“Ask a Priest: Why so Much Talk About ‘Prudential Judgment’ but not Abortion?”

Want to rate this?

Q: Please elaborate on the phrase “prudential judgment.” It is used greatly, even by priests and bishops, in regard to how to vote as a Catholic. It appears to replace the “most paramount issue of abortion” as being our responsibility as Catholic voters. We have no clear guidance on these. Also, the argument of the “seamless garment” seems like an excuse to vote for a pro-abortion person or issue. Can you enlighten me? – L.N.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Prudential judgment in this context means that a Catholic should decide on a course of action based on the known facts and under the guidance of moral principles presented by the Church.

In practice, it applies to cases where people could consider the same situation differently and ethically come to different conclusions.

The phrase itself doesn’t negate Church teaching that abortion should be considered of paramount importance.

But let’s focus on your question. Why might some priests and bishops prefer to speak of prudential judgment? A few reasons come to mind.

First, talk of prudential judgment might have more appeal to laity, who are called as free moral agents to bring Gospel values into worldly venues. The phrase puts the ball in their court, so to speak.

Second, it can avoid direct mention of abortion, which some people might interpret as a veiled endorsement of a candidate. Many Catholics resent it if they think the Church is trying to tell them to vote for a particular candidate.

So, the use of “prudential judgment” is a way of exhorting Catholics to bring their faith to bear in their voting, without the appeal sounding partisan.

As you intuit, the “seamless garment” argument is a related matter.

The argument holds that issues such as abortion, the death penalty, militarism, euthanasia, and social and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life. “Seamless garment” is another name for the consistent ethic of life espoused by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Unfortunately, some people use the seamless garment as a way to justify their support of pro-abortion candidates or stances. They interpret it to mean that all issues are of equal weight.

Now, the seamless garment argument is not without merit. It tries to remind us that justice requires attention on many fronts.

Some people, for instance, might put all their focus on opposing abortion but not pay any attention to issues such as poverty or the plight of immigrants or the reckless spread of arms. The Church has concern for all these areas, without ignoring abortion.

We shouldn’t think that we have to choose between either opposing abortion or opposing other social ills. It’s not “either-or” but “both-and” — with the understanding that the right to life has a pride of place among our priorities.

For more reading, a National Catholic Register posting might help.

Keep learning more with Ask a Priest

Got a question? Need an answer?

Today’s secular world throws curve balls at us all the time. AskACatholicPriest is a Q&A feature that anyone can use. Just type in your question or send an email to AskAPriest@rcspirituality.org and you will get a personal response back from one of our priests at RCSpirituality. You can ask about anything – liturgy, prayer, moral questions, current events… Our goal is simply to provide a trustworthy forum for dependable Catholic guidance and information. So go ahead and ask your question…

Average Rating

What did you think?

Share your review! Just log in or create your free account.

  1. The answer is not complicated. Abortion is the overwhelming criteria for voting. It is a grave sin to vote for a pro abortion candidate – that’s canon law.

  2. Thank you Fr Edward for this balanced response. You are always bang on. By the way I was able to meet another LC, Fr. Kenneth when I was doing ministry in Alberta with NET 🙂

Leave a Reply

Get the Answers!

Get notified of future Ask a Priest answers via email

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Skip to content