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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkNews from Around the Americas | May 2007 

US Lawmakers Defend Pro-Choice Views
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Washington Pope Benedict's recent condemnation of politicians who support abortion rights has drawn a sharp rebuke from Connecticut lawmakers who are Catholic.

"I believe the church has a role in guiding parishioners and people in public life, but I don't believe the church should be using the sacrament of communion as a political weapon," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3. "I think that is out of bounds."

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said he opposes the church "branding" Catholic lawmakers for representing a diverse community that may not adhere to Catholic doctrine.

"It was John F. Kennedy who said he was a Catholic and proud of it but that he had a responsibility to uphold the Constitution of the United States and that law of the land. That's my view," Dodd said. "The law of the land permits this, and I oppose any attempt to change that."

On his first papal trip to Latin America earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI was asked if legislators who legalized abortion in Mexico City should rightfully be considered excommunicated.

"Yes," the pope said.

"The excommunication was not something arbitrary. It is part of the [canon law] code," Benedict continued, seemingly siding with the Mexican bishops who said the politicians had excommunicated themselves.

But Benedict's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement later saying Benedict did not intend to formally excommunicate anyone a rare process under church law. He added that politicians who vote in favor of abortion had excluded themselves from receiving Holy Communion.

Benedict's comments stoked debate among Catholics who have been arguing whether politicians who approve abortion legislation as well as doctors and nurses who take part in the procedure subject themselves to automatic excommunication under church law.

Some of the Mexican legislators involved said they still consider themselves to be Catholic no matter what the pope says.

Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori said that the pope broke no new ground in his recent statement.

"The holy father is addressing what the church believes to be a human rights issue the humanity of the unborn and the obligation that every country has to protect the vulnerable life of the unborn by law," Lori said. "I would certainly be in solidarity with our holy father."

In a document on the Eucharist issued in December, Benedict said that certain values, including protecting human life from conception to natural death, were "not negotiable" and that Catholic politicians had a "grave responsibility" to promote such laws.

Lori said that the statements were meant to encourage lawmakers to examine their conscience.

"He was appealing to the consciences of the legislators and urging them to examine where they stand visa vie the faith," Lori said.

As a presidential candidate, Kennedy delivered a now-famous address on Sept. 12, 1960, to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in Texas in which he explained how his faith would and would not influence his presidency.

"I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me," Kennedy said. "Whatever issue may come before me as president on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise."

Relying on Kennedy's logic is a mistake, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which wrote in 2004 that "the separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices, but protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life."

In a statement on "Catholics in Political Life" issued in June 2004, the bishops reiterated the Church's teaching that killing of an unborn child is "always intrinsically evil" and to make such "intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong" but left the decision about denying Holy Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians to individual bishops.

"Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles," they wrote.

In March, the bishops issued a statement on responsibilities of Catholics in public life reminding Catholic legislators that "all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church."

While recognizing the need to provide "alternatives and help to vulnerable parents and children," the bishops wrote that all Catholics should work actively to "restrain, restrict and bring to an end the destruction of unborn human life."

DeLauro, Rep. John Larson, D-1, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2, and 15 other Catholic members of the House of Representatives, issued a statement in response to Benedict's statement, which seemed to go farther than previous Vatican statements on the subject.

"The fact is that religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America it also clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. Such notions offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church has done," they wrote.

DeLauro said that she agrees with the Catholic Church about the value of human life and the undesirability of abortion. She has co-sponsored legislation that promotes adoption, improved access to children's health care and child care, and encourages paternal and maternal responsibility.

"It is interesting to me that this is the only issue on which some in the church seem to focus on," DeLauro said. "They don't focus on war, the death penalty or what happens to the poor."

DeLauro, 64, said she is a life-long Catholic who grew up in an Italian-American family in New Haven and had 16 years of Catholic education. She graduated from Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y., which was founded by an all-female congregation: the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

DeLauro, however, has been a consistent supporter of abortion rights. Since being elected to Congress, she has voted 100 percent of the time in support of the interests of Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and never in support of the interests of the National Right to Life Committee, according to their Congressional "score cards."

In the two years prior to her election, DeLauro served as executive director of EMILY's List, a grassroots political network dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to federal, state, and local office.

Dodd's abortion "score card" reads almost the same as DeLauro save for 2005 when he received a score of 75 from NARAL because he supported the nomination of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

Larson has also received 100 percent scores from NARAL and 0 percent from the National Right to Life Committee since coming to Congress. Courtney, a freshman, has yet to receive a scorecard.

Although they have supported abortion rights, Dodd and DeLauro said they believe abortions should be rare. Each has supported legislation to encourage adoption as an alternative and to promote the use of contraception.

Since 1990, abortions have been legal in Connecticut by a state statute that leaves the decision to terminate a non-viable fetus to the pregnant woman in consultation with her physician.

Last week, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law a bill requiring hospitals including Catholic hospitals to offer the so-called Plan B emergency contraception to rape victims. The bill was strongly opposed by Lori and Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, although the Vatican has not taken a position on it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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