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 CNS Story:

BISHOPS-MCCARRICK Jun-19-2006 (1,010 words) xxxn

Cardinal McCarrick warns against partisan politics within church

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick sharply warned the U.S. bishops June 15 that "the intense polarization and bitter battles of partisan politics may be seeping into (the) broader ecclesial life of our Catholic people and maybe even of our (bishops') conference."

The cardinal made his comment at the end of his final report on the work of the bishops' Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, which he headed for the past three years.

He noted that it would likely be his last talk to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an official capacity, since Pope Benedict XVI recently accepted his resignation as archbishop of Washington. He was still an active USCCB member at the time of the bishops' June 15-17 meeting in Los Angeles because he remained apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until the installation of his successor, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, the following week.

On polarization within the church he said: "We are called to teach the truth, to correct errors and to call one another to greater faithfulness. However, there should be no place in the body of Christ for the brutality of partisan politics, the impugning of motives, or turning differences in pastoral judgment into fundamental disagreements on principle.

"Civility and mutual respect which we must witness are not signs of weakness or lack of commitment, but solid virtues which reflect confidence and faith.

"We don't fit the partisan categories," he continued. "We are not chaplains of factions, but rather builders of genuine unity reflecting the truth of our faith and the diversity of our community. People can divide up the work, but they shouldn't divide the church."

The task force was heavily criticized in some U.S. Catholic quarters for its insistence that there can be no hard-and-fast national rule forbidding Catholic politicians from receiving Communion if they adopt public policy stands that are in opposition to church teaching on fundamental moral issues such as abortion or euthanasia or same-sex marriage.

Instead, the task force said it is up to each bishop to seek to educate and persuade Catholic politicians on church teachings in such areas and to make case-by-case pastoral decisions whether certain members of their diocese should be told not to present themselves for Communion.

Cardinal McCarrick said his role on the task force was one of the most challenging he faced in nearly 30 years as a bishop.

"This is not about one election or one campaign," he said. "It is about how we as bishops faithfully fulfill our responsibilities as moral teachers, as caring pastors and as leaders of the Catholic community within a democratic and pluralistic nation."

He said as a result of the task force's work, the USCCB recently "published, with the approval of the Holy See, the first comprehensive book of 'Readings on Catholics and Political Life.'"

The book is being given to every Catholic member of Congress "and many bishops are using it as a basis for formation and dialogue at the local level. ... Many episcopal conferences of other nations have asked for copies," he said.

Cardinal McCarrick said in preparing to address the issues involved, the task force consulted with other bishops about their policies and practices, with moral theologians and church law experts, with leaders of state Catholic conferences and retired Catholic politicians, with other episcopal conferences and with the Holy See, which was "both sympathetic and supportive of our efforts."

He said at the task force's recommendation, the bishops' doctrinal committee "is working on the specific matter of church teaching on the proper disposition to receive holy Communion, not only for politicians, but for all of us."

He said the task force has met with Catholic members of both parties in the House and Senate. "These meetings were candid and respectful exchanges on how Catholic faith and teaching should shape the actions of Catholics in public office," he said.

He added that the task force, which would end its work with a final meeting that night, would offer suggestions to the bishops on how to continue such dialogues with Catholic politicians at the state and local levels.

Noting that a number of Catholic members of Congress have requested more specifically Catholic gatherings on Capitol Hill, he said the task force has recommended "that the USCCB host periodic education/formation sessions on Catholic teaching." The first such session "is being held next Tuesday," June 20, and about 40 senators and representatives have said they plan to attend, he said.

He said the task force has also hosted consultations with leaders in Catholic health care, education and charities on the bishops' policy of not giving Catholic "awards, honors or platforms" that would suggest support for actions that " fundamentally contradict Catholic teaching."

Cardinal McCarrick emphasized that no national task force or other agency "can take the place of vital, principled, candid and respectful relationships between a bishop and Catholic public officials who live and serve in his diocese."

"One crucial and perhaps obvious point in this dialogue with Catholic political leaders is that we are not just another constituent or community leader, we are their pastors and teachers," he said. "Our concern is not politics, not just particular policies, but their faith and even their salvation. These dialogues are not about winning votes, but saving souls."

Following his closing remarks about his fear that the church may be descending into a politics of partisanship and polarization in its internal life, Cardinal McCarrick ended with a comment that "we need more, not fewer Catholics in political life, more 'faithful citizens' fundamentally committed to the defense of human life and working to apply the church's option for the poor, our teaching on family, our principles on war and peace and our call to welcome the stranger."

He said it was his hope that the heightened attention to the topic of Catholic political responsibilities "will lead our community of faith to be more united and more engaged, more effective and more consistent" in bringing Catholic teaching on human life, dignity and social responsibility into the political sphere.

END


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