The New York Times reports today on the growing partisan political involvement of Roman Catholic bishops who are using their church offices to organize efforts to support George W. Bush:
For Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic prelate in Colorado, there is only one way for a faithful Catholic to vote in this presidential election, for President Bush and against Senator John Kerry.
"The church says abortion is a foundational issue,'' the archbishop explained to a group of Catholic college students gathered in a sports bar here in this swing state on Friday night. He stopped short of telling them whom to vote for, but he reminded them of Mr. Kerry's support for abortion rights. And he pointed out the potential impact his re-election could have on Roe v. Wade…..
Catholic prelates have publicly clashed with Catholic Democrats like former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York and Geraldine A. Ferraro, the former representative and vice-presidential candidate.
But never before have so many bishops so explicitly warned Catholics so close to an election that to vote a certain way was to commit a sin.
Less than two weeks ago, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis issued just such a statement. Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark have both recently declared that the obligation to oppose abortion outweighs any other issue.
Not all Catholics agree and polls have shown that Catholic voters, like the rest of the country, are nearly evenly divided between the two candidates.
Liberal Catholics contend that the church has traditionally left weighing the issues to the individual conscience. Late in the campaign, these Catholics have begun to mount a counterattack, belatedly and with far fewer resources.
In diocesan newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, they are buying advertisements with the slogan "Life Does Not End at Birth." Organizers of the campaign say it is supported by 200 Catholic organizations, among them orders of nuns and brothers.
"We are looking at a broader picture, a more global picture," said Bishop Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles who is president of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace group that initiated the statement. "If you look at the totality of issues as a matter of conscience, someone could come to the decision to vote for either candidate."
Pax Christi USA is not an official body of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of their members are certainly pro-life but they are asking voters to consider all the issues. That is appropriate and good advice.
This picture is one that I took outside of John Kerry’s rally here in St. Louis after the last presidential debate. It shows seminary students protesting Kerry’s position on abortion. I’m the last person who would ever criticize the right of religious leaders to express their own personal political beliefs. However, separation of church and state is a fundamentally important Constitutional principle and churches (like all non-profits) are prohibited from engaging in partisan political campaigns. It seems clear that some Catholic leaders are doing just that on behalf of Bush and that church resources are being used to pay for it. You have to ask why only pro-choice democrats are being targeted while pro-choice republicans are ignored. A Justice Department investigation would seem to be in order. Unfortunately, we have an attorney general who clearly doesn’t hold the Constitution in high regard.