An election forum at a Pennsylvania parish that took place last Sunday was organized to allow Catholics the opportunity to defend their support for McCain and Obama. However, the forum took a surprising turn when an unexpected guest showed up to guide his flock, the Bishop of Scranton, Joseph F. Martino.
The forum, which took place at St. John’s Catholic Church in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, was underway when the bishop arrived. Four panel members were sharing their perspectives on the presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, some pledging to vote for the Republican, others for the Democrat.
One of the panelists, Sister Margaret Gannon of Marywood University cited statements from “Faithful Citizenship” a document on voting released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She noted that “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. ”
After Sr. Gannon spoke, the bishop took the floor. Bill Genello, a spokesman for the Diocese of Scranton told the Wayne Independent that when Bishop Martino arrived, his intention was to listen “to the presenters and how they might discuss Catholic teaching.”
However, he continued, “Certain groups and individuals have used their own erroneous interpretations of Church documents, particularly the U.S. Bishops’ statement on Faithful Citizenship, to justify their political positions and to contradict the Church’s actual teaching on the centrality of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.”
When the bishop heard the speakers using the bishops’ statement to justify their choice for president, he reminded the audience that those “groups and individuals who make statements about Catholic teaching do not speak with the same authority or authenticity as their bishop.”
The prelate then clarified his authority as bishop and the Church’s teachings on abortion as an election issue.
“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino according to the Wayne Independent. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
“The only relevant document ... is my letter,” he continued, “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
The letter he referred to was a pastoral letter to his entire diocese that was published in the first week of October. In his message, Bishop Martino states that a candidate’s abortion stance is a major voting issue that supersedes all others due to its grave moral consequences.
He wrote: “To begin, laws that protect abortion constitute injustice of the worst kind. They rest on several false claims including that there is no certainty regarding when life begins, that there is no certainty about when a fetus becomes a person, and that some human beings may be killed to advance the interests or convenience of others.”
“Another argument goes like this: ‘As wrong as abortion is, I don't think it is the only relevant ‘life’ issue that should be considered when deciding for whom to vote.’ This reasoning is sound only if other issues carry the same moral weight as abortion does, such as in the case of euthanasia and destruction of embryos for research purposes. ... National Right to Life reports that 48.5 million abortions have been performed since 1973. One would be too many. No war, no natural disaster, no illness or disability has claimed so great a price.”
He also touched on just war. “Even the Church’s just war theory has moral force because it is grounded in the principle that innocent human life must be protected and defended. Now, a person may, in good faith, misapply just war criteria leading him to mistakenly believe that an unjust war is just, but he or she still knows that innocent human life may not be harmed on purpose. A person who supports permissive abortion laws, however, rejects the truth that innocent human life may never be destroyed. This profound moral failure runs deeper and is more corrupting of the individual, and of the society, than any error in applying just war criteria to particular cases.”
“No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people,” he said, noting that he no longer supports the Democratic Party. “This is madness people.”
When the prelate concluded his speech, most audience members gave him a standing ovation, while others were upset that the leader of the diocese made an appearance. Bishop Martino left the event shortly after making his remarks.
Organizers of the event had mixed emotions regarding the bishop’s appearance.
Father Martin Boylan, pastor of St. John’s said that they “were very careful not to endorse anyone,” and that the forum was meant to be “a political slash editorial forum about the presidential election.”
He also explained that the state church guidelines were “carefully followed” for the event.