The joint statement issued by Dallas’s Bishop Kevin Farrell and Fort Worth’s Bishop Kevin Vann about voting when abortion is at stake has apparently ruffled some feathers here locally.  Not surprising.  And while it’s quite saddening that there should be such disunity among Catholics, I generally consider it a good sign when bishops ruffle some feathers!  Here’s an article from the local newspaper, with my emphases and comments:

Catholic bishops’ letter on voting causes a stir, with critics likening it to an endorsement McCain

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

Some North Texas Catholics are upset with a letter written to them by their local bishops, saying it amounts to an endorsement of John McCain for president.

“I was personally offended,” said Phillip Archer of Dallas. “My bishop basically told me that if I vote for Barack Obama, I will go to hell.”  [I’m sorry he was personally offended, but Catholic teachings are quite impartial and quite above and beyond personal feelings.  The bishops most certainly did not say anybody will go to Hell!  That would be blasphemy!  Only God makes that judgment.  The bishops did, however, warn Catholics that the way they vote has a very real and grave moral effect on one’s soul.  One can possibly endanger one’s soul through voting, just as through any other immoral action.  That does not mean one will go to Hell; there’s always repentance!  That’s what the Church teaches, and that’s what the bishops said.  I’m sure he’d find it easier to rationalize his position if the bishops had condemned him like that and played the bad guys… but that’s just not what happened.]

The letter by Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Diocese of Dallas and Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Fort Worth says in part: “To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or ‘abortion rights’ when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil – and, therefore, morally impermissible.”

Mr. Obama, the Democratic candidate, supports abortion rights. The Republicans’ nominee, Mr. McCain, favors overturning Roe vs. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that protects abortion rights.

The bishops’ letter was distributed or read at parishes across the Diocese of Dallas this weekend. The Fort Worth Diocese is distributing the letter through its newspaper, which is being mailed to all registered Catholic families in the diocese.

Nicole LeBlanc said several people at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Dallas walked out during the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass when the letter was read at the time usually reserved for a homily. 

Ms. LeBlanc, an Obama supporter, said she, too, was upset.

“As a Catholic, we’re taught about being independent moral agents with free will,” she said. [Of course we have free will, as a matter of Church teaching (which is why I hate it when anyone calls Catholics “anti-choice”).  But “independent moral agents”?  That makes it sound like we each get to define our own morality.  The Catholic Church does not teach that!  God defines morality, and communicates it through the Church.] “That letter from the bishops is basically telling us that if we vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights, we are basically immoral and our souls are imperiled.”  [Welcome to the fallen world.  Voting is part of it.  The way you vote may harm your soul.]

Ms. LeBlanc also said she felt the letter “has gone too far towards bringing political endorsements in the [C]hurch, which is obviously not legal.”

She and Mr. Archer, who also attends Holy Trinity, said a protest of the letter is likely to occur outside the headquarters of the Dallas Diocese on Wednesday afternoon.  [American Papist got confirmation that a protest did take place.  It’s news to me; haven’t heard any details.]

The bishops declined to comment Monday. By Monday afternoon, the Diocese of Dallas had received 30 comments on the letter, 80 percent of them supportive, said communications director Annette Gonzales Taylor.  [Not at all surprised, but glad to hear it.  I sent a note of appreciation to Bishop Farrell.  If you click that American Papist link, it includes contact info.]

“I don’t think it’s an endorsement or a condemnation of a specific candidate,” said Rick Nyman, a Frisco Catholic who applauded the letter. “I think it’s a reminder of what [C]hurch dogma is. If you like it, fine. If you don’t like it, that’s not so fine, but we love you anyhow.”  [It’s not so much a matter of liking the dogma.  It’s a matter of loving and trusting God and His Church, and therefore willing yourself to obey them through obeying the dogma.  The loving and trusting part is absolutely essential to being Catholic; the obeying part will follow naturally.  But yes, even if you do opt to disobey, God still loves you, and so do we.]

Ms. Taylor said the letter was not an endorsement of any political candidate but sought to clarify Catholic teachings, particularly a document issued by U.S. bishops called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” She said the bishops felt the document was being misunderstood by some in their dioceses.

Ms. LeBlanc said she has studied the document and believes the bishops have drawn from it selectively, emphasizing one approach to combating abortion and leaving out other key issues.  [How are other key issues left out?  Catholics belong to the largest, most active humanitarian organization in the history of the world.  On top of that, Ms. LeBlanc’s own Holy Trinity parish is run by Vincentians!  There will never be any lack of addressing those other issues!  Never.  Not for her, nor for any Catholic.  And the government can’t change that.  But when her candidate comes in and passes FOCA and carries out all his other pro-abortion plans–what then? What will our plan be for addressing abortion?  There is only one approach, as she says herself.  And it necessarily involves trying to keep any fiercely, radically pro-abortion candidate out of office.  Not to try to put him there!]

” ‘Faithful Citizenship,’ to me and a lot of other Catholics, allows us to form our consciences, weighing all those issues, even though we may vote for a candidate that does not favor outlawing abortion,” she said.  [It allows no such thing.  We do not form our own consciences; we allow God and the Church to form them.  Otherwise, there would be no need for the Holy Spirit, much less for the bishops–they would be completely optional.  Did God send the Spirit and commission the apostles just to give us options?  Catholics don’t believe so!]

The bishops’ letter evoked criticism from the nonprofit group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  [Shock of shocks.]

“This is clearly an attempt on the part of these bishops to do an end-run around the federal tax law ban on electioneering by churches,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn, the group’s executive director.

But Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University and a Catholic, said the bishops are “completely in the clear from a legal standpoint” with the letter and accurately reflect the [C]hurch’s teaching.  [YES.  Thank you, Prof!]

“They are choosing to be more proactive about giving political guidance than most bishops so far have been, but there is nothing radical about the theology underlying their message,” Dr. Wilson said.  [YES!  And we love them for it!]

The bishops’ letter quotes from “Faithful Citizenship” as it identifies other “intrinsic evils,” including same-sex unions, euthanasia and “destructive” human embryonic stem cell research. The letter notes the [C]hurch’s concern with poverty, health care and immigration reform.  [Well, of course.  Does anyone really think that our bishops and all other Catholics don’t care about these issues?  The pro-Obama folks tend to suggest that a lot, and it’s ridiculous.]

But abortion gets the heaviest stress.

“As Catholics, we must treat our political choices with appropriate moral gravity and in doing so, realize our continuing and unavoidable obligation to be a voice for the voiceless unborn, whose destruction by legal abortion is the pre-eminent intrinsic evil of our day,” the letter says.  [That sums it up beautifully.  Now, what exactly is there for a Catholic to object to in there?]

Both bishops are fairly new on the job, with Bishop Vann having been leader of the Fort Worth Diocese since July 2005 and Bishop Farrell of the Dallas Diocese since May 2007.

A Gallup poll in late June found slightly more support among Catholics for Mr. Obama than for Mr. McCain.  [I wonder what those numbers would be now.  In any case, poll results do not matter.  They don’t make evil good, they don’t make darkness light, they don’t make wrong right.]

I don’t know what else to say, except for the obvious: we need to pray for Mr. Archer, Ms. LeBlanc, the people who walked out of the Mass at Holy Trinity, and everybody who is still determined to support Sen. Obama.  Not because they don’t have the right to choose their own candidate, but because supporting that particular man is the wrong thing to do.  It could have disastrous effects on our nation, our Church, and upon each supporter’s soul.