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Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
  • Bishop stresses abortion view at political forum

  • A presidential election forum at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church on Sunday centered mainly on abortion.


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  • A presidential election forum at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church on Sunday centered mainly on abortion.
    The argument and audience, however, erupted when Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino unexpectedly arrived and vehemently expressed his distaste for what was said about the church’s stance on voting for pro-choice candidates and the exclusion of his anti-abortion letter at the forum, which recommends voting against pro-choice candidates for moral reasons. 
    Four panelists
    Prior to Martino’s arrival, the forum began with four panelists - local businessman Tom Shepstone, University of Scranton professor William Parente, Sister Margaret Gannon of Marywood University and county commissioner Wendell Kay -  sharing their views about presidential candidates Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois.
    Shepstone, who supports McCain and focused on abortion, said a vote for Obama will not protect the unborn.
    “The common ground begins with the respect to the dignity of every life,” said Shepstone, noting that the U.S. government’s role is protect the public’s and the unborn’s inalienable rights of life and liberty.  “The right to life ... is the natural God given right.”
    “Rights John McCain respects and Barack Obama does not,” he said.
    Kay, who supports Obama, touched on several national issues, briefly addressing abortion.
    “I am pro-life,” said Kay.  “I don’t agree with the Roe (vs.) Wade decisions.”
    He noted, however, that it was a Supreme Court decision and that “we’re kidding ourselves” to think one political candidate or one political party will overturn it.
    He also said today’s Supreme Court - which has not overturned the controversial 1973 legislation - was mostly appointed by Republican presidents.
    Republican presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush nominated seven justices, of nine, which currently sit on the court.  Democratic president Bill Clinton nominated two justices, who are currently on the bench, noted Kay.  
    “Why is that? That’s a question we ought to be asking ourselves,” he said.
    Parente, who supports McCain, said a vote for Obama “is foolish, although not sinful, for Catholics.”
    He acknowledge that a majority of Jesuits, a male Catholic religious order, at the University of Scranton are “ardent Democrats.”
    “I believe in good conscious, good Catholics, will be voting both ways in this election,” he said.
    He warned, however, that “the election of Obama will bring us liberal justices on the court.”
    Sister Gannon, who did not state her candidate preference, cited statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) , which say that a political candidate’s position on abortion must be weighed against other moral issues, such as unjust wars or stem-cell research, when it comes time to vote. 
    Page 2 of 3 - Full body of bishop’s ok’d it
    According to the USCCB’s “Faithful Citizenship” statement, approved by the full body of U.S. bishops in 2007, “a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. ”
    Martino, who arrived while the panelists were stating their viewpoints, took issue with the USCCB statement, which was handed out to everyone at the meeting, and also that his letter was not mentioned once at the forum
    “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino.  “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
    “The only relevant document ... is my letter,” he said.  “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
    His letter, published Sept. 30 and circulated throughout the diocese, states that a candidate’s abortion stance is a major voting issue that supersedes all other considerations due to its grave moral consequences.
    “Health care, education, economic security, immigration, and taxes are very important concerns. Neglect of any one of them has dire consequences as the recent financial crisis demonstrates. However, the solutions to problems in these areas do not usually involve a rejection of the sanctity of human life in the way that abortion does,” the letter says. “Another argument goes like this: ‘As wrong as abortion is, I don't think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.’ This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. ... National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973. One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price.”
    The letter also states that Catholic public officials who “persist in public support for abortion” should “not partake in or be admitted to the sacrament of Holy Communion.”
    Receiving communion is a holy ritual -a person consumes a bread wafer, symbolically infused with the body of Christ -  at Catholic churches.
    “No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people,” he said, nothing that he no longer supports the Democratic Party.  “This is madness people.”
    Martino also said that he wanted to persuade Father Martin Boylan, of St. John’s, to cancel the forum.  
    After his comments, most of the audience stood and clapped loudly while some were angry that the bishop usurped the forum. 
    Page 3 of 3 - About a quarter of the audience left after the bishop’s comments, which preceded the last half of the forum, a question and answer session with the panelists.
    Martino exited shortly after his comments.
    Diocese issues comment
    “Bishop Martino was aware that the forum at St. John ... was being held. He attended with the intention of listening to the presenters, and how they might discuss Catholic teaching,” wrote Bill Genello, a diocese spokesperson, in an e-mail exchange on Monday.  “Certain groups and individuals have used their own erroneous interpretations of Church documents, particularly the U.S. Bishops’ statement on Faithful Citizenship, to justify their political positions and to contradict the Church’s actual teaching on the centrality of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.”
    “ ... He reminded those in attendance, and by extension all the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton, that groups such as Catholic United ... and other like-minded groups and individuals who make statements about Catholic teaching do not speak with the same authority or authenticity as their bishop.”
    Torpedoed forum
    “I think this meeting was torpedoed,” said Gene Tagle, the forum’s moderator.   “He’s (Martino) known for three months that this has been in the works.”
    After calm returned, Boylan said: “We were very careful not to endorse anyone.”
    He said it was meant to be “a political slash editorial forum about the presidential election” and that he “carefully followed” state church guidelines for such an event.
    “I did not know that the bishop does not support the U.S. Conference of Bishops,” said Gannon, after Martino’s remarks. 
    Shepstone said the forum was “giving cover” to candidates who support abortion and promptly stormed out.
    Parente left without notice. 
    It went on, however, for another 45 minutes with the focus remaining on abortion.
    Nancy Pinto, of Moscow and a pro-life advocate, said abortion is “the greatest civil rights issue of our time.”
    “I’m a Catholic before I am a Democrat,” she said, and warned others not to be “Catholics of convenience.”
    “Abortion is horrible,” said Mike Keough, of Honesdale.  “This has nothing to do with Catholicism; it has to do with the Declaration of Independence.”
    Nobody publicly spoke in favor of pro-choice. 
    There were a couple of questions and comments regarding energy policy and third-party candidates. 
     

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