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Abortion-rights debate ongoing among Catholics

In June, the St. Louis archbishop said it is wrong to give support
to a pro-choice candidate.
Friday, August 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:54 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

Jackie Cook-Eberle sports a purple button on her bag that reads “Abort Bush in the first term.” As a Catholic who supports abortion rights, she disagrees with a recent statement made by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis.

On June 24, Burke said on KMOX radio that Catholics who vote for abortion-rights supporters should not receive Communion without first confessing their sin.

“We always have to remember it is objectively wrong to vote for a pro-choice politician,” Burke said.

“Catholics teach of love and compassion,” Cook-Eberle said. “Burke’s statement teaches of contempt and damnation.”

The issue of Catholic politicians and abortion could play a significant role in the upcoming presidential election. The debate gained national attention in January when Burke said he would deny Communion to John Kerry. Kerry is a Catholic who supports abortion rights.

“He is a strong, practicing Catholic, and he believes like John Kennedy used to say; he doesn’t speak for the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church doesn’t speak for him,” said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign.

Cook-Eberle is a 20-year-old MU student and vice president of Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom. She said the student group tries to raise awareness on spirituality and abortion rights. Cook-Eberle said she doesn’t think people should be boxed into one form of Catholicism.

“I believe you shouldn’t have to choose between being pro-life and pro-choice,” she said. “That decision should be left between a woman and her god.”

Mary Kay Head, an active member in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, agrees Burke should not have made the statement. But she sees a disparity between the political and moral views of some Catholics.

“There are certain things you believe if you are Catholic,” Head said. “I can’t say I believe they are true Catholics if they are pro-abortion.”

Monsignor Michael Flanagan, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes, which is the largest Catholic Church in Columbia, said he would not use Communion as a tool to force people to vote for a certain candidate.

“That’s their free choice and a very personal one,” Flanagan said.

Josh Korte, a 25-year-old parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, supports Burke.

“Burke ought to speak out,” Korte said. “His job is stand up for the rules. The church says be pro-life, or don’t receive Communion. It’s a private organization. If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

According to Catholic doctrine, Catholics should be without serious sin before receiving Communion. The sacrament is fundamental to their spirituality.

“It is the center and source of our unity,” said Sister Francine Koehler, coordinator of Hispanic ministries and pastoral care at Sacred Heart.

Sister Koehler said the decision to receive Communion should be left to the informed conscience of each person.

“I believe in pro-life, and I believe abortion is evil, but I don’t believe we should judge each person on who they vote for,” Sister Koehler said. “You are not directly participating in evil by voting for a pro-choice candidate.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops left the decision to deny Communion up to individual bishops. The three parishes in Columbia are members of the Jefferson City diocese.

Mark Saucier, communications director for the Jefferson City diocese, said Bishop John Gaydos is not expected to issue a statement.

Cyndy Chapman, an active member of Sacred Heart, has read the archbishop’s words.

“Everyone needs to understand exactly what was being said and that it was being said by one bishop,” Chapman said.

The Rev. Charles Pardee of St. Thomas More Newman Center would not issue a statement.


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