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 CNS Story:
KERRY-MAHONY May-11-2004 (760 words) xxxi

Cardinal says education on abortion more effective than sanctions

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said he believes the church's efforts to educate people about the reality and immorality of abortion are more effective than imposing sanctions on politicians who support legal abortion.

The cardinal spoke to Catholic News Service at the Vatican May 11, less than a week after he had a private meeting with Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry and his wife.

Cardinal Mahony said the May 5 meeting with the presumptive Democratic nominee for president "was very cordial, very friendly," but private.

The cardinal said Kerry and his wife had arranged to visit the new Los Angeles cathedral during a Cinco de Mayo campaign stop in Los Angeles and had asked if the cardinal would be available for a meeting.

Like Cardinal Mahony, Kerry declined to tell journalists what they discussed.

Kerry's expected nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July will make him the first major-party Catholic candidate for president since John F. Kennedy.

The conflict between church teaching and Kerry's political position on abortion has been a source of controversy, especially since February, when Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis said he would refuse Communion to Kerry because of his abortion stand.

In Rome for the "ad limina" visit bishops make every five years, Cardinal Mahony said: "I'm slightly mystified why this is all coming up now. We've had pro-choice Catholic politicians going to Communion since Roe vs. Wade," the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

"The church has always been quite cautious about denying anyone the sacraments of the church," he said. "And, in fact, with respect to the Eucharist, it really is not possible for a priest or bishop to deny someone Communion unless that person is known to have been a public sinner, in the sense of having been interdicted or excommunicated or formally sanctioned in some way.

"The presumption is that if someone presents himself for Communion, that they are doing so with the belief that they are in a state of grace and receiving in good faith the Eucharist," he said.

"That is the decision the communicant makes, not the person giving Communion," Cardinal Mahony said.

The Los Angeles encounter marked the second time in less than a month that Kerry has had a private session with a U.S. cardinal; he met Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington April 15.

Cardinal Mahony told CNS Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"), encourages Catholics to defend life at every stage of its development and it lists "a number" of serious threats, including abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment.

"If one were to begin cataloguing who should or should not go to Communion, according to the Holy Father's list," he said, one might have to consider supporters of the death penalty and other threats to life.

"The Gospel of Life," Cardinal Mahony said, was written "to encourage a change of heart and mind."

The cardinal said the only way to reduce and eventually eliminate abortion is to convince people that it is wrong.

"What the church has been doing has had great success," he said, citing a recent poll of young women showing that support for the most liberal access to legalized abortion "has dropped from 64 percent to 55 percent."

"The politicians themselves are not going in for abortions; it's women themselves, so that's the group we need to influence," he said.

The positive efforts to educate people about the reality of abortion and to offer women alternatives, the cardinal said, "are dealt a very negative blow if all of a sudden the church starts sanctioning people."

Cardinal Mahony said Catholic leaders, including lay leaders, must have a regular dialogue with Catholic politicians, discussing political issues from the point of view of Catholic moral and social teaching.

"That's our responsibility," he said. "We have not been doing that effectively."

In addition, the cardinal said, the Catholic Church in the United States must increase its efforts to let Catholic voters know about the political responsibility statements it issues, to educate them about the church's moral and social teaching and to encourage them to vote according to a well-formed conscience.

"We bishops have to be very careful," he said. "We cannot be giving the impression that we are telling people to vote for this candidate or that candidate. That has never been our role, and if we give the impression that that is what we are doing, then we have failed our people."


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