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Bishops urge flocks to support pro-life candidate

While acknowledging that his words could be viewed as an “intrusion into the political arena,” Allentown Diocesan Bishop Alfred A. Schlert said in a letter to Catholics in the five-county diocese that they must approach the ballot box with the defense of innocent human life uppermost in their mind and conscience.

Despite saying there is no initiative on the part of the church to support one candidate over another, Schlert might have come right out and said that Catholics have a moral obligation to support President Donald Trump, whose views align with pro-life advocates, while Democrat Joe Biden supports a pro-choice stance.

Despite his views on this controversial issue, Biden considers himself a devout Roman Catholic. If he is elected, he would become just the second Catholic ever to serve as president. The first was John F. Kennedy, who defeated Richard M. Nixon in 1960. Kennedy never completed his four-year term because he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963 after two years and 10 months in office.

Bishop Schlert’s letter was sent to all pastors in the diocese with instructions that it be read at all Masses whether in-person or virtual. It also was published in parish bulletins and the diocesan newspaper, AD Times.

The five-county diocese includes Carbon, Schuylkill, Northampton, Lehigh and Berks counties. A similar letter was sent to Monroe County Catholics by the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the Scranton Diocese. “The upcoming election provides us with a vital platform through which we, as Catholics, can give voice to core Gospel values rooted in the dignity and worth of every human person, having been created in the image and likeness of God,” Bambera wrote.

In his letter, Schlert said voting has grave moral obligations and consequences for Catholics, an obligation that can never be taken lightly “nor be contrary of a well-formed conscience.”

He described a “well-formed” conscience as one that is guided by the Holy Spirit through prayer, studying Scripture and “honestly informing oneself about the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Schlert said Catholic teaching, reaffirmed by Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, puts abortion and euthanasia as “pre-eminent issues in forming an opinion about how to vote.”

The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has energized pro-life supporters as they see this as a rare opportunity to have a clearly conservative-leaning high court, the first time since President Nixon made four appointments during his nearly six years in office before his resignation in 1974.

The appointment of a conservative justice, which Trump has promised during his term in office and whom he plans to name Saturday, would mean a 6-3 ratio, and pro-life advocates see this as the most advantageous time to begin dismantling Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision in 1973 which permitted legal abortions.

In his letter, Schlert makes a veiled reference to concerns about the Trump presidency. “There never are … perfect candidates for office,” he wrote. “None completely matches our desires on temperament, social justice, immigration or foreign, domestic or economic policies.”

Despite this, he said, that’s why the church is offering guidance for Catholic voters in correctly forming their consciences, “especially on the overriding foundational issues of abortion and euthanasia.”

Schlert defended the right of the Catholic Church and its bishops to insert themselves into the Catholic voter’s deliberative process. He said that they “have a serious obligation and right to participate in public discourse and to assist the faithful in properly forming their consciences to be able to participate fully with free and informed will, in the moral and civil act of voting.”

In 1960, Kennedy lost many traditional counties in Pennsylvania, including Monroe, because of voters’ suspicions about the possible influence of the pope on a Catholic president. What was not realized until researchers completed their data months after the election was that Kennedy gained major support because of his Catholicism, especially in states with large numbers of electoral votes.

In attempting to dispel Protestants’ concerns about papal influence, Kennedy famously said, “When any man stands on the Capitol and takes the oath of office of president, he is swearing to support the separation of church and state. If he breaks the oath, he is not only committing a crime against the Constitution for which Congress can and should impeach him, but he is committing a sin against God.”

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com