c. 2006 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON _ A coalition of 55 Catholic House Democrats on Tuesday (Feb. 28) acknowledged the “moral leadership” of the Catholic Church but said they will remain “in disagreement with the church” on some issues, including abortion rights.
The “statement of principles” resurrects a battle from the 2004 elections when some Catholic politicians _ especially Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry _ found themselves at odds with church leaders over their support of abortion rights.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who spearheaded the statement, said Catholic Democrats did not want to see Catholic faith defined solely by a “one-issue, very narrow right-wing agenda.”
“This is about the whole notion that the Catholic purpose is not defined by one issue,” DeLauro said in an interview, “and what we wanted to try to do was instead of other people defining us, we needed to try to define ourselves.”
The statement was less confrontational than one issued in May 2004, in which 48 Catholic Democrats said threats by some bishops to deny Communion to dissenting politicians were “deeply hurtful” and “counter-productive.”
The lawmakers said they want to work with church leaders on issues of poverty, health care and education under the “Catholic tradition … that promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net” for the needy.
The lawmakers agreed with the “undesirability of abortion” and promised to work to reduce the number of “unwanted pregnancies” and increase alternatives to abortion.
“We don’t celebrate abortion,” said DeLauro, who has consistently received top ratings from abortion-rights groups. “Others have said we celebrate abortion. We do not.”
The statement asked for room to disagree on abortion rights, which the church staunchly opposes. “In all these issues, we seek the church’s guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience,” the statement said.
DeLauro said the statement got the support of 55 of the 72 House Democrats who are Catholic, and said it evolved over months of discussions and “was not at all driven” by the upcoming mid-term congressional elections.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who is heading a bishops’ task force on how to respond to dissenting politicians, said Tuesday he could not comment on the specifics of the statement because he had not seen it, but said he was willing to continue informal discussions with Catholics in both parties.
“We know we agree on some things, we disagree on other things, but there is always room to talk,” McCarrick said.
DeLauro has emerged as the voice of liberal Catholic strongholds in the Northeast, and has tried to push her party to be more comfortable with issues of faith. Last year she conducted a survey that showed Democrats vote more in line with church teaching than Republicans.
When the 109th Congress convened last January, there were 154 Catholics in the House and Senate _ 87 Democrats and 67 Republicans.
DeLauro’s statement included some Democrats who oppose abortion, such as Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, as well as prominent abortion-rights supporters, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
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Editors: To obtain a photo of Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., go to the RNS Web site at https://religionnews.com. On the lower right, click on “photos,” then search by subject or slug. If searching by subject, designate “exact phrase” for best results.
To see the complete list of the statement’s signers, go to DeLauro’s congressional Web site (http://www.house.gov/delauro).