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 V.13 No.23 | June 3 - 9, 2004 

Commentary

Church is Playing Politics

"I subscribe to a consistent ethic of life."

There is currently a discussion among some Catholic bishops about refusing the sacraments to Democratic Sen. John Kerry for not opposing abortion, thus doing the Republican National Committee's work for it.

But the Pope and the national hierarchy also have condemned the death penalty and the war in Iraq. Are these bishops willing to deny the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support the death penalty or the Iraq war? And if not, why not?

Moreover, will they tell Catholics that it is a sin to support an unjust war and to vote for a candidate who is responsible for such a war? And, again, if not, why not?

I can think of a couple of reasons. First, denouncing abortion will get you attention in the Vatican. Attacking the death penalty and the war are not likely to promote your career. Second, the rules are different for Democrats and Republicans. It is curious, to say the least, that 30 years after Roe vs. Wade, the issue of denying the sacraments would be raised during this election year.

Bishops also threaten political leaders who support civil unions between homosexuals. Given their tolerance for sexual abusers in the priesthood, that looks a bit hypocritical. I have never heard any of them criticize gay bashing. Followers of Jesus cannot tolerate hatred of anyone, especially since the church now teaches that the homosexual condition is not freely chosen.

Finally, some bishops have doubts about permitting women to participate in the washing of feet during the Holy Thursday services. These men will tolerate women distributing Communion only when it is absolutely necessary. They are uneasy about females serving Mass. Such sentiments doubtless also will promote their careers. Yet, unless I've missed it, they haven't spoken out against rape. It is estimated that 12 percent to 13 percent of all women are victims of rape in this country. Why is the Catholic Church so silent on the subject? Why do Catholic leaders seem unaware of just how routine the abuse of women is, not merely at the service academies and in the military and on college campuses, but everywhere in our society? Why are they so obsessed with keeping women out of the sanctuary and so uninterested in the constant danger of their violation?

I realize that church leaders from Peter and his colleagues on down have not been all that brilliant or all that courageous. I understand that with some exceptions the current crowd is not much better. At least Peter and his bunch had the decency to apologize. Those in the current crowd don't apologize that much and, when they do, their words lose credibility because of their actions (such as the current campaign led by Edward Cardinal Egan to undercut the American bishops' National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, a campaign that can only convince Catholic parents that their children are not safe on church premises).

I subscribe to the consistent ethic of life that the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin enunciated some years ago. I believe abortion is wrong. I believe the death penalty is wrong. I believe pre-emptive war is wrong. I will take seriously the "pro-life" enthusiasts when they are ready to protest against and denounce the death penalty. I will take them seriously when they also denounce criminally unjust wars.

Father Greeley is a columnist for the New York Daily News

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