The 9 Non-Negotiables


white houseFor years, Catholic Answers has produced a helpful voters’ guide on the five non-negotiable moral issues for Catholics. It is good but in the years since it was first produced, four more issues have come up that I think are worth adding to the list of non-negotiable moral issues. I will explain both what these issues are and why we need to add them. I will also mention a few issues that are important but negotiable.

First, the established five non-negotiable issues:

  1. Abortion
  2. Euthanasia
  3. Embryonic Stem-Cell Research.
  4. Human Cloning.
  5. Homosexual marriage.

Now, these four need to be added from my perspective.


The Catechism teaches in 2297, “Torture… is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” It is intrinsically evil and can never be done or condoned. It doesn’t matter if the person is the most horrid criminal, a mass-murderer or a child-molester, they still have inviolable human dignity. If we dehumanize criminals, we dehumanize all people.

I have already shown why waterboarding is torture and some are proposing even more severe forms of torture. Most who argue for torture, try to justify it using the false logic of ends justifying means. Just as we can’t murder an unborn child to avoid the trouble of raising it, we can’t torture a criminal to get information.

This is not simply whether the terrorist / thug / gangbanger deserves it but what torture does to the torturer and the whole society condoning his acts. Evil acts in general change the type of person we are – the type that would do those acts – but I think this is particularly strong regarding torture. Torture is a particularly heinous way to treat another human being, reducing his dignity below that of an animal or worm, making the one acting into worse than an animal, a certain distorted monstrous form.

Interestingly, non-torture interrogation has seemed to generally work better: Abu Jandal, the closest terrorist to Bin Laden ever captured, talked because he was given sugar-free cookies once the interrogators realized his diabetes. Whether it worked or not, torture would be immoral but this adds weight to an argument against it.

Civilian Casualties in Warfare

Catholics can legitimately disagree whether going to war somewhere will defend the innocent and whether it is possible to do so using other means. Certain aggressive wars could never even conceivably be justified but no major politician seems to propose this today.

Catholic teaching does not only tell us when we can go to war but tells us how we can conduct ourselves in war. Vatican II teaches (Gaudium et Spes 79): “The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.” This is where we have to be really careful.

The catechism briefly states in 2313, “Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely,” and in 2314 that indiscriminate destruction of civilian areas is immoral. A just execution of war requires avoiding civilian casualties at all possibility. Once we talk about things like carpet bombing whole civilian areas, we are far outside Catholic teaching. Evidently, this happened in World War II – this doesn’t make it moral. Likewise, killing non-combatants because their family members are terrorists doesn’t respect their human dignity and is far outside Catholic teaching on just war.

Killing civilians is not absolutely prohibited: a group of terrorists might have a missile factory beside a school and a leader can legitimately order the destruction of the missile factory knowing that some of these schoolchildren will also die as collateral damage. If a candidate proposes bombing whole neighbourhoods because a few terrorists live there, they will inevitably kill many more civilians than terrorists – in this case collateral damage seems too high. There is no mathematical level, like 1 terrorist for every civilian killed, where collateral damage is moral. Instead, collateral damage needs to always be avoided as much as possible.

Religious Liberty

Vatican II teaches in Dignitatis Humanae, “The human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion.” This paragraph continues to point out that no civil society, government, etc. can impede this right.

People have the right based on their conscience to not provide things against conscience, even more so when this is based on serious religious beliefs. A Catholic politician cannot force a Jew to sell pork or a Hindu to sell beef, cannot force a Muslim to eat during daylight in Ramadan or a Catholic to eat meat on Lenten Fridays.

This norm doesn’t just apply to accidental practices – it is all the more important in essential moral practices. If a politician is proposing that Catholic institutions have to provide contraception in their health plans, they are doubly going against Catholic teaching: both destroying the marital act and demeaning the conscience of the employer by forcing them against their conscience.

