Just ahead of Election Day, one of the most influential American churchmen in the Vatican, Cardinal-designate Raymond L. Burke, has warned Catholic voters in the United States that they may never vote for politicians who support abortion rights or same-sex marriage, position usually associated with Democratic candidates.
Burke, an outspoken conservative and the former archbishop of St. Louis who will be made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI next month, made his remarks in a videotaped interview in Rome with Thomas J. McKenna, head of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, a conservative lobbying group based in San Diego.
In the interview, which Catholic Action taped on Oct. 20 and started promoting Thursday on YouTube, McKenna asks Burke, "Is it ever licit for a Catholic to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, a candidate who either in a platform or who has voted, has shown himself to support that. Is it ever valid?"
"No," Burke answers. "You can never vote for someone who favors absolutely the right to choice of a woman to destroy a human life in her womb or the right to a procured abortion."
He adds that voters "may in some circumstances, where you don't have any candidate who is proposing to eliminate all abortion, choose the candidate who will most limit this grave evil in our country. But you could never justify voting for a candidate who not only does not want to limit abortion but believes that it should be available to everyone."
Burke also cited same-sex marriage as the other great threat to American society that Catholic voters, like Catholic politicians, are bound by their faith to oppose. And he rejected the charge that such a position discriminates against gays and lesbians just as laws once discriminated against African-Americans.
"Where there is unjust discrimination -- for instance, where you say that a fellow human being, because of the color of his skin, is not a part of the same race as someone, say, who is a Caucasian -- that is a kind of discrimination which is unjust and immoral," Burke said.
"But there is a discrimination which is perfectly just and good, and that is the discrimination between what is right and what is wrong -- between what is according to our human nature and what is contrary to our human nature. So the Catholic Church, in teaching that sexual acts between persons of the same sex are intrinsically evil, are against nature itself, is simply announcing the truth, helping people to discriminate right from wrong in terms of their own activities."
Since 2008, Burke has been the top judge on the Vatican's supreme court and serves on the powerful Vatican committee that makes recommendations on the appointment of bishops to the pope. When he is formally made a cardinal in November, the 62-year-old Burke will also have a vote in the conclave that will eventually elect a successor to the 83-year-old Benedict.
Burke's interview comes at a politically volatile moment and at a time when conservative Catholic lobbies and bloggers in the United States are more active than ever in trying to make their voices and views the dominant ones within the church and in Catholic political circles.
Burke has often been at odds with some of his brother bishops in the United States, whom he sees as too lenient in speaking out against abortion rights and same-sex marriage and in denying communion to Catholic politicians who take positions contrary to those of the bishops.
The cardinal-designate's latest comments on Catholic voters also seem to diverge somewhat from the current policy of the U.S. hierarchy, as developed in 2004, and based in part on advice from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's chief doctrinal officer who a year later was elected pope on the death of John Paul II.
In a letter to the American bishops meeting in 2004 to formulate their policy of Catholics in public life, Ratzinger noted that a Catholic voter would be unfit to receive communion "if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia."
Ratzinger added: "When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."
Burke's latest statements, however, seemed to take a harder line on Catholic voters.
"No matter what good I'm trying to achieve by voting for a candidate who favors that good, but at the same time favors the intrinsic evil, the grave evil of abortion, they can never justify that, voting for that candidate," he told McKenna.
McKenna said he thinks the statements by Burke -- one of two bishops advising his organization -- are not partisan but make the electoral choices crystal clear for Catholic voters.
"Millions of Catholics have no idea it's a sin to vote for candidates who favor these grave evils, which attack the very foundations of society," he said. "This matter-of-fact, pointed interview granted to me by Archbishop Raymond Burke in Rome last week makes it very clear what the responsibility of every American Catholic will be next Tuesday."
In the interview, Burke said he also rejects the common criticism that highlighting opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage effectively endorses Republican candidates.
"Sadly, in the society in which we live, it is oftentimes difficult for bishops to carry out their office because they are accused of being partisan or other accusations are made against them," Burke said. "But what a bishop should simply do is say to himself, 'What does the Catholic faith teach about this matter and how can I best announce it to the people, to alert them so that they do what in their consciences they are obliged to do?'"
Burke's arguments may be moot, as Catholic voters already seemed to be swinging -- along with many other blocs -- away from Democrats and toward Republicans, though not always because of the moral issues Burke highlighted.
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