Catholic bishops to voters: Your salvation is at stake

They’re not saying you’re required to vote a certain way. They’re just saying … think hard.

And not just about abortion, either. One of the other issues God will be in the booth watching for is immigration.

Proclaiming a sense of new energy and empowerment, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday issued instructions to Catholic voters that their eternal salvation could be at stake when they cast ballots.

Bishops emphasized that voters must consider the church’s teachings on abortion and other moral issues when they select a candidate for the White House or any other office. If they don’t, bishops said, it’s not clergy who will judge them but God.

“It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens have an impact on general peace and prosperity and also the individual’s salvation,” the bishops said in the document, titled “Faithful Citizenship.” “Similarly, the kinds of laws and policies supported by public officials affect their spiritual well-being.”…

Voters are implored not to support abortion-rights political candidates but also advised that views on abortion should not be the sole factor. Catholics should also weigh church teaching on such moral issues as immigration, just war and poverty, bishops said.

The voting guidelines followed a letter issued by outgoing President Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., calling for a responsible transition in Iraq.

“Our nation must focus on the ethics of exit than on the ethics of intervention,” Skylstad wrote.

After the document was approved, Cardinal O’Malley of Boston told an interviewer that it sometimes “borders on scandal” that Catholics continue to vote for pro-choice Democrats from Massachusetts. How that squares with the emphasis on not being single-issue voters escapes me. The same Newsmax article fills in a few more blanks about the new voting instructions:

“The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many,” the bishops declared in the document, called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

The document also states that “as Catholics we are not single-issue voters,” but adds, “a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”

Given some American bishops’ pronouncements on amnesty, I take it that border enforcement falls under the heading of “promotion of racism.” (And staying the course in Iraq, too?)

My only objection to all this is that it seems not to go far enough. They’re declaring certain behaviors “intrinsically evil” — but not insisting that Catholics vote against them. Why not? I could understand an exception being made in a case where a voter had to choose between two evils, but what’s the excuse in a match-up along the lines of Rudy vs. Fred where foreign policy is basically a wash and the key differences come down to abortion? The bishops’ reluctance to threaten excommunication for Rudy voters in those circumstances seems motivated less by principle than by the fear that many Catholics would bristle at being asked to bow to their own church’s teachings at such an important moment and will walk away. Or have I misunderstood something? I’m asking seriously.