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An open letter to the bishop


Dear Bishop Sheridan, I read your "Pastoral letter to the Catholic Faithful of the Diocese of Colorado Springs on the duties of Catholic politicians and voters" last week and I thought that I would respond.

I'm not a Catholic; I was raised an Episcopalian, or, as you might understand it, a schismatic Catholic, a product of Henry VIII's decision to reject papal authority over the English church. Our rituals and beliefs, as you know, are not dissimilar.

In your letter, you restate the church's clear and consistent positions against abortion, against euthanasia, against stem cell research that makes use of aborted babies, and against same-sex marriage. And you forcefully state the church's corollary position, that Catholic politicians who promote contrary views, and Catholics who vote for them, "place themselves out side the full communion of the Church, and may not receive Holy Communion."

Do you remember, Bishop, back in 1960, when many Americans were concerned that Sen. John F. Kennedy, if elected president, would take orders from the Vatican? And now it appears that you're worried that Sen. John F. Kerry, if elected, won't take orders from the Vatican. We've come full circle, I guess ...

To be uncompromisingly pro-life is morally and intellectually defensible. But, as the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin never failed to remind us, to be pro-life is to apply one's belief in the sanctity of life to all human life. He opposed abortion and euthanasia, as well as war and the death penalty. His was a clear, consistent and uncompromising voice for life, informed by, in your phrase, "natural law and the revealed teachings of Jesus Christ."

In reading your letter, I was troubled by your silence about war and the death penalty. I am not aware that the church approves of either. Should Catholic voters be enjoined from voting for politicians who support such policies? After all, as you wrote, "Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgment according to reason, in accordance with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator."

Let's talk about politics -- specifically, presidential politics. President Bush opposes abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. He is a stern and committed supporter of the death penalty; indeed, while governor of Texas, he signed more than 120 death warrants. We might also note that the Texas justice system is ramshackle, often racist, and has a well-documented tendency to convict the innocent.

The president initiated the invasion and occupation of Iraq on pretexts that now seem utterly disingenuous. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and it appears that the intelligence supporting the decision to go to war was either willfully misinterpreted or simply faked. The war was initiated first to get rid of Saddam Hussein and second to build a secular and democratic regime in the Middle East.

As I need hardly remind you, the church has always taken a dim view of such hubristic undertakings. Indeed, after the French Revolution, the church identified its animating principle as a Catholic heresy the Jacobin Heresy, the notion that man can create, independent of God's will, an earthly paradise. Kinda strange, isn't it, to think of George W. as a heretic?

Sen. Kerry is pro-choice, supports some forms of stem cell research, and, while not a supporter of same-sex marriage, is less opposed to it than is the president. Also, he's clearly less enthusiastic about both the Iraq war and the death penalty than is his Republican counterpart.

It seems to me that neither candidate deserves the unquestioning support of all Catholic voters. So what are you going to do, Bishop; tell your flock not to vote? That would be absurd. Just as all of us are flawed and sinful beings, so too are Kerry and Bush. They have made their decisions; we need to make ours. And you, Bishop, ought to turn away from a Jesuitical obsession with doctrinal minutiae and minister to your flock in a more personal, and less political, way.

Recall that, when Cardinal Bernardin, his body racked with cancer, had only a couple of months to live, he chose to spend time visiting prisoners condemned to death. He thought that his situation made him better able to minister to those anguished souls. He saw his impending death as a manifestation of God's grace, a gift to share with the least among us.

In few of us is the love of God expressed so luminously and completely. But it is your task, as priest and bishop, to lead all of us to "have the mind of Christ in every judgment and act."

You have not yet done so.


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