What would you do if someone told you that if you vote for Barack Obama, you are a murderer? And, what if this person was your priest?
As the 2008 election draws near, certain members of the Catholic Church have been attracting attention by making their staunch pro-life stand known to all members of the Catholic faith.
In Scranton, Pa., Catholics who have attended church in recent weeks have heard homilies in mass reminding them to think about pro-life issues in the upcoming election, according to The New York Times.
Following the orders of Bishop Joseph Martino, every priest in the diocese told their congregation last week that voting for the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is synonymous with committing homicide because he holds a pro-choice platform.
Martino's actions, however, are enraging many of the members of the Catholic faith, who say that the church's role is to guide its people, rather than instilling hostile orders.
"To say that any person who votes for a pro-choice candidate is complicit in suicide is stupid," said Fr. Michael Doody, Fairfield's director of campus ministry. "That has nothing to do with the gospel, and it doesn't address the real issues."
Scranton is the childhood home of Sen. Joe Biden. As Obama's chosen vice-president, Biden brings serious attention to these people as he is a Roman Catholic, and pro-choice. Now his hometown, a working-class Catholic city, has become a battleground for the continuing debates about the right to abortion.
In past elections, abortion rights have sparked worldwide debates. Besides Martino, others have spoken out against voting for pro-choice candidates like Bishop Raymond Leo Burke, former Archbishop of St. Louis and now Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, who has said that Catholics who support abortion should not receive Communion.
Paul Lakeland, Fairfield University professor of Catholic Studies, says that the people who hold these stark beliefs are "loose cannons" and are not representative of the Catholic Church demographic who, like the general American population, are mostly anti-abortion, but do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Lakeland continued to say that abortion is only one pro-life issue of concern to Catholics, who make up about a quarter of the electorate nationwide.
In preparing for the election, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued Catholics a pamphlet entitled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," calling Catholics to reflect on their faith before making political decisions.
The document emphasizes the importance for Catholics to make moral choices. First among those fundamental ethical principles is the dignity of the human person and his or her consequent right to life, "the most fundamental human good and the condition of all the others."
Doody explained that the right to life can be looked at through a "number of different prisms" and that abortion is "one right to life issue among many."
"I'm anti-abortion, but more importantly, I'm pro-life," he said.
University President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx agreed with Doody, saying that the issue of abortion should not be a determinant of your vote, but that much contemplation should go into which candidate you support.
"The first thing that a person of the Catholic Church would say is that any person, certainly any Catholic, has an obligation to vote according to his or her conscience. For Catholics, we believe that our consciences are formed in relationship to the teachings of the church," he said, "but that doesn't mean that we accept them unthinkingly or without question."
Lakeland also said that another min goal of the Catholic Church is serving the common good.
As a professor, he also believes Fairfield instructors should not tell students what to think but how to think about issues in the presidential election.
"The Catholic tradition says the most fundamental principle in life in general, and in political life, is an absolute commitment to human dignity," said Lakeland. "Now, I can't tell any student how to access the positions of Obama or McCain or anybody else, but that's the way you've got to look at it.
"The bishops have said that, whether a candidate is Catholic or not, you may not vote for such candidate because he or she is pro-choice," he said, "but you can certainly look at all the positions they maintain, all the positions they're opponent maintains, and say that one candidate is going to represent our interests better so of course Catholics can vote for a pro-choice candidate."
In speaking out against recent outbursts of conservatives, Doody agreed, saying that voting for a pro-choice candidate "can't be a litmus test of whether you are a good Catholic or not."