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CULTURE DIGEST: Democrat wears faith on sleeve & wins Va. race; Methodist bishops repent over Iraq war

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Some Democrats seem pleased with how their first real experimentation with faith since the 2004 presidential election turned out after Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine, the Democratic candidate in the race for governor of Virginia earlier this month, wore his religion on his sleeve and came away with the victory.

Kaine’s campaign advisers focused on familiarizing the public with his Roman Catholicism in a move designed to assess whether Democrats could indeed win the favor of faith-based voters after those voters were credited with putting President Bush over the top in the polls a year ago, according to a New York Times article Nov. 10.

At the beginning of the race, Kaine appeared on an evangelical Christian radio station to discuss faith in politics, and one of his commercials mentioned his work as a short-term missionary in Honduras 20 years ago.

“This was a good test case for Democrats to see if they can run an overtly faith-based candidacy, and do it with a progressive candidate in a Southern state,” Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, told The Times. “As we go into ’06, I think we’ll see more Democrats emulating what Kaine did.”

One issue that was tied closely to faith in the race was the death penalty. Kaine’s opponent had criticized his opposition to the law, so Kaine responded with an ad in which he spoke directly into the camera about his Catholicism, The Times reported.

“My faith teaches life is sacred,” he said. “That’s why I personally oppose the death penalty. But I take my oath of office seriously. And I’ll enforce the death penalty.”

Polls found that Virginia voters respected Kaine’s position even if they didn’t agree with him because he was sincere, which is a lesson Democrats may strongly consider as the next round of elections approaches.

“I do think the Democratic Party has for far too long been hesitant to talk about the things we deeply believe and value,” Ted Strickland, a former Methodist minister and a Democratic candidate for governor of Ohio next year, told The Times. “Many public policy positions have their foundation in religious beliefs that we hold dear.”

Some observers wonder if Kaine’s success will translate across the board with other Democratic candidates if they overtly court the faith community.

“I think Kaine was a unique Democrat in that he was not uncomfortable talking about his faith,” Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Times. “But for a lot of Democrats, that is a very unnatural thing.”

Still other Democrats fear that their party will veer too far off course while chasing religious voters and end up leaving its traditional stances on abortion and homosexual rights, The Times noted.

METHODIST BISHOPS REPENT OVER IRAQ WAR — Leaders of the United Methodist Church, of which President Bush is a member, have released a joint statement saying they repent of their “complicity” in the “unjust and immoral” invasion and occupation of Iraq, according to a report by FoxNews.com.

“In the face of the United States administration’s rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent,” the statement, signed by 95 bishops and released Nov. 10, said.

The author of the document, retired Bishop Kenneth Carder, told Fox News the leaders were careful not to place the blame for the war on anyone specific such as Bush.

“We would have made the statement regardless of who the president was,” he said. “It was not meant to be either partisan or to single out any one person. It was the recognition that we are all part of the decision and we are all part of a democratic society. We all bear responsibility.”

The statement, which was circulated during a biannual meeting of the Council of Bishops and gained the signatures of more than half the total group, includes a pledge to pray daily for the end of the war, for its American and Iraqi victims and for American leaders to find “truth, humility and policies of peace through justice,” Fox News reported.

“We confess our preoccupation with institutional enhancement and limited agendas while American men and women are sent to Iraq to kill and be killed, while thousands of Iraqi people needlessly suffer and died, while poverty increases and preventable diseases go untreated,” the bishops said.

But Mark Tooley, a United Methodist spokesman for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, noted that the bishops also addressed briefly the human rights crisis in Darfur by releasing a statement urging prayer for the situation but stopped short of criticizing the Islamist Sudanese government for its genocidal campaign against the Darfurians.

“How woefully absurd that the church prelates condemn the United States for attempting to build democracy in Iraq, but refuse to condemn the Sudanese regime’s deliberate destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives in pursuit of an Islamic theocracy,” Tooley said in a Nov. 17 news release.

“No doubt, these bishops, if transported back in history, would have impartially ‘lamented’ the ‘continued warfare’ between Allied and German forces in Normandy in 1944, while blaming the plight of millions of victims of fascist aggression on the United States,” Tooley added. “These bishops, like other politically outspoken officials of mainline denominations, seem to be incapable of criticizing any government in the world except for the United States and its closest allies.”

IRELAND CONSIDERS BREAKING WITH CATHOLIC CHURCH — Members of Ireland’s Parliament are calling for a formal severing of the ties between the government and the Roman Catholic Church after the release of a controversial study on the sexual abuse of children by priests that is considered a “watershed” in the history of such scandals.

About 95 percent of Ireland’s elementary schools are financed by the state but are managed by Catholic authorities, The New York Times noted Nov. 13, and a three-member panel appointed by the Irish government found that the church covered up sex abuse cases and allowed priests to retain their positions even after numerous complaints as late as 2002.

The 271-page report contains extensive testimony from victims, and its release further escalated the anger many Irish citizens have had since sex abuse allegations began surfacing about 15 years ago, The Times said. Focusing on one diocese located in Ferns, the panel took three years to develop its case, which has led the country’s justice minister to promise new child protection laws and a nationwide audit of how the Catholic Church handles such problems.

Pope Benedict XVI, following the Vatican’s policy, has not commented on the report.

“On a professional level, there is a real sense of relief,” Colm O’Gorman, a sex abuse victim and chief lobbyist against the priests in Ireland, told The Times. “Nobody will ever be able to say again, ‘We didn’t know.’ Nobody will ever be able to say again, ‘We didn’t understand the implications’ or ‘This is best left to the church.’”

The Catholic Church is at the lowest point in its history in Ireland, and for the first time, the Dublin archdiocese will not ordain any new priests this year, The Times said.

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  • Erin Curry