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 CNS Story:
POLITICS-MCCARRICK Jun-23-2004 (990 words) xxxn

Cardinal McCarrick: No simple answers on bishop-politician relations

By Jerry Filteau

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- "There are no simple answers" as to how bishops should relate to politicians, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington told the U.S. Catholic bishops at a national gathering near Denver.

He said bishops need to be "political but not partisan" as they exercise their teaching, pastoral and leadership roles in the church, addressing the responsibilities of Catholic politicians and the relation between moral values and the political process.

They must also be "principled but not ideological ... civil but not soft ... engaged but not used," he said.

Cardinal McCarrick addressed the widely discussed issue of whether Catholic bishops should deny Communion to Catholic politicians who regularly contradict church teachings in their public policy positions on fundamental moral issues like abortion or euthanasia.

"In our (the task force's) view the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail but in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities," he said.

Cardinal McCarrick, head of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians formed by the bishops' conference last fall, was one of three task force members to speak to the bishops during their June 14-19 meeting in Englewood, Colo. The meeting was closed to media but their texts were released in Washington June 23.

The task force is to have a final report ready for the bishops when they meet after the elections this November.

Following formation of the task force, however, a major controversy arose over whether bishops should deny Communion to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Kerry is a Catholic but has a long, consistent voting record of opposing any legal restrictions on abortion including the ban on partial-birth abortion. Because of the very public controversy that gave new urgency to its work, the task force was asked to provide an interim report at the June assembly.

Offering what he called the "interim advice" of the task force before its final report in the fall, Cardinal McCarrick spelled out a program of engagement and initiatives that went well beyond the denial-of-Communion issue that has been the focus of most media attention.

"This is not about one candidate, election or campaign, but about how we as bishops faithfully carry out our roles as teachers, pastors and leaders in the Catholic community," he said.

"We need to teach more clearly and help other Catholic leaders teach more clearly on our unequivocal commitment to protecting human life from the moment of conception until natural death," he said. "This includes teaching about justice and peace, marriage and family and other moral and social values that are part of Catholic doctrine."

He called for "more effective dialogue and engagement with all public officials, especially Catholic public officials" on issues of human life and dignity and the rationale behind the church's teachings in those areas.

"Relationships matter," he said. "We cannot communicate and persuade simply through newspaper columns or issuing statements. We need to dedicate ourselves to dialogue with those in public life, especially those who do not follow the church's teaching."

He said bishops also need to do a better job of "mobilizing Catholics to support our principles and policies" in the political arena.

Catholic institutions "should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles," he said, but "we cannot cut off dialogue. ... We will rarely persuade if we have no dialogue or cannot make our case."

The task force came down hard against imposing sanctions on Catholics who vote for candidates who back permissive legislation on abortion, euthanasia or other life issues regarded as fundamental in church teaching.

"We should not tell people how to vote or sanction voters," Cardinal McCarrick said. "This is contrary to our teaching, may be a violation of the civil law and is often counterproductive."

On the Communion denial issue that has become a focal point of public controversy in recent months with the first major-party Catholic presidential contender in 44 years, Cardinal McCarrick said the task force has consulted with Vatican officials, other bishops' conferences, fellow U.S. bishops, theologians, canon lawyers and state Catholic conference leaders.

Based on those consultations and a study of the church's traditional practice, he said, "our task force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters" who dissent from church teachings in their public policy decisions.

"There is a significant concern about the perception that the sacred nature of the Eucharist could be trivialized and might be turned into a partisan political battleground," he said.

"The task force urges for the most part renewed efforts and persuasion, not penalties," he added. "We urge new efforts to teach clearly, advocate effectively, organize and mobilize Catholic laity and to engage, persuade and challenge Catholic politicians to act on the moral teaching of our church.

"Disciplinary actions are permitted," he continued. "Indeed, in the guidance I just shared with you, they are discussed. But they should be applied when efforts at dialogue, persuasion and conversion have been fully exhausted. There is a wide range of affirmative approaches used by members of our conference. These need to be practiced more widely, more strategically and more effectively."

"We believe public life is enriched, not threatened, by citizens who bring their deepest convictions and values into the choices about what values and which leaders will guide our nation," he said. "Without apology, we ask Catholics whether your faith shapes your politics, or is it the other way around?"

In the other two presentations to the bishops, Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco analyzed the principles of moral theology behind the Catholic approach to the application of moral teachings to public policy, and Cardinal William H. Keeler reviewed the consultations the task force has conducted so far and the preliminary results of their investigations.


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