Colo. Catholics turn to political concerns

Some in diocese are upset over bishop's recent letter


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Few of the several hundred parishioners who packed St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral yesterday to listen to the Rev. Donald F. Dunn speak about equating moral and civil obligations could have missed the focus of his sermon.

For the last several days throughout the Diocese of Colorado Springs, the issue that has dominated conversations is a pastoral letter issued last week by Bishop Michael J. Sheridan. In the letter, Sheridan said that Catholics should not receive communion if they vote for politicians who support abortion rights, stem-cell research, euthanasia or same-sex marriage.

From the pulpit yesterday, Dunn said he was troubled by some parts of the letter, but he did not openly criticize Sheridan's position.

"Yesterday at services, a man came to me and said, `Tell the bishop to stay out of politics,'" Dunn said during his sermon. "And I said, `No, I won't.'"

`Personal business'

But many parishioners here were far less restrained than their pastor.

"My own faith and beliefs are my own personal business, and might not be reflected on a ballot card," said Brigid Mullen, a 20-year-old college student who attended Mass with her parents and sister.

"Just because you support a politician doesn't mean you are supporting everything they support. I think that's ridiculous," added Mullen, who said she had worked recently on President Bush's re-election campaign.

Her mother, Amy Mayo-Mullen, 45, did not dispute the bishop's stance, but she said she was not in total agreement with it, either.

"I think it's in God's hands and on each person's conscience whether or not he's taking communion," Mayo-Mullen said. "We support stem-cell research because our daughter Brooks is diabetic. In the case of rape or incest, I was raised to believe that abortion is a personal choice."

In his letter, Sheridan wrote: "Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem-cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences. It is for this reason that these Catholics, whether candidates for office or those who would vote for them, may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance."

The letter was sent to each parish in the diocese, which is the second-largest in Colorado, with about 125,000 members in 10 counties. Peter Howard, a spokesman for the diocese, said there would be no attempt to ban communion for parishioners who did not heed the bishop's letter.

"It's a decision between them and their God, and there will be consequences later," Howard said. "We're not handing out candy here. This is the body and blood of Christ, hence a true communion."

Most of the parishioners at the St. Mary's Mass yesterday who were willing to talk to a reporter about the letter supported the bishop.

"I'm a Republican, so I'm OK with it," said Marilyn Legleiter, 67, who has been attending St. Mary's for more than 30 years. "And I'm a pretty staunch Catholic."

No enforcement

Legleiter wondered about the impact of the statement without enforcement.

"It's like telling your kids, `If you do that one more time, I'm going to spank you,'" she said. "If you don't spank them, then they might just keep doing it."

Although Dunn spoke of the struggle of what it means "to be a Catholic in 2004" and not "keeping our beliefs hidden in a bushel basket," he did not advise anyone not to take communion for any reason.

Tim Raskob, a 41-year-old husband and father of two, said he admired the bishop for taking such a stance but was still grappling with the implications of the letter.

"It's not a simple question," Raskob said. He said he was not a "stereotypical party person" when it came to voting and did not know whether he would take communion if he supported a candidate who did not follow the teachings of the church.

"In years past, I haven't made it that black-and-white," he said. "If all candidates available had one stance, then do I just not vote?"

For Robert Boggs, who came to Mass with his wife, Denise, and their 5-year-old twin daughters, the choice was very clear. "I think it's a good thing," Boggs said. "Catholics need to express their same values in everything they do. Either you believe or you don't believe."

He added: "No one is going to be turned away. Communion is between you and your God."

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