The Catholic Church opposes abortion, and some of its leaders have taken that opposition so far into the political realm that they should be endangering the church's tax exemption.
One example recently comes from Scranton, PA, Joe Biden's birthplace and a purple part of the state that has attracted several visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates in the last two months.
Scranton's Roman Catholic bishop, Joseph Martino, barged into a presidential forum at St. John's Church in Honesdale Sunday, and created a scene that made the papers.
Martino is one of the relatively few Catholic bishops who are pushing the tax-exemption envelope.
Martino has said that he "will not tolerate any politician who claims to be a faithful Catholic who is not genuinely pro-life," and has implied that Biden, as a "Catholic politician who supports the culture of death" should not dare to take Communion in his diocese.
Adding that he "will be truly vigilant on this point."
Martino's intervention in the presidential forum was almost medieval.
One person on the forum panel cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops position that a political candidate’s position on abortion must be weighed against other moral issues, such as unjust wars or stem-cell research.
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."
That statement really pissed Martino off.
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 that his letter was not mentioned 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. 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.
That's the medieval part -- Martino believes that he is the religious lord of the Scranton diocese, and can disregard national Catholic policy because his more extreme views are "not debatable."
Many Catholics, alas, bow to their ecclesiastical lord:
After the bishop’s comments, most of the audience stood and clapped loudly while some were angry that Martino usurped the forum.
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.
The Catholic vote is important in many states, including Pennsylvania, and it is not a one-issue constituency, no matter what Martino tries to decree.
According to a recent poll, less than a third of Catholics vote solely on abortion issues.
A sociologist at a Jesuit college has an insightful quote in that story:
Only 21 percent said their own parish priest had an effect on their vote. The majority said that their priest had little or no effect on their vote. The same with bishops -- only 27 percent said they would follow what the bishops said."
No wonder Martino felt the need to barge into a parish meeting and try to bully Catholics into voting for McCain.
Which probably will increase the Scranton area Catholic vote for Obama.
Thankfully, Pennsylvania is solidly for Obama, no matter what one wingnut bishop does to lord it over his flock.