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BISHOPS-POLITICS Oct-25-2004 (990 words) Roundup. xxxn

Bishops explain their views on election issues as Nov. 2 approaches

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With the elections less than two weeks away, Catholic bishops took to the pages of secular and Catholic newspapers to explain their views on the key issues facing voters.

While Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver and Bishop Bernard W. Schmitt of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., focused on abortion as the most important moral issue of the day, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit said the policies of President George W. Bush were "in opposition to a culture of life" despite his stand on abortion.

Bishop Kenneth A. Angell of Burlington, Vt., noted in a letter read at all Masses in Vermont Oct. 23-24 that there is "no perfect being in humanity ... no perfect politician ... no perfect leader." But he said Catholic politicians and voters both have a responsibility to learn the truth taught by the church and not to distort Catholic teaching.

Comments by Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago in a recent edition of his archdiocesan newspaper centered on the church's response to Catholic politicians who support abortion. He said he had not directed anyone to refuse Communion to those politicians "because I believe it would turn the reception of holy Communion into a circus here."

Archbishop Chaput's comments on "Faith and Patriotism" in an Oct. 22 op-ed piece for The New York Times were similar to those he has made in earlier talks, columns and interviews.

He criticized those who say Catholics "must not impose their beliefs on society" and who warn about the need for separation of church and state, saying that "we should recognize these slogans for what they are: frequently dishonest and ultimately dangerous sound bites."

"People who support permissive abortion laws have no qualms about imposing their views on society," Archbishop Chaput wrote. "Why should the rules of engagement be different for citizens who oppose those laws?"

The Denver leader said Catholics, whether voters or politicians, "are doubly unfaithful -- both to our religious convictions and to our democratic responsibilities -- if we fail to support the right to life of the unborn child."

"Our duties to social justice by no means end there," he said. "But they do always begin there because the right to life is foundational."

Bishop Schmitt, in a letter to Catholics made public Oct. 20, called abortion "the greatest moral evil of our age" and said it is "so grave and profound an evil that it calls all men and women of good will to action."

"In light of that truth, a Catholic who deliberately votes for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion is guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil," he said.

"When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, such an action can only be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons," Bishop Schmitt said. "I cannot think of a value to put on innocent human life and the right to life; others, in conscience, may be able to."

Bishop Gumbleton, writing in the Oct. 20 op-ed section of the Detroit Free Press, said that if Bush were to visit Detroit's inner city he would meet "many men, women and children who have dramatically experienced the effects of his policies."

"When Bush travels the country, he often says that he stands 'for a culture of life in which every person counts and every being matters,'" the bishop wrote. "These words resonate deeply with Catholics. But is Bush's agenda really the Catholic agenda?"

Citing the president's policies on the Iraqi war, capital punishment, health insurance, jobs and poverty, Bishop Gumbleton said Catholics must "call on Bush to account for a deeply troubling record."

"And we must also challenge Democrats to embrace the entire culture of life, not just a selective economic and social agenda," he added, calling the 2004 elections a choice from among "imperfect candidates."

"What we will not do is vote for a candidate just because he uses words that we like to hear, remembering, as Scripture tells us, that we must be 'doers of the word and not hearers only,'" Bishop Gumbleton said.

Bishop Angell's letter, which was also published in the Oct. 22 issue of The Vermont Catholic Tribune, Burlington's diocesan newspaper, quoted extensively from the U.S. bishops' document, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility."

"How do we imperfect human beings recognize the truth and apply it to our responsibility to vote, to choose between two imperfect candidates, especially when it seems both are infringing on life in one way or another?" he asked.

"We must tirelessly hone our judgments, inform our consciences and measure each person, politician or platform according to how close they come to living the way, speaking the truth, and respecting and protecting life," Bishop Angell said.

The bishop urged "prominent figures who profess the Catholic faith" to take "great care to lead, not mislead, the faithful on any and all respect-life issues."

"Public statements and opinions which distort Catholic Church teachings can confuse the faithful, cause them great pain and promote disunity within the church," he added.

Cardinal George, in his column for the Oct. 10-23 edition of The Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper, revisited the question of whether Catholic politicians who support keeping abortion legal should receive Communion, saying that such a decision should be left to a politician's pastor after discussions between the two.

"A firm case can be made that refusing Communion, after pastoral counseling and discussion, is a necessary response to the present scandal," he wrote. "Some bishops have made that case. If I haven't made it in this archdiocese, it's primarily because I believe it would turn the reception of holy Communion into a circus here."

Saying that the Eucharist is "our highest, most perfect, form of worship of God," Cardinal George said it "should be manipulated by no one, for any purpose."


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