Can antiabortion Catholics support Obama? Some do.
Several conservative bishops counter that candidates’ stands on abortion should be the litmus test.
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A few conservative bishops have attacked the efforts to broaden the agenda and support abortion-rights candidates. A former St. Louis archbishop, now working in Rome, charged that Democrats risked becoming “a party of death.”
Bishop Joseph Martino of the Scranton Diocese interrupted a church forum to say that abortion was the only issue of concern and that his teaching as the local bishop superseded the US bishops’ guidance. He also threatened to refuse Communion to vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden if he came to Scranton, Pa., where he grew up.
“Simply put, he has a different prudential judgment about how to apply church teachings to public policy,” says Chris Korzen, who heads Catholics United. “The bishops acknowledge they don’t speak with the same authority on political matters as on moral matters.”
Indeed, church policy says church leaders are to inform the consciences of Catholics but not to instruct them how to vote nor get involved in politics. It’s up to lay Catholics to express those values in political action.
Most bishops are doing their best to stay out of the spotlight during the campaign. Many Catholics, however, would like them to rein in their outspoken colleagues, who they feel have crossed a line into partisanship. Some have called on bishops not to violate their own guidelines.
“A few bishops and prelates have come dangerously close to making implicit political endorsements by telling Catholics that abortion trumps all other moral issues and lashing out against the Democratic party,” writes Lisa Sowle Cahill, professor of theology at Boston College, in the National Catholic Reporter. “When clergy mistake their role as pastors and spiritual teachers by making tacit endorsements, a tenuous line has been crossed.”
At the same time, conservative Catholic Deal Hudson, a Republican adviser, charges that if Obama wins with the help of Catholics, the bishops’ own guidance will be to blame, providing “the escape clauses needed to convince Catholics they could vote for a pro-abortion candidate in ‘good conscience.’ ”
Catholics, who are 25 percent of the US population, have long been pivotal in presidential elections. Since 1972, they’ve chosen Republicans five times and Democrats four times and always sided with the top vote-getter.
This year, conservative and progressive groups have issued competing voting guides, and the two political campaigns are avidly wooing swing voters.
In Pennsylvania, a battleground state, two sets of Catholics fit that category – working-class Democrats from culturally conservative families and well-to-do suburbanites, says G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
“Catholics are a higher proportion in this state than in others, about 35 percent, and if you win the Catholic vote, you’re likely to win Pennsylvania,” he says, “and the nation.”