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 CNS Story:

AMERICA-OBEY Aug-10-2004 (870 words) xxxn

Catholic congressman barred from Communion responds in article

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Catholic congressman who said he has been told not to take Communion because of his support for some laws permitting or funding abortions responded to the ban in a five-page article in the latest issue of America magazine.

"While I detest abortion and agree with Catholic teaching that in most instances it is morally wrong, I decline to force my views into laws that, if adopted, would be unenforceable and would tear this society apart," said Rep. David R. Obey, a Democrat who has represented Wisconsin's 7th District for 35 years.

Writing in the Aug. 16-23 edition of America, the New York-based national Catholic weekly magazine published by the Jesuits, Obey said he was told last November by Bishop Raymond L. Burke of La Crosse, Wis., "to refrain from receiving Communion if I did not conform to his wishes" outlined in earlier letters. Soon afterward, Bishop Burke was named archbishop of St. Louis.

"Two issues seemed especially to trouble the bishop" -- abortions in military hospitals and stem-cell research, Obey said.

On the military question, he said, "I told him that I hoped that no member of the armed forces would seek an abortion, but that I was simply not prepared to deny to any woman stationed in Iraq, wearing the uniform of the United States, the use of a military hospital for any purpose."

On the issue of stem-cell research, Obey said he told Bishop Burke that, "in my estimation, the church had no better chance to stop research into regenerative medicine than it had centuries ago in trying to stop Copernicus and Galileo from positing that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around."

The Catholic Church supports research involving adult stem cells, but opposes embryonic stem-cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos.

When news of the bishop's letters to three Catholic lawmakers from the La Crosse Diocese was made public last December, Archbishop Burke declined to name the legislators and congressman involved but said the letters were written with the recipients' spiritual welfare in mind.

"I would be less than faithful as their spiritual leader were I not to do as much," he said Dec. 5. "I know this has been construed as a form of electioneering, but I can tell you it was not that at all."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis said Aug. 9 that Archbishop Burke had not commented on Obey's America article.

In the article, Obey said "virtually every issue I have fought for" in Congress "has been driven by the values I learned from the nuns at St. James elementary school in Wausau, Wis."

"Through the years, I have voted to oppose an unjust war in Nicaragua, a fruitless war in Vietnam and a premature war in Iraq," he wrote. "I have fought for a special preference for the poor on such issues as health care, low-income heating assistance, taxation based on ability to pay and federal investments in education programs ... that focus on the economically disadvantaged. ...

"I have fought passionately for the issues I have mentioned because I think it is the right and moral thing to do," Obey added. "But I have never thought that those who disagree with me are not good Christians or good Catholics."

Obey said he has voted "well over 60 times for limitations of one kind or another on a woman's right to choose abortion" but acknowledged that "my record on abortion is mixed."

"I believe there are competing sets of equities on the part of the woman and the fetus that are far more complicated than some people on either side of the issue care to admit," he said. "So through the years I have tried to sort out those equities, guided by both my moral views and my prudential view of how best to deal with these issues without tearing our society apart."

Obey noted that the U.S. bishops recently agreed that "individual bishops have the right to exercise their own prudential judgment in deciding how and when to try to apply Catholic teachings in their dealings with public officials."

"Surely they would not deny to public officials the same exercise of prudential judgment that they claim for themselves, especially when public officials have an even more complex set of responsibilities -- to church teachings and to the general public, which might or might not share those teachings," Obey wrote.

He said some have compared Archbishop Burke's stand to that of the late Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel of New Orleans who in 1962 excommunicated three Catholics who opposed desegregation of schools.

"The difference is that Archbishop Rummel acted against three people who were trying to obstruct the implementing of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which under our system is the law of the land," he wrote.

"Archbishop Burke is doing just the opposite," Obey added. "He is attempting to single me out because I will not take actions that I have considered to be subversive of federal court decisions that are still the law of the land that I have taken an oath to uphold, whether I like it or not."


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