Archbishop’s letter urges voters

Archbishop presses Catholics to vote for candidates who share the church’s beliefs.
Thursday, October 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:51 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Representatives of Missouri’s gubernatorial candidates offered differing thoughts about the latest political pronouncement from one of the top Roman Catholic leaders in Missouri.

In an Oct. 1 letter, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke wrote that it would be a sin for a Catholic to vote for a politician who supports abortion rights unless that candidate is aligned with the overall views of the archdiocese.

Abortion rights is one of the major issues dividing Republican Matt Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, who is Catholic.

The archdiocese has more than 500,000 parishioners, but McCaskill spokesman Glenn Campbell said the Democratic nominee isn’t worried that Burke’s letter might have hurt her candidacy among Catholic voters.

“I am a Catholic; my boss is a Catholic. There are a lot of people on this campaign that are Catholic, and we are just not going to let this dictate the way we vote,” Campbell said. “I don’t think people do that anyway.”

John Hancock, spokesman for Republican Matt Blunt, said the comments offer an opportunity for Missouri residents to gauge whether Blunt’s views match their own.

“On most of those issues, Matt Blunt’s record and Claire McCaskill’s record couldn’t be more different, and I think the archbishop’s letter, along with the values of most of the people in this state, are more aligned with Matt Blunt than they are with Claire McCaskill,” Hancock said.

In addition to abortion, the Oct. 1 letter also cited gay marriage and embryonic stem-cell research as issues that Catholics should consider at the polls.

Steve Puro, a political science professor at St. Louis University, said priests’ statements on values had more influence over elections in the 19th century, when the church played a more integral role in politics and community affairs.

“I think individuals already voting on those issues would not be further motivated by comments made by the archbishop,” Puro said.

The Rev. Edward Richard, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Burke released the letter to guide parishioners on how to live out their roles as Christ’s disciples and how to fulfill their responsibilities for the common good.

Asked specifically about McCaskill, Richard said, “her view to support abortion is inconsistent with her Catholic faith. She is in error about this issue.”

Campbell disagreed.

“Those opinions are opinions of conscience and are important for every single individual to make,” Campbell said.

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