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 CNS Story:

BURKE-VOTING Oct-1-2004 (830 words) xxxn

Vote in accordance with church teaching, archbishop tells Catholics

By James Rygelski
Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Catholics need to vote but should do so in accordance with the moral teachings of the church, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis said in a pastoral letter published Oct. 1.

In "On Our Civic Responsibility for the Common Good," Archbishop Burke outlined what he said were the church's teachings on an individual's civic responsibility to choose governmental leaders. The text was published in the St. Louis Review archdiocesan newspaper.

Archbishop Burke said the pastoral letter affirmed and further clarified what he said earlier this summer about the sinfulness of a Catholic voting deliberately for a politician who advocates abortion, as well as euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning and same-sex marriage.

"These elements are so fundamental to the common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter how good," the archbishop wrote.

In his pastoral letter, the archbishop outlined the responsibilities of citizenship, noting: "As citizens of both heaven and earth, we are bound by the moral law to act with respect for the rights of others and to promote the common good." That includes choosing "leaders ... who will best serve the common good."

The church teaches that "we have an obligation, in justice, to vote, because the welfare of the community depends upon the persons elected," the archbishop wrote.

The letter acknowledged that voters may have to choose from among candidates who support "immoral practices."

But, in the letter's next paragraph, the archbishop said "there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, that a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the deliberate killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, human cloning or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as legal marriage."

Archbishop Burke said he recognized the fact that often no candidate upholds the moral law in its entirety. He said that, according to church teaching, in such a case the Catholic voter must choose the candidate who will most limit "the evil of abortion or other intrinsically evil practices."

He said he understood how voters could be discouraged by the "failure of public leaders to promote the common good." But a person refraining from voting for that reason "fails to fulfill his or her moral duty, at least, in the limitation of a grave evil in society," he wrote.

"If all Catholics in our nation, both Catholic voters and Catholic government leaders, had joined those Catholics and others who upheld and continue to uphold the moral law, the grave evils which plague our society would be lessened and eventually eliminated," he noted.

In an interview with the Review, Archbishop Burke said he wrote the letter because of requests from local Catholics.

"There was a great desire among Catholics to have some help in wrestling with certain serious moral questions," the archbishop said. "There's a lot of confusion out there."

In the pastoral letter, he wrote that he considered giving such help to be one of his duties as spiritual shepherd. "How will I answer our Lord when he asks me about what I, as bishop, have done to teach the inviolability of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death?"

He said in the interview that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's private letter on voting sent this summer to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, and later made public, had no effect on his decision to write the pastoral letter.

The impact of the pastoral letter was not limited to the current election, he said.

"It's meant to be a perennial document and not written to address just this election," he said. "It's meant to be a personal help to people in all elections."

Asked if the letter could be interpreted as telling people which candidates to vote for or against, Archbishop Burke said, "I'm not commenting on any politician or political party. What I'm presenting here is Catholic moral teaching. People should use this to make up their minds, but I'm not telling them for whom to vote."

In writing it, the archbishop said, he conferred with moral theologians of the church whose identities he said he wanted to keep private.

The archbishop said he equated recognition of same-sex marriage with abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research because "to redefine marriage makes legal the homosexual acts which are gravely harmful."

"Marriage is the foundation of the life of society. To redefine it has the gravest of consequences," he added in the interview.

His letter is "the presentation of Catholic teaching, not particularly the teaching of the Archdiocese of St. Louis," he said.

"This is the universal moral law, not some local interpretation," he added when asked whether the residents of another diocese would be exempted from such a teaching.

"This is a question of universal moral law, not a question of the archbishop making a particular law, for example, a law regarding the placement of the tabernacle," Archbishop Burke said.

The archbishop said someone who disregards the teaching of the church in voting commits a "grave sin" and added that the matter can't be taken lightly if the person wants to continue receiving Communion.

"I've heard people say, 'Well, it's simple, you vote for the candidate you want, then go to confession.' That's not the case. We confess sin with sincere repentance. It's a question of having a change of heart," the archbishop said about people receiving absolution.


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