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US Bishops consider sanctions for politicians

The Catholic Bishops of the United States are talking about recommending sanctions for Catholic politicians who favour policies contrary to church teaching on abortion and other issues.

The Bishops are meeting in Washington this week to consider a long list of items including devotional practices and the plight of farmworkers.

A task force of bishops will take up the idea of a church punishment for recalcitrant politicians as it develops guidelines on how bishops should respond to Catholic lawmakers who do not uphold church values in their work.

Bishop Joseph Galante, a task force member, said some dioceses already ban from church property elected officials who support abortion rights.

Asked what other sanctions may be available, he said it was an issue canon law experts and theologians would have to research. For example, he said that under church law, Catholics who have a direct role in an abortion can be excommunicated.

Moral theologians would have to decide whether a Catholic politician who votes for abortion rights facilitated the procedure and should therefore be excommunicated, said Galante.

The Vatican and US bishops have for years urged Catholic legislators to consider their faith when they vote. No date has been set for the American guidelines to be completed.

"I'm tired of hearing Catholic politicians saying `I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I don't want to impose my moral judgments on anyone else,'" Galante said. "Politicians make moral judgments all the time. That's a weaseling out of something."

Meanwhile, the Washington meeting began on Monday with a speech from Conference President Bishop Wilton Gregory urging his fellow bishops to repair the bonds with rank-and-file Catholics that have been broken during nearly two years of crisis over clergy sex abuse.

"If the scourge of sex abuse is to be effectively eliminated, then the energy of the whole church needs to be directed to this end," he said.

The meeting is the bishops' fourth national gathering since the abuse crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston in January 2002 and spread to dioceses throughout the country. The bishops' conference has enacted a mandatory discipline policy for guilty priests and has commissioned an unprecedented official survey on the extent of abuse in the church.

Bishops Consider Sanctions for Politicians (Associated Press/Guardian)
Catholic Bishops Meet to Discuss War, Devotions, Healing (Associated Press/Beliefnet)

US Conference of Cathoilc Bishops | Media Advisory: USCCB Annual Meeting, November 10-13, Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill
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Response to sex abuse and a dozen other topics on bishops' agenda (Catholic News Service)
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Bishops Consider Sanctions for Politicians (Associated Press/
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12 Nov 2003