Skip to comments.Bishop appeals to Catholic lawmakers
Posted on 12/04/2003 6:33:06 AM PST by malakhi
Madison - As the nation's Roman Catholic bishops seek ways to persuade Catholic lawmakers to adopt church views on issues such as abortion, a Wisconsin prelate on the rise has warned two state legislators and a congressman they risk their spiritual well-being if they do not.
La Crosse Bishop Raymond L. Burke sent letters to the lawmakers as the first step in efforts to get them to change their pattern of voting, which Burke said contradicts the church's teachings on abortion and other issues related to human life. On Tuesday, Pope John Paul II appointed Burke to serve as the archbishop of St. Louis.
"If they were to continue to do that, I would simply have to ask them not to present themselves to receive the sacraments because they would not be Catholics in good standing," Burke said in an interview.
He said he sent the letters to make it clear to the lawmakers that as practicing Catholics they cannot support legislation that is "anti-life," which he noted includes abortion and assisted suicide. He did not mention the death penalty, which the pope has urged the United States to eliminate.
"They can't promote any legislation, which would either continue or worsen the anti-life practices," Burke said.
Burke declined to name the legislators and the congressman who received the letters. But under the state's open records law, the Journal Sentinel obtained a copy of the letter Burke sent to state Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point).
The 21/2-page letter details how Lassa voted on several recent bills and legislative initiatives related to abortion - including her vote against a bill that would have allowed health care professionals to refuse to participate in procedures that violate their personal or spiritual beliefs.
"As a faithful member of the Catholic Church, you have an obligation to fulfill the duties of your office with regard not only to the laws of the state, but also with regard to the moral law," Burke wrote.
"You have failed to restrict the evil of abortion when the opportunity presented itself."
In the letter, dated August 29, Burke cited a statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics." He stressed that bishops have a duty to "enlighten the consciences of political leaders to the protection of life, especially political leaders who are Catholics."
"I call upon you to consider the consequences for your own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal you risk by leading others into serious sin," Burke wrote Lassa.
The mailing to Lassa included a 26-page booklet containing the text of "Living the Gospel of Life." Burke asked Lassa to study the statement and schedule a meeting with him to discuss it.
Lassa said she never scheduled a meeting with Burke and was surprised to receive the letter from him.
"I'm concerned that the bishop would pressure legislators to vote according to the dictates of the church instead of the wishes of their constituents because that is not consistent with our Democratic ideals," Lassa said.
"When I was elected, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that means I have to represent all the people of all faiths in my district."
Elected to the Assembly in 1998 and to the Senate in a special election in May, Lassa said she sometimes feels a conflict between her personal values and beliefs and the need to represent her constituents' views.
"But I can't let my religion take precedence over my duties as a legislator," she said.
"I appreciate that the bishop has expressed his opinion and I will take that into consideration, but I have to consider what's in the best interest of my constituents."
Rep. Marlin Schneider (D-Stevens Point), whose Assembly District is part of Lassa's Senate district, called Burke's letter outrageous.
"Churches ought not use the pulpit for blatant political purposes," said Schneider, who is Lutheran. "When they start telling legislators how to vote, they've crossed the line."
Peggy Hamill, state director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, said her organization was contacted by Burke's office for assistance in researching Lassa's voting record on abortion issues.
She said Lassa was the only legislator whose voting record was requested by Burke's office.
Hamill applauded Burke's effort to hold Catholic public officials accountable for shaping public policy in ways that are contrary to church teachings.
Pro-Life Wisconsin has organized a campaign urging Catholics with pro-life views who live in U.S. Rep. David Obey's district to write the Democrat to complain that his voting record on abortion issues is not in keeping with his Catholic faith.
Obey's office did not respond to inquires about whether he received a letter from Burke.
The subject of Catholic elected officials and their responsibility to represent the church's views on political issues is of increasing concern to church leaders.
At a meeting this fall of U.S. bishops in Washington, D.C., an initial report was offered by a new task force on Catholics in Public Life organized after the Vatican issued a doctrinal note on the subject.
John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, which represents Wisconsin's Roman Catholic bishops, said the subject is under increasing discussion in church circles. But he knew of no organized effort by Wisconsin bishops to send letters to elected officials reminding them of their duty to represent Catholic teachings.
Kathleen Hohl, interim communications director for Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, said Dolan had not sent letters on this subject to any lawmakers representing districts in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
"To my knowledge, it's not anywhere on the to-do list," she said. "It has not come up within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee."
Desdemona, this is your incoming archbishop.
Legislation first, God second? Hmmmm ....
Congratulations to Archbishop Burke for carrying the Church's flag, and hat's off to Catholics who pressure these politicians to provide justification for abandoning the doctrine.
Note that the political types carefully make this a "Constitutional/Political" issue, rather than a MORAL issue. Those who control the language will control the debate--and I've pointed that out to the reporter on the case with specific reference to the 2nd-last paragraph.
Btw, I lost my "Catholic Freeper" pinglist. Please FReepmail me if you have a good one for copy/paste. Thanks. Obviously, if it were defined as a MORAL issue, these vermin would have little clothing left for their position. And their heated response makes it clear that they ALL have a "spot" which will not 'out,' just like Lady Macbeth.