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 CNS Story:

DEBATES Oct-14-2004 (1,090 words) With photos. xxxn

In final debate Bush and Kerry touch on faith's role in their lives

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the last of three debates between the presidential candidates Oct. 13, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and President George W. Bush talked about their faith and how it affects their decisions, particularly on subjects such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

Kerry, a Catholic and the Democratic nominee, said he respects the views of those bishops who have said it would be a sin for Catholics to vote for someone like him who supports legal abortion and unlimited stem-cell research.

"But I disagree with them, as do many," Kerry said in the debate in Tempe, Ariz. "I believe that I can't legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith."

While dozens of bishops have issued statements this year about the importance of life issues in voting decisions, only a handful have gone so far as to say Catholics who cast votes for candidates who support abortion would be sinning themselves.

Bush, a Methodist and the Republican nominee, said in response to Kerry's comments that "it's important to promote a culture of life."

"I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life," he said, and that "reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions."

He added that promoting life could include encouraging adoption and abstinence programs and supporting maternity group homes.

Kerry gave one of the more detailed discussions of the campaign of his religious beliefs. He echoed the words of President John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic president, who said, "I'm not running to be a Catholic president. I'm running to be a president who happens to be Catholic."

Kerry added, though, that his faith "affects everything I do and choose."

He referred to a passage from the Letter of James, saying "What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith, if there are no deeds. Faith without works is dead." He added, "And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people."

Kerry said, "That's why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith."

He quoted Kennedy's inaugural address, saying "Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own," and added, "And that's what we have to do -- so I think that's the test of public service."

In a later question to Bush, moderator Bob Schieffer asked what part faith plays in his policy decisions.

"My faith is a very ... it's very personal," Bush said. "I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm's way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls." He said prayer and religion "sustain me. ... I've received calmness in the storms of the presidency."

Bush added that he's mindful of the diversity of religious beliefs in the United States and the rights of all to worship as they see fit.

"I never want to impose my religion on anybody else, but when I make decisions, I stand on principle," Bush said. "And the principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself."

Bush said he believes "God wants everybody to be free," and that that is part of his foreign policy.

Kerry added that he was taught in Catholic school that "the two greatest commandments are 'Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul,' and 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' And, frankly I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet."

Both candidates turned that philosophical discussion toward campaign issues.

Bush noted that his belief in loving one's neighbor is manifested in public policies such as his faith-based initiative, "where we've unleashed the armies of compassion to help ... heal people who hurt." He also said that freedom in Afghanistan "is a gift from the Almighty, and I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march."

Kerry said an example of the need to "love our neighbor" is the "separate and unequal school system" in the United States where "there's one for the people who have and there's one for the people who don't have."

"The president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of faith," he said. "I think we've got a lot more work to do."

During the Oct. 8 debate in St. Louis, Mo., Bush and Kerry also talked about embryonic stem-cell research and how they would approach filling Supreme Court vacancies.

In that town-hall style debate, Elizabeth Long told Kerry that "thousands of people have already been cured or treated by the use of adult stem cells, or umbilical cord stem cells. However, no one has been cured by using embryonic stem cells. Wouldn't it be wise to use stem cells obtained without the destruction of an embryo?"

Kerry said he respects the moral thinking behind Long's question but that "I think we can save lives" with "ethically guided" embryonic stem-cell research.

"We have 100,000 to 200,000 embryos that are frozen in nitrogen today from fertility clinics," Kerry said. "These weren't taken from abortion or something like that. They're from a fertility clinic. And they're either going to be destroyed or left frozen."

He added that he thinks "it is respecting life to reach for that cure. I think it is respecting life to do it in an ethical way."

Bush said he decided to permit federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research on a limited number of existing cell lines because "science is important, but so is ethics. So is balancing life. To destroy life to save life is one of the real ethical dilemmas that we face."

He said the cell lines he approved for federally funded research already existed at the time of his announcement in 2001. "The embryo had already been destroyed prior to my decision," he said.


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