National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
October 29, 2004

Letters Bishops, abortion and voting

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput (Letters, NCR, Oct. 1) continues to insist that there is no proportionate reason that would allow a “serious” Catholic to vote for a candidate who actively supports abortion unless it were to defeat an even more ardent supporter of abortion. In flippant moments I want to say, “I see no proportionate reason that would allow a ‘serious’ bishop to be so simplistic about the complexity of the democratic political process.” But this is no time for flippancy. The sad irony is that such statements so marginalize the Catholic voice that even the key issue of reducing abortions is not helped by them but is actually hurt.

The mistake is the failure to distinguish between strong public discourse on moral issues (yes!) and trying to sway Catholic voting (no!). Speak as moral leaders, but trust the Spirit of God at work in adult Catholics. To imply that a “serious” or “good” or “well-informed” Catholic must vote or cannot vote in a certain way is misguided, perceived as arrogant by many and makes the work of pastors and pastoral leaders all that much more difficult.

Washington, Mich.

* * *

As a guide to form one’s moral conscience, it is helpful to read the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement on political involvement. The document can be found at

Champaign, Ill.

* * *

The voter guidelines offered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recognize a diversity of opinions and issues that may affect our vote. But abortion constitutes such a grave “moral danger” that it “trumps” all others. The bishops follow Vatican statements that prohibit us from voting for any policy or policymaker “that legalizes the deliberate killing of innocent human beings.”

Some politicians deceptively get around this by voting “pro-life” on abortion bills but voting “pro-abortion” when it comes to confirming judges. They know that activist pro-abortion judges will rule pro-life legislation unconstitutional. We change this abortion policy by changing judges. We change judges by changing the politicians who would confirm them.

San Lorenzo, Calif.

* * *

With some dismay, I read John Allen’s assessment about “how the Vatican might vote” (NCR, Oct. 15). What a waste of words on a page! Speculation of this sort is hardly productive. It makes no sense to stir the pot further and muddy the waters by speculating how the Vatican “might” vote. It won’t and it doesn’t matter. What matters is the mess among American Catholics where subjectivity appears to be more common than objective critical thought and reasoning.

Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis has been clear and succinct in his analysis regarding candidates who support abortion and a host of other issues. When one examines the histories of the presidential candidates, one can conclude, in the light of truth, that only one, a non-Catholic, holds dearer to his heart what God values more than any other.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick made a great point when he noted that without life, there is no point in debating other, though important, issues like social justice, immigration and ecumenism. Without life, there is no humanity. We Catholics are so confused in our reasoning that we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Casper, Wyo.

* * *

Apparently church leaders such as Archbishop Chaput, who can imagine “no ‘proportionate reason’ that would allow a [serious] Catholic to vote for a candidate who actively supports the right to kill an unborn child,” have developed their own hierarchy of the value of life. Such a position holds that the lives of innocent children, women and men killed in intentional, unnecessary, violent and unjust military conflict are less valuable than innocent unborn children terminated by abortion; that the life of a criminal is less valuable than an aged, terminally ill person with an irreversible medical condition; that people starving to death because of unjust policies, unequal distribution of wealth and absence of worldwide response are less valuable than children of the affluent.

The basis for our belief in the value and dignity of each and every human life is founded upon the church’s teaching that each and every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, not upon the sins or virtues of the individual person. In this sense all life in the eyes of God is of equal value and the unjust taking of any life is equally immoral.

Marquette, Mich.

Bush not pro-life

I am so angry I can hardly breathe. I am a Catholic and I just read an article in The New York Times that showed that Archbishop Chaput, Bishop Michael J. Sheridan, Archbishop John J. Meyers, Bishop Gabino Zavala and Fr. Frank Pavone, to name a few, are allowing themselves to be used by the Bush campaign as pawns to get him reelected. Here is a man who is a strong supporter of the death penalty. Here is a man who is responsible for thousands of deaths in an illegal, trumped-up war in Iraq. He doesn’t give two hoots about the pro-life movement, and if the Catholic church allows itself to be used by this man, then it might just as well take out an ad on the front page of every newspaper in the United States saying that it supports the Antichrist.


* * *

I am perplexed that some Catholic bishops claim that George W. Bush is pro-life. To such bishops I can only say that I believe they are guilty of what is called in moral theology “culpable ignorance.”

George W. Bush has allowed an estimated 4 to 6 million abortions during his nearly four years as president. Are these bishops so naive that all a candidate for president has to do is say he or she is pro-life, no matter what he or she does after that?

George W. Bush has done nothing to reverse Roe v. Wade, nor will he if he is reelected. He will, however, continue his efforts to establish his empire.


