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

WASHINGTON – As the presidential election campaign was drawing 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.”

“Pray the family rosary daily between now and Election Day so that you may not only make the right choice but also have the courage to discuss these issues with others who may have been misled by our materialistic culture,” he said.

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 supports keeping 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.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.