Friday, September 17, 2004

Abortion — not the war in Iraq — is the main issue for elected Catholic officials this year, several Catholic scholars said yesterday at the National Press Club.

“Is it possible to vote for any politician who persistently — publicly, defiantly and in the face of repeated pastoral efforts at reproach — continues to support Roe v. Wade?” asked the Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine, referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision. “Rome has made it clear that abortion is not one issue among others … it is intrinsically evil. That cannot be said of any other issue in mainstream U.S. politics today.”

The all-day conference, “Public Witness, Public Scandal,” sponsored by the Ave Maria School of Law and the Our Sunday Visitor Foundation, featured panelists who held opposing views on whether Democratic presidential nominee and Roman Catholic candidate Sen. John Kerry should be given a pass on his pro-choice opinions.

“One would have expected the [nation’s Catholic] bishops to maintain a low profile and hunker down” Father Neuhaus said, referring to the mood in the aftermath of a national sex-abuse scandal involving thousands of Catholic priests preying on boys.

“But it is a remarkable thing that in their [annual] June meeting in Denver, that quite the opposite … was chosen.”

A move at the Denver meeting to censure St. Louis Archbishop Raymond L. Burke — who in February ordered Mr. Kerry not to receive Communion in his diocese because of his pro-choice stance — was defeated “overwhelmingly,” the priest said.

The bishops were all set to lay down the law to politicians, he added, until they heard a speech from Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. He summarized a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal watchdog, on whether priests should refuse Communion to pro-choice politicians.

A bishop familiar with the meeting told The Washington Times that Cardinal McCarrick did not pass out copies of the letter.

“Had the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger been candidly shared with the bishops,” Father Neuhaus said, “which was not done but which he intended it should be … the statement would have been more lucid, more firm, more clear.”

The bishops ended voting 183-6 for a compromise statement allowing each bishop to decide within the bounds of his own diocese whether to give Communion to pro-choice politicians.

Cardinal McCarrick said at the time that he understood the letter, which was sent only to him and Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was not to be published.

Other speakers said Catholic prelates have overplayed their hand this year. Referring to “the bishops’ collective mishandling of the Communion issue,” author Kenneth Woodward called Archbishop Burke guilty of “grandstanding” and said such bishops “have put their clergy in an impossible pastoral position.”

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