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(c) Mary Griggs

There have been several pronouncements recently from American Catholic bishops on the upcoming election. As moral leaders, they do have an obligation to promote virtue and to prevent vice. But when they present their political views as grave matters of faith, however, I believe they are going beyond guiding their flock and getting dangerously close to violating the separation of church and state.

It started last year when Minnesota’s Roman Catholic bishops took the unusual step of urging parish priests across the state to form committees to help get the proposed marriage amendment passed by voters in 2012.

It is imperative that we marshal our resources to educate the faithful about the church’s teachings on these matters, and to vigorously organize and support a grass-roots effort to get out the vote to support the passage of this amendment,” Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote in a letter to his priests dated Oct. 4, 2011.

Then, Catholic Archbishop John J. Myers of New Jersey released a pastoral letter reminding the faithful that “we cannot define and redefine marriage to suit our personal tastes or goals.” He called gay relationships “degrading” and suggested that Catholics who support marriage equality should refrain from taking Communion at Mass, as they are “unable to assent to or live the Church’s teaching in these matters.

During the Democrat National Convention, there were two separate statements:

In a column and video posted by the official newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki called out the Democratic Party for temporarily removing God from their platform, supporting abortion and recognizing that “gay rights are human rights.”

There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils,” the bishop explained. “My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding ‘political’ and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins.

This is an interview with Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia:

We’re speaking on the night Barack Obama is delivering his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Let me ask flat-out: Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?


”I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.

I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom.”

Over the next few weeks the Catholic Bishops of Illinois will be distributing four bulletin inserts to provide guidance and reflection points for Catholics exercising their right to vote in the upcoming 2012 election. Here is what they have to say about it:

For the weeks of October 14 and 21 we will write one insert about the importance of evaluating a candidate’s position on public policy issues. The moral imperative to respond to the basic needs of our neighbors – such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work – is universally binding on our conscience, but may be legitimately fulfilled through a variety of means. Catholics should seek the best methods to respond to these needs. However, candidates who promise ways to address these important needs, yet at the same time gloss over their support for “intrinsically evil” actions such as abortion, will not receive the support of a person with a conscience well-formed by the Catholic faith or human reason.

Baltimore archbishop William E. Lori, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ new committee on religious liberty, at the Knights of Columbus annual convention in Anaheim, CA, advised Catholic voters: “The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.

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I’m not going to get into how much some of these bishops have abdicated their moral high ground with their failure to fundamentally change the structure of a church that rewarded covering up the sex-abuse scandal over protecting their parishioners.

I will point out that I’m not the only one who thinks the focus of the bishops on the above examples shows pretty skewed priorities on their part. That their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign to protest the Obama administration’s contraception mandate took place at the same time and in direct contrast to the Nuns on the Bus nationwide bus tour that focused the Catholic Church’s Gospel-driven mission of standing up for the poor only highlights the difference between those crusading for social justice and those who substitute papal edicts for the commands of Christ to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, tend the sick and visit the imprisoned.

Considering that U.S. Catholics support legalizing same-sex marriage at a higher rate the general population (and higher than most other religions) and that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control during their reproductive years, it seems to me that the bishops actions are going to lead to some pretty empty pews and to an increasingly disengaged congregation.

I’m not the only one who thinks the bishops have become the “cafeteria Catholics” that they rail against. I fear they are shrinking the broad catechism of the Church to narrow pelvic politics that do not reflect the essential teachings of Christ. Don’t take my word for it – read the final interview of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini for a high ranking leader’s critique of the church.

I implore the bishops to redirect the energy they spend obsessing about sex toward other grave social issues, such as war, poverty, health care access, economic justice, etc that inflict serious harm on the faithful.

Oh, and leaving the partisan campaigning out of the pulpit would be a good thing, too.

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