There are some limits – this regards when a religious practice is directly contrary to natural law. If a religion believes in human sacrifice, we are not obliged to permit them – in fact, we should reject that.

Religion is the center of man’s life. Therefore, the state is not above it and able to control it. The state must respect a person’s religion whatever that religion is.

Xenophobia, Racism or Classism

Christianity is all about joining people together not separating them. The Catechism’s glossary defines racism as “Unjust discrimination on the basis of a person’s race; a violation of human dignity, and a sin against justice.” It is important to note that “unjust” is here as we can make judgements that are based on realities. For example, a fire department discriminates based on strength: climbing a ladder with a big hose and carrying a man out of a burning building is essential to fire fighting. Likewise, an Italian cultural festival requirement that only Italian-Americans could participate in their “Strongest Italian in the Bronx” contest because it is a celebration of Italian heritage so only for Italians.

Vatican II told us in Gaudium et Spes 29, “Every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

Some divisions can’t be overcome tomorrow. No matter what we all do, I doubt all racial division in the USA will be gone in 4 years, whoever is president. On the other hand, a politician who blames others for all problems on others based on race, religion, or class; who wants to create more division is definitely going against Church teaching in a way that is intrinsically evil. We cannot create division based on any artificial categories.

Negotiable Issues

The Church has a preferential option for the poor but there is legitimate debate about how to achieve this among Catholic politicians. Economic policy is negotiable. I have heard Catholics argue for the economic policies of everyone from libertarians to hard core socialists using Catholic teachings – without making an obviously false analysis of the Church’s social and economic teaching. Instead the Church permits a wide range here.

Immigration policy in general depends on what we can legitimately handle today. If it is xenophobic or racist, there are problems but Catholics can disagree on how many the US can support is negotiable.

Catholics can’t be war mongering without reason, wanting war as a first option. But on particular cases Catholics can disagree on whether a particular war is a just war or not.

We should seek a politician with character but there is wide disagreement on the character of the various politicians. Generally this disagreement is about who’s worse, so few politicians have much character left.

Hopefully, these four additional non-negotiables help you in deciding who to vote for. In national elections it seems hard to find politicians respecting all nine of these non-negotiables but we can hold out hope for such politicians to arise.

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36 thoughts on “The 9 Non-Negotiables”

  1. Father – I follow you on Twitter and often agree with you.

    I like your 6-9 list, however, I would argue that they are a 2nd tier. For example:

    Two people are running for office
    Candidate A is good on #1-5, but bad on #6-9
    Candidate B is good on #6-9, but bad on #1-5

    6-9 should not supersede 1-5, as 1-5 are more important issues. Candidate A would be the better candidate – warts and all.

    HOWEVER, if both Candidates were the same on 1-5, then YES, 6-9 would surely come into play.

  2. Sorry, “classism” (whatever that is) is simply not on par with abortion. This seems like a license to create moral equivalence between a candidate who supports the murder of unborn babies and one who thinks the welfare state has become overly bloated. They are not the same.

  3. And this is why I will skip voting for president this year. I cannot in good conscience vote for either of them.

  4. Dear Padre Matt-I prefer the bishops’ own words, ie “intrinsic evils.” Why? Because this is how I prefer to characterize what the Democrat Party advocates, promotes, and seeks to have paid for with our tax dollars. Yes, individuals of other parties do all this with respect to this or that intrinsic evil, but as Card. Burke has said, the Democrat Party [my words-“in toto”] has become the Party Of Death. I expound on this in detail in HELL VOTE YOURSELF IN at site or You will note that liberal dissenting Catholic “journalists”, scholars, bishops, priests, and commentators are coming out of the wormwoodwork across the land to trumpet that “a good Catholic cannot vote for Trump.” At least they have the small spark of integrity that they do not say out loud “therefore it is an act of social justice virtue and LGBT tolerance to vote for Hillarydemon;” – although this is their implicit message since they can no longer whitewash her consummate evil. Racism was listed as an “intrinsic evil” in the first bishops’ document which many used as the “single issue vote for democrats” pass. Google RETA or blackgenocide and you will get the whole story of the Democrat Party of Death’s racism in advocating, promoting, and funding racially targeted abortions which have killed over half the children aborted in America- over 18,000,000 African American, over 12,000,000 Hispanic Americans. If the Democrat Party Of Death and Barry Soetoro’s puppetmasters wanted those children alive today, they would be. Ya gotta love the comment that “your opinions are stupid.” Truly, now haven’t many of us have at one time or another thought exactly that? It reminded me of my good friend DC’s logic gambit in argument: “I’m right, you’re wrong. You don’t exist.” Then he would walk away the winner. Padre Matt, thanks for a great discussion. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

