A national conservative publication reported Friday that Bishop Robert Carlson of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls will publish a column Monday indicating Catholics commit a mortal sin if they vote for supposedly pro-choice candidates. What purports to be an “Exclusive Advance Copy” is reprinted in full in the magazine. If it is accurate, Bishop Carlson says the column and having clergy speak on the subject from the pulpit “is not political activity,” merely pastors “fulfilling their duty.” (If it isn’t political, why did a Washington, DC-based publication that bills itself as “The National Conservative Weekly” get the “Exclusive Advance Copy” that it ties directly to Tom Daschle’s re-election bid and why was it evidently first reported in South Dakota on a rabidly anti-Daschle blog?)
The bishop writes:
Opposition to abortion binds every Catholic under pain of mortal sin and admits of no exceptions.
It was for this reason that I stated in October of 2000 that you cannot vote for a politician who is pro-abortion when you have a choice and remain a Catholic in good standing. For some Catholics this is a hard teaching, but I am simply repeating church teaching[.]
There are interesting omissions of other parts of church teaching. Even though Bishop Carlson cites a statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility (PDF document), his missive speaks only of abortion. He never mentions the same section of this document (HTML) states:
While military force as a last resort can sometimes be justified to defend against aggression and similar threats to the common good, we have raised serious moral concerns and questions about preemptive or preventive use of force.
(Emphasis in original). That same section also says:
[O]ur nation’s increasing reliance on the death penalty cannot be justified. We do not teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill others. Pope John Paul II has said the penalty of death is “both cruel and unnecessary”. The antidote to violence is not more violence. In light of the Holy Father’s insistence that this is part of our pro-life commitment, we encourage solutions to violent crime that reflect the dignity of the human person, urging our nation to abandon the use of capital punishment.
(Bold in original; italics added).
The bishop also quotes the Gospel of Life but skips a paragraph that again is in the same section he cites. That paragraph says cases calling for imposition of the death penalty “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” In a similar vein, another document cited in the column — a statement of the US Catholic Bishops entitled “Living the Gospel of Life” — states it is “increasingly clear in modern society that capital punishment is unnecessary to protect people’s safety and the public order” and that “[a]ny politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment.”
I know, abortion is in the “thou shalt not” category and evidently these other issues have “you probably shouldn’t” status. Yet isn’t it hypocritical to tell Catholics it is wrong to vote for candidates perceived as pro-choice but refuse to apply standards from the same sources to candidates who launched a self-described preemptive war (for reasons now conclusively wrong) and are among the most vociferous advocates of the death penalty. For the Catholic Church to politicize one part of its “pro-life commitment” and overlook the rest does it (and the American people) a disservice.