Casting the First Stone; It Is One Thing to Preach the Teachings of the Church, Quite Another to Use the Centerpiece of the Faith as a Tool to Influence the Ballot Box

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Byline: Anna Quindlen

It was nearly 25 years ago that Robert Drinan, a member of Congress and an outspoken Jesuit (a redundancy if there ever was one), so enraged the Vatican with his defense of abortion rights that an order came down from Rome demanding priests withdraw from politics.

It appears that someone has had a change of heart.

Or at least that's how it seems now that certain segments of the Roman Catholic hierarchy are behaving like wholly owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party, hellbent on a course that will weaken the church's moral authority and eventually deplete its membership. And all because of abortion, the issue the celibate male leadership is least equipped to personally understand.

To paraphrase a Gospel passage, my Father's house is a house of prayer, but they have made it a den of partisanship. The archbishop of St. Louis announced that if John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, showed up for mass he would be denied communion. After threats from clerics in New Jersey, the pro-choice Democratic governor saved himself the embarrassment of being turned away by saying he would no longer present himself for the sacrament; the Democratic majority leader of the state Senate responded by quitting the church and saying he will likely join the Episcopalians. And in Colorado a bishop went a step further, saying that any Catholic who supports politicians who favor abortion rights, same-sex marriage or stem-cell research should not take communion.

Surely the next step is to put ushers at the door each Sunday with a purity checklist. Adulterer? Out. Gay? Out. Tax cheat? Gossip? Condom in your pocket? Out. Out. Out. My, how empty those pews have grown. And the altar, too, where we learned that too many priests had a secret life of sexual abuse. Why were known pedophiles permitted to give communion for years, while people of conscience at odds with Vatican teaching (not church dogma) are prohibited from receiving it? It brings to mind the always topical injunction that it's he who is without sin who gets to cast the first stone.

Too many bishops seem to have missed key seminary lessons: the ones on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas that civil and moral law are often two different things, or those on the tradition in Catholic thought that a good law must be enforceable, not a law like one prohibiting abortion that will be so often broken that it leads to disregard for all laws. Too many bishops seem to have forgotten the notion of the individual examination of conscience. Instead they have decided to examine conscience for us, particularly if we are liberal Democrats. …