    1. Howard Richards

      You misunderstand what “intrinsic evil” means. It does not mean something that is distinguished by being a very serious wrong; the word for that is “grave matter” — the phrase you will see if you look up the bit about mortal sin in paragraph 1857 of the Catechism. You can think of this as being something analogous to a felony in secular law.

      Something that is intrinsically evil is not distinguished by the magnitude of the evil, but by the fact that the act cannot be separated from evil; it can never be an acceptable means to a good end. The parallel would be to an unconstitutional act.

      Most intrinsic evils are closely tied to grave sins, but many grave sins involve doing something that might, under other circumstances, be permissible. For example, Catholic Tradition (as mentioned in the Catechism) allows for the possibility of capital punishment under certain circumstances, but obviously many evil governments have used capital punishment as a way to murder their opponents, or those from whom they wished to steal.

      The non-negotiables are yet another category. These have to do with the intersection between moral theology and secular politics. It may be a mortal sin to miss Mass (it is clearly a grave matter), but few if any priests or bishops would want the government enforcing a law that everyone must attend Mass on Sundays and days of obligation.

      Saying that a particular sin is not an intrinsic evil does not mean it is not important or that we can safely ignore it in a political context. Think back to the four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance: (1) willful murder, (2) the sin of Sodom, (3) oppressing the poor, and (4) denying workers their just wages. Number 4, for example, is not necessarily an intrinsic evil; it may come in the form of giving the workers SOMETHING, just not what they are due. Noting that it “cries out to Heaven for vengeance”, though, is a pretty good indication that it’s serious, and it clearly is something that the government should have some role in preventing.

  5. #10 – not preaching against widespread contraception and abortifacients.
    Thereby not preaching against the root of abortio, same sex marriage, fornication and divorce..
    (Please- No hiding behind “religious liberty”)

  6. After Laudato Si, I would add a 10th non-negotiable (while keeping the other 9).
    Respect for the environment.

    1. Sort of yes, sort of no.

      For one thing, “respect” is hopelessly vague. The American Indians killing an elk respected it very much, but I doubt the elk being speared was quite as impressed by their respect as their folklore makes out. Prudent, sustainable use, regardless of internal attitude, is a better way of putting it.

      For another thing, there are basically two reasons to value nature: (1) it reflects the glory of its creator, and (2) it provides for the temporal needs of mankind. These parallel the Two Greatest Commandments. Given that we probably don’t want to go down the road of listing the valuing art, music, literature, and even especially the liturgy as non-negotiables, as long as we don’t drive species to extinction, we should really keep the concentration on the needs of humans. These needs are not all material, but the fact that they are oriented towards Benedict’s “integral human development” needs to be explicit in the statement. Otherwise, this too easily becomes the kind of nature-worship that has characterized so many non-Christian civilizations and that was evident in the outrage over a zoo shooting a gorilla to save a child’s life.

    2. Possibly but there are 2 difficulties that make it somewhat negotiable:
      1. How? Just like economic policy, I’ve seen various arguments.
      2. Humans always come first in this so we need to balance protecting man with protecting the environment.

