Faith and the ballot box - message from the Vatican
VATICAN CITY |
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - As the election in the United States nears, the message from the Vatican is clear -- Catholics should make their moral choices and voices heard in the ballot box.
In recent weeks, Vatican officials from Pope Benedict down have been sprinkling their speeches with comments on the need for Catholics to pin their moral colors to the political mast.
"Religion is not like smoking," Benedict's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarscisio Bertone, told a conference on religion and politics this week. "It is not something that can be tolerated in private but strictly controlled in public."
Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, number two at the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace, said this week Catholics should not be caught "dozing off" when political choices were made and warned that "God cannot be left in the pew."
Last week Archbishop Raymond Burke, a senior American in the Vatican, said the Democratic Party risked "transforming itself definitively into a 'party of death'" because of its choices on bioethical questions and abortion.
Those words took off in the blogosphere, with some commentators attacking him for trying to influence the election and others applauding what they said was his courage.
Apart from Burke's, most Vatican comments have been general, with no specific reference to the U.S. election and no clear evidence of a conscious strategy.
But they have emerged with curious regularity over the past few weeks in a period when no other major elections are in the offing.
"American elections these days are by definition global events. They create a kind of ferment in which the question of the Church's role in politics is just inevitably on people's brains," said John Allen, American author and religious affairs commentator.
"What's going on in the States today is inevitably creating a situation in which Church leaders feel they have to say something, wherever they are," he said.
Burke, the Vatican-based U.S. archbishop, accused the Democratic Party's most high-profile Catholics -- vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- of misrepresenting Church teaching on abortion.
"While presenting themselves as good Catholics, (both) have presented Church doctrine on abortion in a false and tendentious way," he said.
BISHOPS CHIDE BIDEN AND PELOSI
In the last two months U.S. bishops have chided Biden and Pelosi for misstating Catholic teaching. Both politicians are pro-choice and have said abortion, which the Catholic Church says is murder, is a personal decision.
But abortion has taken a back seat to many other issues in the presidential campaign, such as the economy, security and immigration. It did not come up in Thursday night's debate between Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Rev. Tom Reese, a Jesuit who is senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, said the Vatican's message was not about abortion alone.
"Abortion can get very political in the American context and all of the other issues are forgotten. Putting Christian values into politics means many things -- promoting life, avoiding war, working for peace, helping the poor and immigrants, supporting economic justice and promoting the common good," Reese said.
"Abortion is a moral issue but the simple fact is that it is never going to be outlawed in the United States. Three-quarters of women who have abortions say they do it because they can't afford a child.
"So one has to decide which party promotes a culture of life by supporting laws and programs that encourage childbirth and adoption over abortion and by addressing poverty, providing health care, and offering other assistance to pregnant women, children, and families," he said.
Reese said the Catholic vote could help swing the election.
"It may depend on how white working-class and middle-class Catholics vote in key swing states," he said.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)
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