In letter, area Catholic dioceses urge votes for pro-life candidates
“As Catholics we are morally obligated to pray, to act, and to vote to abolish the evil of abortion,” says an Oct. 8 letter from Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann and Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell.
The letter is posted on the Fort Worth Diocese’s Web site and was included in the North Texas Catholic, a newsletter that comes out every two weeks and goes to 56,000 homes in the diocese. The diocese stretches up to Wichita Falls and includes 28 counties.
The bishops’ letter comes during a tense presidential campaign between Republican John McCain, who opposes abortion, and Democrat Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights.
The letter is the latest chapter in the Catholic Church’s long-standing opposition to abortion, a position that has sometimes ventured into politics and spats with elected officials.
As pastor of a church in Illinois, Vann told a local newspaper that he would be reluctant to give Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin communion because of his support of abortion rights.
Nadia Lahutsky, Texas Christian University associate professor of religion, said bishops nationwide made similar statements about Geraldine Ferraro when she ran for vice president in 1984 and about John Kerry when he ran for president in 2004 because of their stances on abortion.
Although the letter seemed clear about calling abortion “the defining moral issue,” Fort Worth Diocese spokesman Pat Svacina said the letter does not tell people for whom to vote.
“It is saying that this is our moral teaching. It is not saying that you vote for this person or that person,” Svacina said.
He said that in the diocese, the letter was read from the pulpit Sunday only at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Grapevine.
Art Brender of Fort Worth, a Catholic who was chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party for 12 years, said the letter “bothers me because it seems that this letter is really a partisan letter and not a statement of faith.”
Lahutsky said the letter is so strongly worded that it might raise issues with laws that prohibit nonprofits, such as churches, from taking partisan positions.
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, a nation pro-abortion rights group, called the bishops’ stance too heavy-handed.
“They speak with such an obsession with the issue of abortion that it makes their social commentary redundant and really out of touch with where most Catholics are,” O’Brien said. “This kind of an overt letter just before an election is more likely to turn Catholics off.”
James Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor, said the Catholic Church’s stance against abortion is already so well-known that he doubts that a letter from bishops will change many votes.
Betsy Kopor, executive director of Rachel Ministries of North Texas, a Catholic-based abortion-counseling center, said: “It’s important that we have some clarity in the Catholic position. There’s a lot of ambiguity going on, so it’s nice to have something form the Catholic hierarchy letting us know the Catholic position.”
This article originally appeared in the 14 October 2008 edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.