  7. Christianity is all about joining people together not separating them. Actually, it’s about both.

    Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And as a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. — Matthew 10:34-37

  8. “Christianity is all about joining people together not separating them.” Nice theory. In practice (e.g. Northern Ireland) … hmm. What are Catholics prepared to concede in order to join them to Lutherans, for example?

  9. That which is ABSOLUTELY non-negotiable, without limits, excuses or philosophical interpretation. Why? Because Jesus was pretty direct and clear! Matt 25:31-46

    31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    1. I am sure that Christ did not debate the politics of subsidiarity, enablement, etc…..He said do it, period. If you leave hungry kids, homeless people, the prisoners, widowed, disabled. etc behind and unattended to….the only option is eternal damnation. Christ didn’t give rat’s ass about how….He said do it or else…its’s non negotiable.

    2. Yet He also said, “… the poor you have always with you.” (Matthew 26:11) So if we seize on that one statement and blow it out of proportion and combine it with what you have already done, it follows that everyone goes to Hell, non-negotiably, because no one succeeds in getting rid of poverty. Thanks be to God, that’s not true, because your interpretation is wrong. The greatest commandment is not to love your neighbor, but to love God Himself. Also, the “how” is of supreme importance: “And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I
      should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth
      me nothing.” — 1 Corinthians 13:3

    3. Laurence Charles Ringo

      Thank you,Howard…Wow.I’m astonished at how much careful,wise,Spirit-led exegesis of Holy Writ is so sorely needed nowadays…Thanks for reminding us! Peace ?.

  10. “There are some limits – this regards when a religious practice is directly contrary to natural law. If a religion believes in human sacrifice, we are not obliged to permit them – in fact, we should reject that.”

    You say, “There are some limits..” If any issue is “non negotiable,” there can be no limits to it. Or else it becomes negotiable.
    And where, among all that waffle about “just wars,” does “Thou shalt not kill,” come in? Oh, that commandment is “negotiable,” is it? Limited? Seems to me the Quakers, at least, have got it right.

    And what if a religion thinks cannibalism is non-negotiable?
    Where does that leave Catholicism?

    1. The Commandment of “Thou shalt not kill” is a prohibition against murder or unjustified killing, not killing in general, and the Jewish people outline this as the difference between harag (killing) and ratzah (murder), hence the commandment “Lo titzrah”. That said, killing of another ought never be taken lightly.

      Just War Theory, as Father alludes, is strongly defined not only in when it is permitted (jus ad bellum) but also how it should be conducted (jus in bellum). Just War is not an excuse to ignore the 6th commandment, but a realization that we can react to aggressors with power because their killings are indeed murderous. Just War does not afford room for murdering of anyone, but allows for killing as a defence.

    2. “The Commandment of “Thou shalt not kill” is a prohibition against murder or unjustified killing, not killing in general,”
      Then why didn’t whoever wrote it qualify it – to say exactly what it means?
      Anyway, how do we reconcile any violence, for any reason, with: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. “?
      To me that means, “Never retaliate,” or is that “negotiable,” too?

    3. > Then why didn’t whoever wrote it qualify it – to say exactly what it means?

      The commandment as it is written, “lo titzrah” is by the ink “do not murder”. No qualification is needed. Murder is prohibited. The fine line between murder and killing is different, and many of the instances of justified killing are outlined in later books.

      > Anyway, how do we reconcile any violence…

      This comes from the sermon on the mount, which a reader can easily see is loaded with the rabbinical tradition of hyperbole. Jesus surely did not intend for the listener to actually pluck out their eyes and sever their hands; it stands to show how serious he is. This is clear by the teaching tradition and context.

      Turning the other cheek fits in this context, but also has to be considered with the precedent of Exodus 21, since it would be easy to take that as a means of executing personal vengeance with no checks to it. Before he comments on turning the other cheek, not that Jesus says “you have heard it said” rather than “it is written” the implication being that he is clarifying.

