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Politics and sin a difficult area

ROME (CNS): It is generally very difficult for theologians to impute sinful behaviour to politicians based on their position on abortion, and even more difficult when it comes to voters, said a respected theologian.

Australian moral theologian, Redemptorist Father Brian Johnstone, said that in the current US debate over politics and abortion, Church authorities should be careful not to prejudge the consciences of whole categories of people.

The circumstances of the abortion-politics issue are often so complex that ultimately it’s the individual Catholic who must weigh all the factors and “take personal responsibility for his own seeking the truth”, Fr Johnstone said in an interview on September 23.

Fr Johnstone, who teaches at Rome’s Alphonsianum University, has a special interest in the issue.

It was the founder of the Redemptorist order, St Alphonsus Liguori, who in the 18th century refined the theological concepts of “formal co-operation” and “material co-operation” in evil – terms that are at the centre of the current controversy over abortion and politics.

The application of these terms to politicians and voters is unusual in classical theology and was not envisioned by St Alphonsus, Fr Johnstone said.

He said the complexity of the modern political system and the distance that separates politicians and voters from the actual act of abortion need to be taken into account.

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