stance on Senator John Kerry and it’s teaching on conscience. I would like to take just a moment to preface the following with the proviso that this is my understanding of the teachings of the Catholic Church, and I cannot claim to speak definitively. That said, first, just because the Catholic Church chastises a Catholic politician for his public stance and votes on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and stem cells does not mean that it condemns Catholic voters who vote for him. Neither President George Bush nor Senator Kerry is perfectly in line with Catholic moral and social teachings. As such, voters have to weigh the pros and cons of each candidate in light of the Church’s teaching and their informed conscience. The Church does, however, note that abortion is a particularly great evil that corrupts society at it’s very root, the defenseless child. Second, the Catholic Church has a moral duty to publically chastise Senator Kerry and other Catholic politicians who flout the value of life. Senator Kerry claims to be Catholic, but he is, in the eyes of the Church, committing grave sin by his public support and legislative votes for abortion, among other issues. Allowing Senator Kerry to make the claim of being a committed Catholic while publically holding these views and voting as he does is scandalous. By scandal, I mean that it tends to lead others to sin. His claims and actions, made unchallenged, encourage others to believe that it is morally acceptable for a Catholic to believe and vote as Senator Kerry does. It is the proper place of the Church to protect its faithful by condemning scandal when it occurs. Finally, Senator Kerry has attempted to attack those who would fault him by claiming that Vatican II enshrined the principle of following one’s conscience. This is true, but this must be understood in the context of the following two points. First, a Catholic has a duty to inform his conscience. Just because an individual believes something does not mean that he can claim he is acting on an informed conscience. Informing one’s conscience requires prayer, effort, and an attempt to understand and accept the Church’s teaching. I do not know if Senator Kerry has made this attempt, and it is not my place to judge. Second, just because a Catholic conscientiously believes something does not mean that the Church should not condemn scandalous conduct when it occurs. Even if Senator Kerry conscientiously believes he must follow his stated position, his conduct is still morally wrong in the eyes of the Church. A Catholic who publically commits objectively wrong actions commits scandal.
Mark LeenHarvard Law School3L