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BISHOPS-ELECTION (UPDATED) Oct-22-2008 (1,500 words) Roundup. xxxn

U.S. bishops address abortion, '08 election in columns, statements

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the presidential election campaign drew to a close, some U.S. bishops urged Catholics not to base their votes on one issue alone, while others said no combination of issues could trump a candidate's stand on what Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan called the "premier civil rights issue of our day" -- abortion.

"When we are presented with candidates whose views do not reflect the full teachings of the church, what are we to do?" asked Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn., in his column for the Oct. 16 issue of The West Tennessee Catholic, the Memphis diocesan newspaper.

In response he quoted from a book by Oblate Father Ronald Rolheiser: "Perhaps the first witness we must give to our world is a witness to God's nonviolence, a witness to the God revealed by Jesus Christ who opposes violence of all kinds, from war, to revenge, to capital punishment, to abortion, to euthanasia, to the attempt to use force to bring about justice and God's will in any way."

In other words, Bishop Steib said, "we cannot be a one-issue people. We must recognize that God, through the church, is calling us to be prophetic in our own day. If our conscience is well-formed, then we will make the right choices about candidates who may not support the church's position in every case."

But Bishop Robert J. Hermann, a St. Louis auxiliary who is apostolic administrator of the St. Louis Archdiocese, writing in the St. Louis Review Oct. 17, said the choice was clear.

"The decision I make in the voting booth will reflect my value system," he said. "If I value the good of the economy and my current lifestyle more than I do the right to life itself, then I am in trouble. ... My desire for a good economy cannot justify my voting to remove all current restrictions on abortion. My desire to end the war in Iraq cannot justify my voting to remove all current restrictions on abortion."

Contrasting the judgment day of the election to the final judgment day in heaven, Bishop Hermann urged St. Louis Catholics to "pray your way into conformity with the teachings of Christ and his church."

Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore., in a column for the Oct. 21 issue of the Catholic Sentinel diocesan newspaper, warned against what he said were mistaken interpretations of the U.S. bishops' 2007 document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

"The document does not say, for instance, that it is just fine to vote for a pro-abortion candidate as long as one votes for that candidate only because of his or her stand on other important social issues," he wrote. "Casting a vote, even for reasons other than the candidate's pro-abortion position, is still casting a vote for the preservation of 'a legal system which violates the basic right to life.'"

He compared support for a candidate who wants to keep abortion legal to backing a candidate who vows to institute a program of genocide against a minority group or "an aggressive program of torture to root out crime, violence and terrorism in this country."

"Just as a vote for a genocidal maniac is a vote for genocide and a vote for the avowed torturer is a vote for torture ... so a vote for a promoter of abortion, when there is another less evil alternative, is a vote for abortion," Bishop Vasa said.

Similarly Archbishop Dolan wrote in the Sept. 27 issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper that many see abortion not as "a theological matter but a civil rights one."

Responding to a Journal Sentinel letter writer who had accused the U.S. bishops of "meddling" in politics for correcting Catholic politicians who had misinterpreted church teaching on abortion, the Milwaukee leader said the writer was wrong "in implying that bishops are out of bounds in clarifying the truth of their faith on this issue."

"We cannot be mute on this premier civil rights issue of our day," he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles, in an Oct. 9 talk at Seattle University on the 25th anniversary of the U.S. bishops' pastoral letter on war and peace, criticized a one-issue view of Catholic social teaching.

"In the polarization that goes on in the heated electoral period, the Catholic vote often gets characterized as concerned solely on abortion," he said.

"Life issues go from the womb to the tomb," Bishop Zavala added. "All life is precious, and the fact is that life is being crushed out also by poverty, violence and war -- all spiraling out of control. Life does not end at birth."

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., focused his Oct. 16 column in The Beacon diocesan newspaper on the proposed Freedom of Choice Act, which has been co-sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president.

"Recently a politician made a promise," he wrote. "If this politician fulfills his promise, not only will many of our freedoms as Americans be taken from us, but the innocent and vulnerable will spill their blood."

Although he did not mention Obama by name, Bishop Serratelli said "the present Democratic candidate for president" promised the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in a speech last year that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act in his first act as president.

"Today, either we choose to respect and protect life, especially the life of the child in the womb of the mother, or we sanction the loss of our most basic freedoms," he said. "At this point, we are still free to choose."

Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., also mentioned the Freedom of Choice Act in a letter that was to be read at all Masses Oct. 25-26 in the diocese.

"A candidate's promise of economic prosperity is insufficient to justify their constant support of abortion laws, including partial-birth abortion, and infanticide for born-alive infants," he said. "Promotion of the Freedom of Choice Act is a pledge to eliminate every single limit on abortions achieved over the last 35 years."

Quoting the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, Bishop Finn said voters' "choices are as clear as the Scriptures themselves: ... 'Choose life.'" He said he would celebrate an "eve of the election Mass" Nov. 3 to "pray for God's assistance and Mary's maternal aid."

Another Catholic leader in Missouri, Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, reminded readers of his Oct. 3 column in The Mirror diocesan newspaper that "voting is a fundamentally moral act ... for which we will each be accountable before God." He said the key to voting decisions is a conscience that is "formed and informed by the truth."

"Issues such as how to provide affordable health care or better education or how to conduct and conclude a war are issues that are open to principled debate," Bishop Johnston said. "Life issues such as abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research are not in that category. These are simply wrong in every conceivable circumstance."

In a five-page pastoral letter issued Oct. 16, Bishop Paul S. Coakley of Salina, Kan., said Catholic voters have both "a positive duty to contribute to the common good" and an obligation to oppose evils such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, torture, racism and the targeting of noncombatants.

"We have not exhausted our responsibility merely by being passionately committed to one aspect of the church's moral or social teaching," he said.

But "to vote for a candidate who supports an intrinsic evil, such as abortion, would require the presence of proportionate moral reasons for ignoring such a flaw," Bishop Coakley said. "When considering the death of 45 million children destroyed by abortion since 1973, this may be easier to conceive in theory than to discover in actual practice."

Bishops Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas and Kevin W. Vann of Fort Worth, Texas, had a similar message in their Oct. 8 joint letter.

"There are no 'truly grave moral' or 'proportionate' reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year," they said.

"We cannot make more clear the seriousness of the overriding issue of abortion -- while not the 'only issue' -- it is the defining moral issues, not only today, but of the last 35 years," the Texas bishops said.

A joint statement from the bishops of Pennsylvania urged Catholics to vote "after they have formed their consciences in accord with right reason and church teaching."

They said Catholics "have a moral obligation to defend human life and dignity, to protect the poor and vulnerable, and to work for justice and peace" but stressed that "the intentional destruction of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia, is not just one issue among many."

"Catholic teaching does not treat all issues as morally equivalent," they said. "The protection of human life from conception until natural death is the pre-eminent obligation of a truly just society."


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