Thursday, October 02, 2008

Scranton Diocese Priests Read Abortion Position Letter to Parishioners

A letter from Bishop Joseph F. Martino to be read aloud by priests at all Roman Catholic Masses in the Diocese of Scranton this weekend calls on the faithful to understand and remember the church’s position on abortion come Election Day.

“Jesus Christ ... does not ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door,” Bishop Martino says in the two-page pastoral letter, which will also be circulated with all parish bulletins on Saturday and Sunday. In it, he criticizes the laws that protect abortion rights and takes particular aim at political candidates who express support for those rights.In the letter, Bishop Martino refers to abortion as “homicide” and writes, “It is a tragic irony that ‘pro-choice’ candidates have come to support homicide — the gravest injustice a society can tolerate — in the name of ‘social justice.’”William Genello, the diocesan spokesman, said he would not characterize the letter as directly political.Bishop Martino issued the letter to be read on “Respect Life Sunday,” an occasion initiated by American Catholic bishops in 1972 and for which he issues a pastoral letter every year.In a statement, Mr. Genello wrote that Bishop Martino is directing pastors to read the letter aloud and circulate it in bulletins this year “because of the confusion and public misrepresentations about Catholic teaching on the life issues, particularly abortion, that have surfaced in the last few months” — an apparent reference to comments made by Catholic Democrats about the history of the church’s position on abortion.

The letter comes after Bishop Martino made a prominent intervention earlier in the election season by announcing his determination not to allow public officials who support abortion rights to receive communion.He assures Catholics of his “vigilance” on that issue again in his pastoral letter. “Public officials who are Catholic and who persist in public support for abortion and other intrinsic evils should not partake in or be admitted to the sacrament of Holy Communion,” he writes. Bishop Martino’s letter also confronts the argument that abortion is not the only “life” issue that should concern Catholic voters. The bishop notes such reasoning is sound “only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does,” for example, euthanasia and “destruction of embryos for research purposes.” Other issues, including health care, education, economic security, immigration and taxes do not carry the same weight, he writes.

He also argues that abortion is a “deeper” and “more corrupting” moral failure than “mistakenly believ(ing) that an unjust war is just.” In an appeal to Catholics’ civic beliefs, as well as their religious ones, Bishop Martino asserts that the church’s teaching that life begins at conception is “also a profoundly American principle.”“Whenever a society asks its citizens to violate its own foundational principles — as well as their moral consciences — citizens have a right, indeed an obligation, to refuse,” he writes.

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