- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Some Roman Catholic priests and bishops have taken to social media to chide parishioners considering voting for Democrats, in general, and presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden, in particular, by reminding them of the church’s opposition to abortion.

Over Labor Day weekend, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, reanimated suggestions that Mr. Biden is not a faithful Catholic because the former vice president supports legal abortion.

“It really confuses me that both Joe Biden and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi time and time again state that they are faithful Catholics and yet promote unlimited abortion as well as deny so many of the teachings of our faith,” Bishop Stika tweeted.

Last week in a YouTube video, Father James Altman of St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin, denounced Mr. Biden over his pro-choice voting record when he represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate.

“Here is a memo to clueless baptized Catholics out there: You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat. Period,” Father Altman said.

And last month, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, observed on Twitter that 2020 marks the “[f]irst time in awhile that the Democratic ticket hasn’t had a Catholic on it” — a jab at Mr. Biden, an avowed Catholic who supports abortion rights.

Canon law forbids priests and members of religious orders from endorsing political candidates without the permission of their superiors. But the 2020 election season has lured clergy to their digital pulpits.

In a recent statement on church views and politics, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said: “As Catholics, we are each called to evaluate candidates for public office by how closely their policies align with Gospel principles, as expressed by the U.S. bishops in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility” is the conference’s 2015 guide for church leaders to teach parishioners how they can and should participate in politics and civil discourse. It does not advocate for any particular political party or movement.

Last month, Cardinal Sen Patrick O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston reminded parishioners that priests “may not endorse or oppose candidates for election or political parties” after Msgr. Paul Garrity, a priest in Lexington, Massachusetts, declared himself “pro-life” but in support of Mr. Biden’s candidacy.

In a statement to The Washington Times, La Crosse Bishop William Patrick Callahan said he had applied a “fraternal correction” to Father Altman, whose video message “comes off as angry and judgmental, lacking any charity and in a way that causes scandal both in the Church and in society.”

“Most people expect a decisive move from me, one way or another. Many suggest immediate penalties that will utterly silence him; others call for complete and unwavering support of his views,” Bishop Callahan said. “Canonical penalties are not far away if my attempts at fraternal correction do not work.”

Some Catholic leaders have expressed concern that clerical criticism of Democratic platform priorities extends too far, piercing the veil of individual conscience enjoyed by many Catholics in the voting booth.

In an online discussion Tuesday moderated by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, Stephen White said Catholics are often “looking for a silver bullet” to divine for them whom to support at the polls.

“Our bishops have wisely but also frustratingly refrained from answering that question,” said Mr. White, executive director of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America. “They’ve made us do the hard work that doesn’t boil down to some kind of political algorithm.”

Other Catholics have been more stinging in their criticism of support for President Trump. Last month, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, called the president “so much anti-life because he is only concerned about himself.”

John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, called out church leaders Wednesday for “distort[ing] centuries of Catholic teaching” by an over-emphasis on abortion.

“This partisan theology is being used to help re-elect a white nationalist who deploys fear to divide voters and puts his own power before the common good,” Mr. Gehring said in a written statement.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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