Catholic wars

Posted: Oct 20, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- John Kerry's promise in the last presidential debate that he would impose an abortion litmus test on Supreme Court selections deepened anxiety of pro-life Catholics. For Charles J. Chaput, Roman Catholic archbishop of Denver, and Brian P. Golden, a Democrat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, election of a pro-choice Catholic spells disaster.
The archbishop and the state representative, who have never met, are part of a loosely connected national network sending a message to Mass-attending Catholics: For all of his new emphasis on his Catholicism, Sen. Kerry violates the Church's "foundational" belief with blanket opposition to all anti-abortion measures. I talked to Chaput and Golden this week, and both see Kerry endangering the Catholic position on abortion.

 In a largely unpublished interview with The New York Times, the Denver archbishop said: "If the Church challenges a President Kerry on [destruction of unborn children through embryonic stem-cell research], it will appear to be interfering. If the Church remains silent, it will appear cowardly." In a monograph ("Should Catholics Vote for Kerry?"), Golden writes that Kerry rejects protection of life "through humane public policy" and that "his frequent declaration that he 'was an altar boy' is not enough to dispel Catholics' concerns."

 Those concerns are intensified by the campaign of the first Catholic nominee for president since John F. Kennedy. While Kennedy 44 years ago did not want to call attention to his religion, Kerry stresses his Catholicism -- an emphasis not apparent in his Massachusetts campaigns the past three decades. He says he accepts the Catholic doctrine that "life begins at conception" but will not impose it on others. It then becomes something like rooting for the Red Sox, which should not be forced on Yankee fans.

  "Catholics with a little catechism and logic know better," Representative Golden writes. He asserts that Kerry "for 20 years, on matters most fundamental to Catholics, has been consistently wrong" and "is among the fervent supporters of abortion in the Senate." The confirmation came in the Tempe, Ariz., debate when he answered a question about Roe v. Wade: "I'm not going to appoint a judge to the court who's going to undo a constitutional right."

 Archbishop Chaput, in the Oct. 12 New York Times, is quoted after an interview with two of the newspaper's reporters: "If you vote this way [for a candidate like Kerry], are you cooperating in evil? And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes." That is interpreted in the story as asking Catholics to vote for George W. Bush.

 But there is much more in the transcript of Chaput's interview with the Times, prepared and given to me by the archbishop's office. Chaput rejects the "seamless garment" of Catholic issues woven together "as an excuse to sideline the abortion issue." The archbishop calls on Catholics "to get over this compromising" and deliver "a very clear, collective 'no!' -- a grand refusal to vote for anybody who is pro-choice, so that we have some political influence on this issue."

 While Chaput says President Bush surpasses all predecessors on the life issue, he made clear he has no affection for the Republican Party beyond opposition to abortion. "If it goes in the wrong way," he said, "we won't be natural allies." If pro-choice Republican Rudy Giuliani were nominated for president in 2008, "you're going to see the Republicans screaming at the Church for making such an issue of a pro-life matter."

 Golden, who also supported Bush in 2000, is not much of a Democrat. But he is no Republican. The 35-year-old third-termer representing a Boston inner city district advocates social justice, opposes capital punishment and votes solidly pro-environmentalist. Like the archbishop, he could not support Giuliani for president.

 Golden four years ago was the only elected Democrat north of the Mason-Dixon Line to endorse Bush. Chaput is regarded as indiscreet by many colleagues in the hierarchy. But Golden and Chaput represent pro-life Catholics who fear the nightmare of John Kerry in the White House and the defeated GOP abandoning their issue. The attack on human life, says the archbishop, is "not going away. It's getting worse."