* * *

George Bush a man of God? How quickly we forget. Back in 2002-03, in the weeks leading up to the Iraq war, church leaders from many faiths, including Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama and bishops from Bush’s own church called a war on Iraq immoral and entreated the president to let inspections work. Political leaders from around the world as well as large numbers of individuals in the United States begged the president to go slowly. Even many top military advisers and Bush’s own father urged caution. President Bush did not listen. Instead he ordered U.S. troops to rain down a shock and awe bombing campaign on a nation the size of California. More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have died, and over 10,000 Iraqis, many of them women and children whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the carnage is far from over.

George Bush will have to make his personal peace with God, however that may be, but clearly George W. Bush is not a pro-life president.

Dubois, Ind.

Kerry not pro-life

“The hard truth is that when it comes to stem cell research, this president is making the wrong choice to sacrifice science for extreme right-wing ideology” (Sen. John Kerry at a rally in New Hampshire Oct. 4).

As a pro-life Democrat, I am doing everything within my power to express my opposition to the Kerry-Edwards ticket because I believe their vision for America does not include a speck of respect for the one, true living God. Both Sen. Kerry and John Edwards have a consistent voting record in favor of abortion on demand during a woman’s entire pregnancy. Sen. Kerry, a Catholic, has stubbornly refused to obey church teaching on respect for life and continues to receive holy Eucharist at Mass despite his bishop’s request that he refrain until he has brought himself into communion with the church.

On the subject of embryonic stem cell research, Sen. Kerry has made a bold proclamation in direct opposition to the teaching of his Catholic faith. The “extreme right-wing ideology” to which he refers in the above quotation is his very own church!

We think there are many registered Democrats who are gravely distressed by the pro-abortion, pro-embryonic stem cell research position of current Democratic Party leadership. Democrats for Life of America is living proof that there are Democrats who believe in a consistent ethic of life from fertilization to natural death.

In order to change what the Holy Father has labeled this “culture of death” in America, it will take both pro-life Republicans and pro-life Democrats to enact laws that reflect the sacredness of human life.

Lake Worth, Fla.

Valerie Mierzwa is president of Florida Democrats for Life of America.

* * *

In the second debate between President Bush and Sen. Kerry, the senator said, “I’m a Catholic and I served as an altar boy,” and then went on to say that basically he supports abortion, embryonic stem cell research and abortion for minors without parental consent.

Now, Sen. Kerry can say that he is Catholic, but words mean nothing if actions don’t follow. Sen. Kerry has repeatedly voted against the culture of life and against Catholic teachings. He has voted six times against the banning of the brutal and barbaric procedure known as partial-birth abortion.

If Sen. Kerry won’t protect the most defenseless of us, what makes the American people think he will protect the rest of us? If he goes against the teachings of his own faith and yet still claims that faith as his own, can he be trusted to be true to his word to the American people?

Dillsburg, Pa.

* * *

John Kerry says that even though he is Roman Catholic and that abortion is considered gravely immoral by his church, it would be wrong for him to let his faith influence his position that a woman has a right to abortion. He says it would be wrong for him to impose his faith on others.

But his church also considers stealing immoral. If he is consistent, he then should say that stealing should be legal, that he can’t impose his faith’s position against stealing on others. That is one indication of how absurd Sen. Kerry’s values are.

Here is another. Sen. Kerry says “discrimination” against homosexuals is wrong and has come out in favor of civil unions for homosexuals. However, he apparently thinks “discrimination” against homosexuals is OK as he is against homosexual marriage.

How did such a simple-minded person earn the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidency? Is that the best the Democrats have to offer?

Woodridge, Ill.

Unworthy candidates

Having undergone a stem cell transplant two and a half years ago, I am extremely sensitive to the ongoing debate about politicians supporting abortion and embryonic stem cell research. However, having an 18-year-old son who could end up drafted because of President Bush’s deception and warmongering, I must look at this issue also. The bishops seem to have a selective moral code. There is no way they should be in essence endorsing Bush after what he has started in Iraq. We are quite possibly looking at the start of World War III thanks to his immoral invasion and occupation. The bishops should be calling for an immediate takeover of Iraq by an international force. But they dare not because it would make Bush look bad.

If Bush is their idea of a moral leader, it is no wonder the church is having the problems it is. In my mind a strong case can be made that neither candidate is worthy of election.

Saginaw, Mich.

* * *

I am a 64-year-old voter, and for the first time in my life I do not want to vote for either presidential offering.

As a veteran, I find Sen. Kerry repulsive. President Bush, however, has gotten so used to lying to the people of this country that he and his can no longer tell the truth about such a little item as the black box concealed in the back of his suit coat at the debate.

Edgerton, Mo.

Non-Catholic citizens

There has been so much talk recently on religious values of the presidential candidates in the current electoral campaign. John Kerry, as a Catholic, wisely does not want to impose the moral teachings of his church on nonbelievers and members of other religious communities in our nation who may not accept the Catholic position on abortion. Although he personally disagrees, as a public servant he respects the decision of the Supreme Court on the matter.