      On to the specifics, if a person were to strike you in such a way as Jesus describes, you would have been backhanded, which was a common punishment for slaves. Turning the other cheek is the hyperbole for seeking justice, since requesting to be struck again is in itself ridiculous, but also a demand that the striker realize who you are. In a particular way to Exodus 21, it is can be seen as reacting in vengeance, which is unbalanced response. Turning the other cheek is a calm, measured response seeking justice but not demanding submission to an assailant or aggressor. How this is done, then, comes to conscience, which ought to be well formed.

    4. “Jesus surely did not intend for the listener to actually pluck out their eyes and sever their hands; “
      Then perhaps he might have been wiser not to say so. People have a way of taking things literally, and irony is a dangerous device. I know, I use it all the time – just because it is, and I enjoy it. But some people get it wrong.

    5. Laurence Charles Ringo

      JS is doing a great job of properly exegeting the Scriptures in question,Toad-it’s really not that difficult…I myself am of the opinion that…”turning the other cheek”…primarily speaks to conflict between believers.But, hey…I could be wrong,right?—Peace.

    6. “I myself am of the opinion that…”turning the other cheek”…primarily speaks to conflict between believers.” I don’t see how you justify that, Laurence, as there is no mention whatever of “believers.” But you might be right.
      Best left to the great philosopher, H.Dumpty: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” And I think I’ve said enough meaningless words on this particular topic. Peace, indeed.

    7. The commandment is “Thou shalt do no murder.” Specifically, the Hebrew word “retzach,” or רצח, “to deliberately kill.” Self-defense and just war (which is a highly debatable topic, as per the article) are to be avoided if at all humanly possible, but if no alternative is available, killing in self-defense or in the prosecution of just war is not sinful. Harmful to the person doing the killing, regrettable, and usually avoidable, certainly. But not sinful.

    8. Then how do you reconcile these word games, with, as I said earlier, with Christ’s admonition …to never retaliate? (Not that I personally agree with Christ, here. I believe in retaliation against ISIS, for example – and getting ours in first, as well.)
      And, from your own words here, “deliberately killing,” and “murdering,” are defined as the self-same thing. So that seems to get us nowhere.

    9. Your understanding of Matthew 5:39 is grossly incorrect from a Catholic perspective. Please read which does a better job of explaining this than I will be able to in this short space.

      In short, killing an aggressor to defend your own or someone else’s life is acceptable. “Turn the other cheek” does not mean ‘do not defend your life or others from evil men.’

      This is completely separate from the teachings on martyrdom, which is entirely an entirely separate concept.

      This is all assuming you submit to the authority of the Holy Magisterium of the Catholic Church. If you do not, then I pray for your reconciliation with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that you may be fully united with the Body of Christ.

    10. Many thanks, Shadowqat. No, I suppose I don’t submit – or whatever. But then, neither am I a Muslim. It still seems to me that much of what Christ is reported to have said is open to enormous, and near infinite, interpretation. But then, what isn’t, apart from some basic maths and geometry ?

    11. There are “interpretations” based on trying to twist someone’s words regardless to “mean” a desired outcome (usually “so that I can claim Jesus agres with what I want to do”) even if it’s virtually opposite of the actual meaning. And there are valid interpretations based on commitment to the truth and reasonable analysis of the literary, historical, cultural etc. context. The Catholic Church does the latter. Although guaranteed by Christ that she will never teach error, she doesn’t discover the truth by magic, she has to find it out by hard work and study just like anyone else.

    12. Basically, Fr. Schneider is drawing a distinction between liberty and license.

      Religious freedom is there not because the truth is unknown or unimportant, but because of the nature of human beings: a coerced conversion is no conversion at all. An analogy can be drawn with cooking an omelet. An egg cannot be made into an omelet if the heat is too high, because instead of cooking all the way through it will burn on the bottom and remain raw on the top.

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