As practicing Catholics, Catholic lawmakers cannot support legislation that is "anti-life," said Bishop Raymond L. Burke in letters that he sent recently to Catholic politicians, reported the Journal Sentinel.
The bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, urged Catholic legislators to change their voting patterns, which contradict the Church’s teachings on abortion and assisted suicide. Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Burke, who served La Crosse for nine years, archbishop of St. Louis Tuesday.
If legislators were to continue to vote against the pro-life position, “I would simply have to ask them not to present themselves to receive the sacraments because they would not be Catholics in good standing," the bishop told the Journal Sentinel in an interview. "They can't promote any legislation, which would either continue or worsen the anti-life practices," he added.
"As a faithful member of the Catholic Church, you have an obligation to fulfill the duties of your office with regard not only to the laws of the state, but also with regard to the moral law," Burke wrote in a two-page letter sent to Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point).
Lassa recently voted against a bill that would have allowed health-care professionals to refuse to participate in procedures that violate their personal or spiritual beliefs.
In the letter, dated Aug. 29, Bishop Burke stressed that bishops have a duty to "enlighten the consciences of political leaders to the protection of life, especially political leaders who are Catholics.” He also cited a statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics" and included a copy of the 26-page document, reported the Journal Sentinel.
Bishop Burke asked Lassa to study the statement and schedule a meeting with him to discuss it. Lassa told the newspaper that she never scheduled a meeting with Burke and was surprised to receive the letter from him.
Elected to the Assembly in 1998 and to the Senate in a special election in May, Lassa said she sometimes feels a conflict between her personal values and beliefs and the need to represent her constituents' views.
"When I was elected, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that means I have to represent all the people of all faiths in my district," Lassa was quoted as saying in the newspaper. "But I can't let my religion take precedence over my duties as a legislator.”
The subject of Catholics in politics has become a hot topic this past year. The U.S. bishops created a new committee to look at the issue after the Vatican issued a doctrinal note on the issue earlier this year. The committee submitted a report at the semi-annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this fall.