Archbishop warns Catholic politicians on abortion - Supporters' view at odds with faith, Brunett says
Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunett joined a growing chorus of U.S. bishops Monday and warned Catholic politicians that it's impossible to keep the faith and support abortion.
Brunett said those who support abortion have adopted "a morally untenable position and are choosing a path that leads them away from the church." And those "who suggest that they can disassociate totally their political actions in principle from their Catholic faith are laboring under a dangerous moral delusion."
Catholic politicians who back abortion rights, including Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, said that despite Brunett's proclamation, they were free to govern as they see fit.
Kerry is "100 percent pro-choice," and Brunett's assertions will not significantly affect the campaign, said Sam Rodriguez, Washington state director of the Kerry campaign.
"Like John F. Kennedy, Kerry has maintained the separation between church and state," Rodriguez said. "In 1960, Kennedy made it clear that he was running for president and he just happened to be a Catholic. Similarly, Kerry has made it clear that he is running for president of the United States, not for pope.
"It's amazing that 44 years later, this debate remains. When you are running for president of the United States, regardless of individuals' religious faith -- you are president of everyone, of all faiths; that's what makes this country so incredible."
State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, said she does not see a conflict between her Catholic faith and protecting abortion rights, said Morton Brilliant, her press secretary.
Gregoire is "deeply faithful and also strongly committed to a woman's right to choose," Brilliant said. "And she believes a woman's right to choice is a fundamental right."
Directly bucking Brunett's edict, he added that Gregoire does not believe abortion is immoral.
"(Gregoire) does not see her role as governor as requiring her to impose her faith on the entire state," he said. "Washington is clearly a pro-choice state, Gregoire will not shy away from that belief and will not waver in her support of that right."
Brunett's statement echoed those of other Catholic bishops who have become active in the abortion debate as it relates to politics.
Last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that lawmakers who consistently support abortion rights or euthanasia were "cooperating in evil," but that individual bishops could decide whether the politicians should be denied Holy Communion.
The bishops' declaration drew national attention after Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said he would deny communion to Kerry. Some abortion opponents have been pressuring other bishops to follow suit.
Brunett instructed ministers in Seattle not to deny the Eucharist to anyone based on their political views. But Catholic politicians who support abortion should "voluntarily withdraw from Eucharistic sharing without the need for formal action by the church," he said.
Radio talk show host Dave Ross, a Catholic who is running for Congress in the 8th District, said he would continue to receive communion. Ross, a Democrat, said he considers his support of women's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion different than personally supporting abortion.
Ross said that Brunett has left the decision "up to individual conscience." Though he supports women's right to choose and would uphold laws that keep abortion legal, he does not think he is at odds with the archbishop.
"I've always supported keeping the government out of personal matters," Ross said.
The abortion issue may become important in the 8th District race because Ross' two Democratic opponents, Alex Alben and Heidi Behrens-Benedict, are trying to establish themselves as abortion rights supporters and Ross as an abortion opponent. Ross is simultaneously trying to sell himself as pro-choice and against abortion.
Other Washington politicians who are Catholic were guarded yesterday.
Mike Spahn, press secretary for Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, said Murray believes in the line separating church and state. On the campaign trail, Murray will focus on serving her constituents and resolve issues of faith in private.
Brunett said the Catholic Church does not support political parties or candidates.
"To do so would be divisive," he said.
"Her personal religion and faith are and will remain just that -- personal," Spahn said.
To Brunett's assertion that "Catholic politicians find themselves faced with a crisis of conscience," leaders of local pro-choice groups suggested that it was the church itself -- which has been hamstrung by a global sexual abuse scandal -- that is in crisis.
"It's astounding that even in liberal Seattle the archbishop is saying this," said Karen Cooper, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League in Washington. "We're supposed to have a separation of church and state, and for the church to, in effect, be trying to throw people out of church for their political beliefs is unprecedented in American political history."
Despite the strong and differing views about abortion, a recent poll commissioned by Catholics for a Free Choice suggested that few Catholic voters consider abortion an issue of primary importance in the elections.
About 27 percent said they would "definitely vote against" a candidate for president if he or she had a different position on abortion from theirs; 38 percent said they would "maybe vote against" such a candidate; 34 percent said the candidate's position would not change their vote.
The June poll, conducted by Washington, D.C., firm Belden Russonello & Stewart, surveyed 2,239 Catholics. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
Seattle Catholics' opinions varied yesterday but few saw Brunett's position as particularly salient in terms of other important issues.
Debbie Stover, a scientist working in immunology, said she had grappled with the issue herself -- how to be a Catholic and still support abortion rights -- and didn't appreciate the archbishop's unsolicited moral advice.
"It's difficult to go against the church on those views, but I still consider myself a practicing Catholic and a good Catholic," she said. "And it probably won't change who I vote for."
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