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Catholic politicians, Lieberman confronted on support for abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)–A Roman Catholic bishop has called on California Gov. Gray Davis to choose between supporting abortion and taking communion, and some of his fellow bishops are being called on to do the same with other politicians. A similar challenge has been posed to Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who is a Connecticut senator and announced presidential candidate.

Sacramento Bishop William Weigand said at a Jan. 22 Mass that Davis, a Catholic, should abstain from communion while he endorses abortion rights. On the same day, which was the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, the American Life League called on the bishops of 12 U.S. senators to refuse communion to them because of the politicians’ pro-choice positions.

According to The Sacramento Bee, Weigand told those gathered for a morning Mass in Sacramento, “As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone — politician or otherwise — who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk and is not in good standing with the church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving holy communion until he has a change of heart.”

A Davis spokesman criticized Weigand for “telling the faithful how to practice their faith” and said the Democratic governor would maintain his support for abortion rights, the newspaper reported.

The bishop was “trying to make an example, and that’s sad,” Russ Lopez said, according to The Bee. “But Governor Davis has said repeatedly that he is proud” of his abortion-rights policies. Lopez added, “He will not back down.

“There are a lot of Catholics who are pro-choice. Does the bishop want all Catholics to stop receiving holy communion? Who’s going to be left in church?”

Weigand told The Bee generally “we do not refuse communion to anyone; we try to instruct people as to when it would not be appropriate.”

The American Life League, however, called for all bishops and priests to refuse communion to public officials “whose unrepentant support for the killing of babies in the womb defiles the [Mass] and the body of Christ.”

In a full-page ad in the Jan. 22 issue of The Washington Times, ALL placed the names and photos of what it called “The Deadly Dozen” in the U.S. Senate, telling the senators they could not be both Catholic and pro-abortion.

The 12 senators consisted of 11 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. The Democrats were Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate minority leader, and Sens. John Kerry, an announced presidential candidate, and fellow Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy; Joseph Biden of Delaware; Patrick Leahy of Vermont; Christopher Dodd of Connecticut; Tom Harkin of Iowa; Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; Patty Murray of Washington; and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

The ad also listed the bishop, archbishop or cardinal of the diocese or archdiocese of each senator. ALL also sent a letter to each of these Catholic clergymen requesting they “actively prevent openly pro-abortion politicians like the twelve in this ad from receiving holy communion.”

“The simple fact is you cannot actively support abortion and be a faithful Catholic,” said ALL President Judie Brown, a Catholic, in unveiling the campaign. ALL also plans to release ads on “The Deadly Dozen” in the House of Representatives and among state governors. “You can’t have it both ways. The church’s teachings on this matter are very clear.”

Although Southern Baptists have a different form of church government than Catholics, they also struggled to deal with a high-profile politician from their own ranks in the 1990s. President Clinton was a member of a Southern Baptist church in Little Rock, Ark.

SBC messengers at the 1993 convention, the first after Clinton took office, sought in a variety of fashions to express their disagreement with his support for abortion and homosexual rights. A motion to refuse to seat the messengers from Clinton’s church, Immanuel Baptist, was rejected by the convention’s credentials committee, which said a church could not be held accountable for the beliefs of one member. Some messengers called for Immanuel to disfellowship the president, a request that was repeated at various times by different Southern Baptists during the next seven years. Immanuel, like many if not most SBC churches, did not practice biblical church discipline.

The 1993 convention, however, adopted a resolution distancing itself from the president’s positions and calling on him to reverse them.

Another SBC church faces the situation of a pro-choice church member, Rep. Richard Gephardt, also running for the 2004 Democratic nomination. Once a pro-life member of the House of Representatives, Gephardt explained his switch at a Jan. 22 banquet for NARAL Pro-choice America, a leading abortion-rights advocacy organization.

He cast pro-life votes his first 10 years in Congress because he “didn’t yet realize the full consequence of my positions and my beliefs,” Gephardt told the pro-choice audience, according to CNSNews.com. “That is why in 1986, after 10 years of reflection and thought and prayer, I cast my first pro-choice vote with a clear understanding that has only deepened with time.”

Gephardt is a member of Third Baptist Church in St. Louis. The church is affiliated with the SBC, as well as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

The rabbi of Joseph Lieberman, meanwhile, has been asked to confront his congregant on the abortion issue.

Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, wrote Rabbi Barry Freundel Jan. 29 urging him to instruct Lieberman that his support of abortion rights is inconsistent with being an Orthodox Jew. Abortion is only allowed when a woman’s life is endangered, according to Mishnah, the oral interpretation of the Old Testament, Klayman said in his letter.

Klayman, who described himself as a Jew who has received Christ, encouraged Freundel to “educate a presidential candidate on what being an orthodox Jew is all about, so that he can live his life according to these tenets and perhaps teach others to respect the lives of the unborn as well.”

Freundel is rabbi of Kesher Israel, an Orthodox synagogue in Washington.

In appealing to California’s governor, Weigand quoted from a Vatican doctrine issued in mid-January, according to The Bee. That statement repeated the oft-stated declaration of Pope John Paul II that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

The Sacramento bishop also commended Monsignor Edward Kavanagh, who had told the Davis administration in December the governor would not be welcome to bring gifts to St. Patrick’s Orphanage unless he repudiated his abortion-rights position, The Bee reported.

Davis told Kavanagh, “I’m unapologetically pro-choice, and I’m not changing my position,” according to the newspaper.

In a news release from the governor’s office Jan. 22, his administration called California “the most pro-choice state in America” and took credit for it, according to The Bee.

Davis “goes to church, and he says his prayers, and that’s good,” Weigand said, according to the report. “But he’s been aggressive on this issue, even boastful. I’m just trying to clarify that he is not in line with the Catholic Church on an issue that [Pope John Paul] has said is the most important issue of our day.”

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