Associated Press
The nation’s bishops will vote next month on a political roadmap for Roman Catholics headed into the 2008 election that gives top billing to abortion but also spotlights a wide range of issues, including opposition to torture and killing noncombatants in war.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued similar guides on Catholic political engagement in the year preceding presidential elections for three decades. But in the past, the conference’s 50-member administrative board was the final stop for approval.

This time, in a sign of religion’s heightened role in public life, the full body of about 300 bishops will publicly debate and vote on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” at its fall meeting in Baltimore.
“It’s to get buy-in from a broader group and to listen to any of the voices that want input on its final form,” said Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the conference. “Given the complexities of our political situation, this is a very good teaching document for the bishops and we’re really very committed to it.”
Skylstad said he didn’t foresee major changes because of the unprecedented consultation on the draft, with bishops from seven committees taking part.
A draft of the document calls abortion and euthanasia “intrinsically evil” and “pre-eminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others.” The bishops then cite other threats that can never be justified: human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, racism, torture, genocide, and “the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war.”
Throughout the 37-page document, opposition to abortion gets special attention.
“The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many,” the draft says.
At the same time, the bishops say Catholics must not dismiss racism, the death penalty, unjust war, torture, hunger, health care problems or unjust immigration policy.
“A consistent ethic of life,” the document says, “neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues.”
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, one of the country’s most vocal bishops about Catholics’ need to speak in the public square, criticized the previous version of “Faithful Citizenship” for not being strong enough in underlining abortion’s pre-eminence.
Chaput said in an e-mail Tuesday the revised document “is better and clearer than any version in the recent past” but isn’t ideal. He said would be offering suggestions, but wouldn’t be specific.
Chaput wrote that “all bricks in a building are important, but the ones in the foundation support everything else. The latter aren’t just important; they’re indispensable.”
The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said the anti-abortion group is “grateful to the bishops for this document, and for pointing out that abortion is not just one issue among many; it attacks the very foundation of all our rights.”
Some independent Catholics groups have taken to distributing their own voter education guides in recent years. Among them are Priests for Life and California-based Catholic Answers, which distributed material on five “nonnegotiable” issues: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and same-sex marriage.
A group formed in 2006, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, produced an alternative guide that also highlighted church teachings on war, poverty and social justice.
Alexia Kelley, the group’s executive director, noted that the “Faithful Citizenship” draft includes new references condemning torture, genocide and the deaths of noncombatants in war.
“That’s reading the signs of the times,” she said.
The draft acknowledges the dilemma facing Catholic voters in finding a candidate who would fit the church’s criteria. But rather than pulling back, bishops urge Catholics to transform their respective political parties.
If a Catholic were to vote for an abortion rights candidate expressly because of that candidate’s position, that voter would be “guilty of formal cooperation in evil,” the draft says. Voting for an abortion rights candidate for other reasons is still “remote material cooperation” with evil. It can be permitted only if there are “proportionate reasons.”
The Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, said Democrats can argue they line up with the bishops on most issues, while conservative Republicans can say they’re in line on foundational issues, starting with abortion.
In 2004, some bishops and American Catholics worried that the voices of a few bishops were getting undue attention.
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke drew the most notice for saying he would deny Communion to Democrat John Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion rights. Burke has indicated he would so the same for 2008 Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani, a Catholic who also backs keeping abortion legal.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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