Prudence and Bishop McElroy, by Stephen P. White

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*Image: San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy speaks at the national assembly of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests in 2018. (Photo by Paul Leingang) 

By Stephen P. White, The Catholic Thing, Feb. 12, 2020

Stephen P. White is executive director of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America and a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Note: The Papal Posse – Fr. Gerald Murray, Robert Royal, and host Raymond Arroyo – will appear Thursday evening at 8 on EWTN’s “The World Over” to discuss some of the issues in Royal’s Monday column as well as the Amazonia Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation that Pope Francis will publish today. The show will also be available on the EWTN Youtube channel shortly after the initial broadcast.


Stephen P. WhiteIn my last column, I argued that the American bishops, in their collective guidance about the responsibilities of voting, haven’t provided a rhetorical silver bullet. They haven’t told us who to vote for, but they have given us what we need: the guidance to make prudent decisions.

Last week, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego delivered a talk in which he reflected at length on the role of prudence in applying the principles of Catholic social doctrine to the work of Catholic citizenship. His remarks provide an opportunity to elaborate on the proper role of prudence in voting.

Specifically, Bishop McElroy’s remarks – contrary to his intention – show why prudence is precisely the grounds on which abortion ought to be – must be – considered the gravest threat to the common good of our nation. Consider the following passage from Bishop McElroy’s talk:

Some Catholic commentators on voting have in recent years portrayed prudential judgment as having a deficient dignity and grasp of the truth. They say that there is a categorical claim to support candidates who legislatively oppose intrinsic evils, but only a secondary claim for candidates whose proposals rest on prudential judgment for their moral discernment.

To say this is to miss the central element of Catholic teaching about conscience and prudence. As the Catechism notes, “With the help (of prudence), we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to be avoided.”  ….

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