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Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput criticized a group calling itself Roman Catholics for Obama and their misuse of comments he had made.
BY CHARLIE SPIERINGREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
DENVER — Archbishop Charles Chaput
of Denver chided a group called Roman Catholics for Obama ’08 for quoting him
out of context on voting for a pro-abortion candidate.
In a May 19 column on the website of
the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Chaput clarified his position and
challenged members to lobby for pro-life issues in the Democratic Party.
The controversy began after excerpts
from an earlier column were posted on the website romancatholicsforobama.com as
a possible solution to the “voting dilemma” of supporting Obama, whose
“position on abortion is in conflict with the vision of the Church.”
The group quoted Archbishop Chaput
saying, “Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if they vote for them
despite — not because of — their pro-choice views.”
Following the excerpts, the group
offered this assessment: “After faithful thought and prayer, we have arrived at
the conclusion that Senator Obama is the candidate whose views are most
compatible with the Catholic outlook, and we will vote for him because of that
— and because of his other outstanding qualities — despite our disagreements
with him in specific areas.”
In his column, Archbishop Chaput
admonished the group for the “incomplete” use of his statement, noting that
they omitted his challenge to find a “compelling proportionate reason” to
justify their vote.
Archbishop Chaput defined the
“compelling reason” as “the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a
clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the
next life,” noting that, “if we’re confident that these victims will accept our
motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.”
Although he questioned the group’s
motives, Archbishop Chaput used the incident as a chance to instruct Democrats,
offering a unique look at his own difficulty as a Catholic Democrat confronted
with the party’s support of abortion. He revealed that as a seminarian, he had
volunteered for Sen. Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968, and that
as a young priest he supported the presidential candidacy of Jimmy Carter.
“Carter the candidate waffled about
restricting” abortion, Archbishop Chaput wrote, but, “I believed he was right
on so many more of the ‘Catholic’ issues than his opponent seemed to be. The
moral calculus looked easy.”
After Carter lost his reelection
bid, the archbishop noted, “the belligerence, dishonesty and inflexibility of
the pro-choice lobby has stymied almost every effort to protect unborn human
He also watched as Catholics
faltered on the issue, noting that those who claimed to be “personally opposed”
to abortion failed to act. “For most, their personal opposition was little more
than pious hand-wringing and a convenient excuse — exactly as it is today.”
Archbishop Chaput also noted that
Catholics should work to change their candidate’s position.
“Changing the views of ‘pro-choice’
candidates takes a lot more than verbal gymnastics, good alibis, and pious talk
about ‘personal opposition’ to killing unborn children,” he wrote. “I’m sure
Roman Catholics for Obama know that, and I wish them good luck. They’ll need
Archbishop Chaput’s rebuke quickly
spread among the Roman Catholics for Obama e-mail listserv group, consisting of
about 200 members. Some members pointed out that in spite of the quote that was
taken out of context, a link to Archbishop Chaput’s full column was on the front
Following the May 19 column,
administrators updated the website to expand Archbishop Chaput’s quotation and
encouraged readers to read the full column.
John Sylvest from Louisiana posted a
response on the group’s blog. Although he stated that he was not a spokesman
for the group, he said he was the only “Bill Buckley conservative” in the
Sylvest wrote that it was important
to practice “another Catholic virtue” — “political realism” — and added, “I
won’t presume that I can change any pro-choice minds, at least, not any better
than our bishops can or have.”
He also suggested that voting for
Republicans had not changed the abortion issue.
“Reducing and eliminating abortions
takes a lot more than voting for ostensibly pro-life candidates and nominating
‘ostensibly’ pro-life justices or even turning things over to the states, where
the cumulative demographics are overwhelmingly stacked against us,” he added.
Other members of the group
complained that Archbishop Chaput sounded too much like a Republican: “Bishops
that take up the Republican talking points are doing it out of political
convenience,” wrote one member, “I don’t for one moment believe they are
“Alas,” wrote another member, “I’m
afraid that when Archbishop Chaput speaks, he speaks not for the hierarchy or
the magisterium, but for Karl Rove.”
Other members raised their concern
about the Iraq War.
“I would be curious as to the
archbishop’s citation to the definition of ‘proportionate reason’ as something
we will have to ‘explain’ to anyone in the next life other than God.” a member
wrote, “I haven’t heard his excellency articulate a similar standard for
support of the invasion of Iraq.”
The Catholic League, a Catholic
civil rights organization, stated that it was “misleading” for the group to put
Archbishop Chaput’s statement on their website.
“Taking the whole thing down would
make more sense,” Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications, said about
Archbishop Chaput’s letter. “Archbishop Chaput has been a very clear leader in
defending the culture of life, noting that abortion is a fundamental issue and
a very grave matter. I think that people familiar with his position know that
he wouldn’t be wishy-washy on this issue,” she said.
Democrats for Life
Kristen Day, executive director of
Democrats for Life, agreed with the archbishop’s call for action. If Obama is
the Democratic nominee, Day noted, “Democrats have to let Sen. Obama know that
he is the leader and he is representing the entire party and that people have
different opinions on abortion.”
Day added that it was important for
Democrats to remain the “big tent” party and make room for pro-life members.
Obama recently received the
endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“Maybe Roman Catholics for Obama
will do a better job at influencing their candidate,” wrote Archbishop Chaput.
“It could happen. And I sincerely hope it does, since Planned Parenthood of the
Chicago area, as recently as February 2008, noted that Sen. Barack Obama ‘has a
100% pro-choice voting record both in the U.S. Senate and the Illinois
Charlie Spiering is based in