Catholic Bishops Warn That Wrong Vote May Affect Members’ Salvation

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are ramping up their political involvement in advance of the 2008 elections, approving a new statement that warns church members that voting for candidates who back legal abortion just might send them to hell.

Religion News Service (RNS) reported that a draft of the directive said voters’ choices in the voting booth could affect their “spiritual well-being.” The bishops strengthened the document to say voting choices “may affect the individual’s salvation.”

The mandate, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” was approved during a meeting of bishops in Baltimore last month. The vote was 221-4.

The document, RNS reported, covers a range of political issues – but makes it clear that Catholics are to elevate opposition to abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research above all others when considering candidates.

“The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many,” it asserts. “It must always be opposed.”

A spokesman for the bishops insisted that the document is not intended to tell Catholics how to vote.

“This document is a summary of Catholic teaching; it is not a voter guide,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “It calls us as bishops to help form consciences for political life, not to tell people how to vote or whom to vote for or against. It offers a basic moral framework on what it means to be a Catholic and American, a believer and a voter in this coming election year.”

But to critics it looked as if the bishops are clearly trying to influence election outcomes by threatening church members with eternal damnation if they fail to vote in line with church dogma.

Catholics for a Free Choice (CFC), a group that supports legal abortion, said the ploy will not work.

CFC President Jon O’Brien noted that American Catholics generally feel free to disagree with the church hierarchy and often do not take the demands of the bishops into consideration when voting.

“This is very much of the same-old, same-old from the bishops,” said O’Brien. “They may think they are being radical in stepping up their anti-choice rhetoric, but the reality is that Catholics have not listened to them in the past, and will likely not listen to them now.”

O’Brien noted that in 2006, one poll found that 70 percent of Catholics said the views of their bishops were not important when it came to deciding which candidate to support.