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“Ask a Priest: Should We Pay Taxes That Help Fund Abortions?”
Q: The Bible says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” I was wondering about this line and its implication for abortion. As Americans, our taxes go to funding abortions and the operation of abortion clinics. Obviously, this is awful and Catholics frequently speak out against this. However, I thought about Mark 12:17 and I figured that Tiberius must have engaged in some form of morally ambiguous and sinful behavior, thanks in part to the taxes paid by his subjects. So, why does Mark 12:17 not apply to the modern Catholic American paying for abortion through federal taxation? Just to be clear — I am indeed against abortion. – D.S.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: The line about “rendering unto Caesar” can be deceptively simple. It sounds easy. But in practice, the application of the principle can be very difficult. It requires a lot of prudence and discernment.
Your underlying question deals with material cooperation in evil. All of us cooperate materially in evil somehow.
You and I are using electronic devices to communicate, for instance. These devices, or parts of them, are probably made by companies that support abortion in one way or another. Ditto with the software in them.
This doesn’t mean that we support abortion. Our financial part in their evil acts is probably tiny, and our intention is not to support abortion.
In the real world the best we can do is distance ourselves from evil as much as possible, and to work for a more just and moral society.
There are times when we can tolerate an evil in order to avoid a greater evil. If everyone who opposed abortion stopped paying taxes, that could destabilize the government and lead to chaos and anarchy. And that would make a less-than-desirable situation far worse.
A balanced application of Jesus’ dictum about rendering unto Caesar requires us to be good citizens and to look for ways to oppose evil and promote the common good. We need to do this peacefully and charitably.
This is in part why Jesus himself defended the paying of taxes to Caesar — not because he wanted to bankroll Tiberius’ military conquests or personal vices, but because Our Lord wanted to change hearts and lead people to repentance. For Jesus to oppose taxes to Caesar would have made him appear as an anti-Rome rebel-rouser, which wasn’t his intention.
What can a Catholic do to oppose abortion? Pray. Sacrifice. Organize pro-life groups. Write to state and federal lawmakers. Support pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers. And do it all with great charity.
For further reading about applying the Gospel message in the world, see Chapter 4 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
And be prepared for a long struggle. Turning around the culture of death will take time and lots of God’s grace.
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