By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 05/14/07 07:47 PM EDT
Eighteen House Democrats, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), are responding to Pope Benedict XVI’s statement that indicated he would support Mexican bishops if they were to excommunicate Mexican legislators who voted last month to legalize abortion in Mexico City.
“We are concerned with the Pope’s recent statement warning Catholic elected officials that they risk excommunication and would not receive communion for their pro-choice views,” the lawmakers said in a statement issued yesterday. “Advancing respect for life and for the dignity of every human being is, as our church has taught us, our own life’s mission.”
The Democratic lawmakers said that the suggested penalty “offend[s] the very nature of the American experiment and do[es] a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church has done.”
The Pope’s spokesman later clarified the pontiff’s remarks, saying that, ‘’Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist,’’ and politicians who favor abortion rights should ‘’exclude themselves
Other lawmakers were not as politic as the House Democrats.
“I’ve always thought also that those bishops and archbishops who for decades hid pederasts and are now being protected by the Vatican should be indicted,” said Catholic Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who spoke to reporters last week.
Over the last several years, a few Catholic bishops have threatened to deny communion and other sacraments to politicians who favor abortion rights because their views are not in-step with Church doctrine. The decision to withhold sacraments is made by individual bishops, said Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The debate over whether pro-choice Catholics should receive communion could intensify in the 2008 race for the White House.
In 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the first Catholic Democratic presidential nominee since President John Kennedy ran in 1960, received communion one day after a top Vatican cardinal said politicians who back abortion rights should be denied the Eucharist.
Kerry lost the Catholic vote by 13 points to President Bush, according to DemocracyCorps, a Democratic polling firm.
There are four 2008 presidential candidates who are Catholic: Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.),
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. They all support abortion rights.
On the Republican side, Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, and ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are Catholic. Brownback and Thompson oppose abortion rights while Giuliani favors them.
In February, former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) was under pressure to fire two female bloggers who had criticized the Catholic Church before joining the campaign. While Edwards decided not to fire the two women, one subsequently
Some Catholic organizations have criticized the Pope’s statement.
Jon O’Brien, the executive director of Catholics for a Free Choice, said, “[Pope Benedict] is still putting dogma ahead of the lived reality of the Catholic laity… it will only push Catholic politicians further from the institutional church.”
The House Democrats’ letter mirrors a “statement of principles” that 55 Democrats, encompassing a broad ideological swath of the caucus, signed last year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who is Catholic, signed the letter, as did anti-abortion rights Reps. Bart Stupak (Mich.) and Jim Langevin (R.I.).
In the statement of principles, Democratic lawmakers wrote that they agreed with the Roman Catholic Church’s position on the “undesirability of abortion” and that “each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term.”
Meanwhile, Catholic voters’ attitudes towards abortion are changing, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll released in March. Only 10 percent of those polled believe that abortion should be legal in all cases, a 16 percent drop since 2004. But there has been a corresponding rise in the number who said it should be legal in most cases.