National Catholic Register


Vote 2008: The Shepherds Speak

Bishops Weigh in on Election


November 2-8, 2008 Issue | Posted 10/28/08 at 12:00 PM


WASHINGTON — The 2008 presidential campaigns will end Nov. 4 when the nation votes. But they will have seen an unprecedented activity by one very small group of American leaders: Catholic bishops.

Most have shared the attitude of Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu — that “one issue alone far outweighs all others: the right to life.”

In unusually strong language, bishops have denounced abortion and directed voters away from pro-abortion candidates — so much so that Americans United for Separation of Church and State has threatened to sue at least one bishop. According to USA Today, the group sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service accusing Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., of illegal partisanship for lambasting Obama’s support of abortion rights. (See related story on page 2.)

With the election just days away, the Register offers its own compilation of some of the strongest statements.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will discuss “the practical and pastoral implications of political support for abortion” at the bishops’ fall general assembly. But that will come after the election that pits a pro-abortion candidate, Barack Obama, against an anti-abortion candidate, John McCain.

Reading what individual bishops have been saying suggests the bishops’ document may be the strongest yet. Excerpts follow.

Abortion “continues to haunt and divide our society. … Roe v. Wade is a clear case of an ‘intrinsically unjust law’ we are morally obliged to oppose. … Reversing it is not a mere political tactic, but a moral imperative for Catholics and others who respect human life.”

— Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a joint statement Oct. 21.

“We cannot be mute on this premier civil rights issue of our day.”

— Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, speaking of abortion, in the Sept. 27 issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Recently, a politician made a promise. If this politician fulfills his promise, not only will many of our freedoms as Americans be taken from us, but the innocent and vulnerable will spill their blood.”

— Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., referring to Sen. Barack Obama, but calling him only the “present Democratic candidate for president,” in the Oct. 16 issue of The Beacon diocesan newspaper. Obama has promised to sign into law the proposed Freedom of Choice Act.

“‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,’” the U.S. bishops’ 2007 document on voting, “does not say that it is just fine to vote for a pro-abortion candidate as long as one votes for that candidate only because of his or her stand on other important social issues. Casting a vote, even for reasons other than the candidate’s pro-abortion position, is still casting a vote for the preservation of ‘a legal system which violates the basic right to life.’”

— Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Ore., in a column for the Oct. 21 issue of the Catholic Sentinel diocesan newspaper.

“There are no ‘truly grave moral’ or ‘proportionate’ reasons, singularly or combined, that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by legal abortion each year.”

Bishops Kevin Farrell of Dallas and Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, Texas, had a similar message in their Oct. 8 joint letter.

“A candidate’s promise of economic prosperity is insufficient to justify their constant support of abortion laws, including partial-birth abortion and infanticide for born-alive infants.” Voters’ “choices are as clear as the Scriptures themselves: ... ‘Choose life.’”

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., in a letter that was to be read at all Masses in the diocese Oct. 25-26.

“The decision I make in the voting booth will reflect my value system. If I value the good of the economy and my current lifestyle more than I do the right to life itself, then I am in trouble. ... My desire for a good economy cannot justify my voting to remove all current restrictions on abortion. My desire to end the war in Iraq cannot justify my voting to remove all current restrictions on abortion. When both candidates permit the right to abortion, but unequally so, we must choose to mitigate the evil by choosing the candidate who is less permissive of abortion.”

Bishop Robert Hermann, a St. Louis auxiliary who is apostolic administrator of the St. Louis Archdiocese, in the St. Louis Review Oct. 17.

“We would commit moral evil if we were to vote for a candidate who takes a permissive stand on those actions that are intrinsically evil where there is a morally acceptable alternative. What are we to do, though, when there is no such alternative? Because we have a moral obligation to vote, deciding not to vote at all is not ordinarily an acceptable solution to this dilemma. We should vote in such a way as to allow the least harm to innocent human life and dignity.”

Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Mich., in his “How Shall I Cast My Vote?” letter to parishioners.

Catholics “have a moral obligation to defend human life and dignity, to protect the poor and vulnerable, and to work for justice and peace” but stressed that “the intentional destruction of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia, is not just one issue among many. Catholic teaching does not treat all issues as morally equivalent. The protection of human life from conception until natural death is the preeminent obligation of a truly just society.”

The bishops of Pennsylvania in a joint statement.

“Abortion is not a ‘Catholic’ issue. It is a matter of fundamental human rights. In fact, I believe it is the foundational issue of our time. … A Catholic must be prepared to live and defend the truths that Christ came into this world to die for. A Catholic is duty-bound to ask: Is a candidate fit to hold office if he or she believes it should be legal to kill even a fully developed child in the last weeks of a pregnancy for undefined ‘health’ reasons? And again, can we accept candidates who support experimentation with the stem cells of human embryos, or cloning, or euthanasia? Can we make real progress on any of the critical issues that we face as a nation if we can’t agree to protect the smallest and most defenseless among us? To ask these questions isn’t to impose Catholic beliefs on other Americans. This is the political contribution that a morally mature people must make in a democracy. This is a bearing witness to the truths that Jesus has revealed to us — truths that, again, are enshrined in our country’s founding document. Catholics are obliged to seek leaders who have the courage to stand up for these truths.”

Archbishop José Gomez of San Antonio, in a column in Today’s Catholic diocesan newspaper Oct. 10.

“Another argument goes like this: ‘As wrong as abortion is, I don’t think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.’ This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns. Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences, as the recent financial crisis demonstrates. However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does. Being ‘right’ on taxes, education, health care, immigration and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life. Consider this: The finest health and education systems, the fairest immigration laws, and the soundest economy do nothing for the child who never sees the light of day.”

Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., in a pastoral letter for Respect Life Sunday, Oct. 5.

“Voting is a fundamentally moral act ... for which we will each be accountable before God.” The key to voting decisions is a conscience that is “formed and informed by the truth. Issues such as how to provide affordable health care or better education or how to conduct and conclude a war are issues that are open to principled debate. Life issues such as abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research are not in that category. These are simply wrong in every conceivable circumstance.”

Bishop James Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., in an Oct. 3 column in The Mirror diocesan newspaper.