Analogously, we can be hopeful that any future presidential candidate who might be a member of the Jehovah’s Witness or Christian Science faiths would not seek to impose a national ban on blood transfusions or hospital surgical procedures, which are elements of religious thinking regarding health care for those religious communities.

Separation of religious practice and doctrine from political life seems particularly wise for all concerned in our country that represents so many different faiths and beliefs.

De Pere, Wis.

* * *

The concerted effort of conservative bishops in the Roman Catholic church to persuade Roman Catholics to vote a particular way is offensive to those of us who are not Roman Catholic.

First of all, these bishops are indicating that the Catholic church should dictate what are the most critical issues facing America rather than letting Americans decide what these issues are for themselves. Secondly, this effort to help get George Bush reelected is exactly why those of us who are not Catholics -- I come from a Protestant and Quaker family -- are both suspicious and afraid of Roman Catholicism. Third, it is appalling that the Roman Catholic church reveals through the teachings of these bishops that it cannot see past its obsession with sexual reproduction issues. This is a world of terrorism, global warming and terrible wars and their consequences. To many of us, there are many issues to consider.

A little humility would suit the Catholic church well and fit better with the spirit of Christ than the teachings of conservative bishops.

At this point, I can only conclude that Roman Catholics do not believe in leading the flock but in beating it into submission.

This is not what Christ taught.

New York

The environment

Leif Berngaard, a climatologist at the Swedish Environmental Protection agency, said, “It is absolutely necessary to have a broader climate agreement where also the United States, especially, and Australia are taking part.”

“178 nations sign climate accord; the U.S. only looks on,” said the July 24, 2001, New York Times. Island nations are pondering legal action against the largest generator of carbon dioxide that refuses to reduce the gas that leads to global warming.

During the first debate between John Kerry and George Bush there was just one reference to the treaty on global warming. President Bush opted to ignore that point, knowing he would diminish himself further as a world figure.

“The Semmelweis Reflex” flows from the teaching of Dr. Ignatz Semmelweis (1818-1850), who insisted that his cohorts wash their hands after treating a sick person. The doctors thought he was mentally ill for such a simple admonition. Sadly, Semmelweis did end up in an institution. He lost his stability because of seemingly intelligent doctors who denied his conclusion. It took 40 years for the hand-washing teaching to be accepted.

We do not have 40 years to dawdle.

Lafayette, La.

Observations of an outsider

Latin American politicians often use religion to advance their political standing. Some years ago, a municipal candidate had himself filmed in front of one of our chapels under construction, promising to build Catholic churches in every neighborhood were he elected. Worse, brutal dictators like Hugo Banzer and Augusto Pinochet were outwardly very religious. Perhaps they sincerely believed their murderous policies were divinely sanctioned, but such obvious lack of discernment amounts to taking God’s name in vain, as the accompanying persecution of prophetic church leaders made clear.

Outside the United States, there is a generally held consensus among Catholic bishops (including the pope) that the present U.S.-led war in Iraq is indeed morally wrong and intrinsically evil, not to mention counterproductive and massively destructive, and that it has been legitimized by taking God’s name in vain as well as by deliberately lying about the terrorist threat.

Can you vote for that with a pro-life conscience and still receive holy Communion?

Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy; grant peace.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Politics and the poor

I’m lucky. I go to church in a parish where the needs of the poor are considered important. The church feeds 300 daily.

But a friend of mine is not so fortunate. His pastor recently gave the sermon about things that are nonnegotiable in this election. His solution: He and some of his friends have decided to lower their weekly envelope to just one dollar, with a note -- “Rest to the Kerry Campaign.” They have also pledged, if President Bush is elected, to continue this, but with a note, “Rest to the poor and needy,” until the Bush team is out of office.

Portland, Ore.

The war on terror

In attacking Sen. Kerry, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are displaying that they, not Sen. Kerry, do not understand the larger war on terror. They are so wrapped up in the Iraq war that they cannot recognize the greater reality that terrorism will never be completely eliminated.

The 9/11 attacks overshadow the fact that the other recent acts of terrorism, the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bombing and the anthrax mail attacks, were all perpetrated by American citizens. The United States could conquer every country in the world and it wouldn’t remove the threat because it still exists at home.

So what are the long-term prospects for the war on terror? Given that we will never be able to completely eliminate terrorism, what are our long-term goals? Thirty years from now I don’t want my children to live in a world where their daily lives are dominated by the fear of terrorism. No. I want what Kerry said. I want my children to live a life where terrorism, while impossible to eliminate, isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.

New York

Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words and preferably typed. If a letter refers to a previous issue of NCR, please give us that issue’s date. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Letters, National Catholic Reporter, P.O. Box 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141. Fax: (816) 968-2280. E-mail: Please be sure to include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number.

National Catholic Reporter, October 29, 2004