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VOTING-CARR Oct-5-2004 (880 words) xxxn

Catholic voters urged to consider respect for human life, dignity

By Peter Finney Jr.
Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- Catholic voters should make their political judgments based on the fundamental issues of respect for human life and respect for human dignity, an official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said at a New Orleans seminar Oct. 2.

The seminar was on the U.S. bishops' political responsibility statement titled "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility." The document describes "a consistent ethic of life" as the "moral framework" from which Catholic voters should address all issues in the political arena.

"Without life, nothing else matters," said John Carr, head of the Department of Social Development and World Peace of the USCCB. "Without human dignity, life is incomplete. They go together. The moral measure of something is whether it protects human life or harms it, whether it supports human dignity or does not."

The seminar, held at Loyola University, included commentary on the document by Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, provincial of his order's New Orleans province and a former head of Catholic Charities USA.

He said Catholics can contribute to the political process and the debate about the common good because of the church's "consistent moral framework rooted in the sanctity of human life" as well as "its experience of service" -- through schools, health care and social services -- and its diversity.

Carr acknowledged the pain and confusion among Catholic voters in evaluating the presidential candidates' stances on issues in the Nov. 2 election. He said the doctrinal note from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the U.S. bishops at their June meeting was "a very powerful reminder that, to Catholic politicians, there can be no false separation between faith and (their) lives."

The "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" said that, while freedom of conscience leaves Catholics free to choose among political parties and strategies for promoting the common good, they cannot claim that freedom allows them to promote abortion, euthanasia or other attacks on human life.

Carr admitted that, in his own life, "I feel politically homeless sometimes." His mother is a pro-life Republican who ran a pregnancy program in Minnesota; his father is a pro-life Democrat "who believes his party should protect the weakest."

"This is not a cause for one month or one election," Carr said. "The fundamental issue is human life. I'm convinced we're not going to prevail unless we get it right about human life. We have to change hearts and minds."

"Our task is to persuade a majority of American citizens that the unborn child is not a thing," he said. "Abortion is the destruction of innocent, unborn human life. I respect those who say, 'This (issue) is it for me.' But it is not enough to proclaim. We have to engage and persuade."

Carr said since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks there is a more urgent need than ever for the church to refocus on its mission as proclaimed by Jesus in the fourth chapter of Luke: to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and restore the sight of the blind.

"Responsible citizenship is a virtue. Participation in the political process is a moral obligation," he added.

Carr said he often encounters Catholics who talk about either rights or responsibilities, not about both.

"It begins fundamentally with the right to life, but it also includes what makes life truly human," Carr said. "It's morally wrong that 44 million Americans don't have health care coverage. We have the responsibility to secure those rights for ourselves and others."

The debate over the war in Iraq and terrorism has swamped any conversation in the presidential election about the "poor and vulnerable," Carr said.

"We are one of the few institutions that raised serious moral concerns about going to war in Iraq, and we have supported the president's faith-based initiatives while opposing some of his welfare policies," Carr said.

"I predict someone will ask the question in the next few weeks, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?'" he said. "The question should be, 'Are we better off? Are the unborn protected, are the poor being lifted up, are the sick being cared for? This is about people, not principles."

He added that this presidential election is not about President George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, or Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee.

"It's about whether the woman who cleans your office at night can take her kids to the doctor," said Carr. "The central question is who has a place at the table of life? I think we're white-water rafting against cultural forces."

Carr said the ultimate example of cultural disarray and violence is what is taking place in Florida. "The state of Florida is going to kill a man who killed a doctor who killed babies in order to tell us that killing is wrong," he said.

Carr said Catholics must try anything they can to change the culture, even if it means running for office in greater numbers.

"When so many of our leaders have their fingers to the wind, we need to change the wind," Carr said. "This is not the work of the month but the work of our lives."


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