Thursday, May 20, 2004

A letter from 48 House Democrats was criticized yesterday by a Republican Catholic congressman and two Catholic activists for imploring Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to go easy on pro-choice Catholic politicians.

The letter, dated May 10, was sent by Reps. Nick Lampson of Texas and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut to Cardinal McCarrick because he is the head of a task force of bishops attempting to craft a policy on dealing with pro-choice Catholic politicians.

To date, four bishops have publicly forbidden pro-choice Catholic politicians from taking Communion in their dioceses and another 15 have suggested they refrain.

“Attempts by church leaders today to influence votes by the threat of withholding a sacrament will revive latent anti-Catholic prejudice,” the letter read. If bishops begin punishing Catholics for their abortion stance, “we are troubled by the possible consequences of proceeding down this road.”

“Both the Holy Father and members of the U.S. hierarchy have condemned the death penalty as well as the war in Iraq. Will an individual bishop decide to deny Communion to a legislator — Republican or Democrat — who has voted in favor of the death penalty [or] … who authorized the war in Iraq?”

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, called the letter a “smokescreen by Democrats.”

“Anyone who knows anything about Catholic theology knows you cannot equate abortion with the war in Iraq,” he said. “Abortion is always intrinsically evil but, as for war in Iraq, that involves prudential judgment. You have the moral right to make a decision on what is the best policy to follow.”

Many ethnic Catholics — Irish, Italians and Poles — support President Bush on social issues such as abortion as well as the war, Mr. King said, so the Democrats “want to confuse the issue and say they are Catholics while not acting as practicing Catholics.”

The issue has heated up in recent weeks. Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan said May 1 that even Catholics who vote for pro-choice politicians may not receive the sacrament. On May 2, Fargo, N.D., Bishop Samuel J. Aquila said in a sermon that pro-choice politicians who persist in taking Communion “risk the possibility of hell.”

The letter from the Democrats said it is “wrong for a bishop to deny the sacrament of Holy Communion to an individual on the basis of a voting record. We believe such an action would be counterproductive and would bring great harm to the church.”

A spokeswoman for Cardinal McCarrick said no date has been set for any meeting between House Democrats and task force members.

Deal Hudson, editor of the Catholic magazine Crisis and an adviser to the Bush administration, said the bishops who have taken on pro-choice Catholic politicians are simply doing their jobs.

“I applaud the bishops who are determined to defend the sanctity of our Eucharist,” he said. “It is high time they got serious about this issue.”

William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said church stances on moral issues should not be affected by the possibility of anti-Catholic prejudice and said the pro-choice Democrats were being hypocritical anyway.

“If the issue were segregation, would these Catholic Democrats rebuke those bishops who endorsed sanctions against pro-segregation lawmakers?” he asked. “Would they be counseling the bishops to shut up, lest they spark Catholic bashing?”

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