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Abortion is the ‘preeminent moral issue,’ St. Louis archbishop says, but not ‘only’ one for Catholic voters

Abortion is the ‘preeminent moral issue,’ St. Louis archbishop says, but not ‘only’ one for Catholic voters

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Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, of Springfield, Massachusetts, speaks during a press conference to announce him as the next Archbishop of St. Louis at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Bishop Rozanski's installation is currently scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 25. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will remain with the archdiocese as an apostolic administrator until the installation. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski has joined other Roman Catholic leaders across the country in instructing parishioners that abortion is the “preeminent moral issue” of the election, but stopping short of telling the faithful how to vote on Nov. 3.

Rozanski’s message came in an Oct. 1 letter published in the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, in which he encouraged Catholics to vote in accordance with church teachings, drawing on official guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Abortion is “the preeminent moral issue of our time,” Rozanski said, but it must be weighed against other serious moral issues.

“If you don’t hold that abortion is the preeminent moral issue of our time, and if you don’t struggle to justify voting for a candidate whose record or policy would favor or even expand abortion, then you probably aren’t forming a Catholic conscience in preparation to vote,” Rozanski said.

“Second: If you think that other serious issues like race, immigration and the environment can be dismissed or ignored, and if you don’t struggle to justify voting for a candidate whose record or policy would be contrary to Catholic teaching on these matters, then you probably aren’t forming a Catholic conscience in preparation to vote.”

Rozanski, who was installed as archbishop on Aug. 25, is one of several Catholic officials drawing from the bishops’ guidance, a document called “Faithful Citizenship,” in letters and statements in recent weeks to Catholics, who comprise an important voting bloc in several states. The Archdiocese of St. Louis, the largest faith organization in the region, includes about 500,000 Catholics in St. Louis and 10 counties.

Church officials making similar statements, including Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., have been criticized as essentially endorsing Republican candidates.

Rozanski did not endorse any candidate or party. There is no candidate who fully comports with church teachings, he said.

“I will steadfastly refuse to tell anyone what conclusion they should reach,” he said in the letter. “No one who works or teaches for the Church should presume to do so, either.

“The day after the election our primary mission will be the same: to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel in all its fullness,” Rozanski said. “The winners will make some parts of that easier, and some parts incredibly hard. Either way, we’ll have a lot of work to do.”

Archdiocesan spokesman Peter Frangie said that Rozanski’s letter should not be seen as an endorsement, or as instruction to consider the issue of abortion alone.

“We feel it’s important to elevate church teachings about all of the various issues around this election,” Frangie said Wednesday, and “then the hope is that people will form a faithful consciousness around those issues and then vote accordingly.”

It is the official position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the church does not endorse candidates. In late September, the Archdiocese suspended a church Immigration Task Force after a webinar in which panelists appeared critical of the handling of refugees by President Donald Trump’s administration. The Church Militant, a right-leaning Catholic website, had heavily criticized the webinar, accusing them of pushing “pro-abortion” candidates.

The archdiocese’s decision to disband the task force was criticized by progressive Catholics including Seeds of Justice, a social justice group, which said the webinar also drew from guidance by Catholic bishops.

“We reject the false assumption that our Church has only one moral position,” the group wrote in a statement Sept. 28. “And remind our fellow Catholics of Pope Francis’ statements that voters must consider the church’s position on the full spectrum of moral issues at play in this election: poverty, racism, abortion, the death penalty, immigration and others.”

The group on Tuesday night held a webinar aimed at giving Catholics guidance on how to vote in the election. Pat Dougherty, a Seeds of Justice board member and former Democratic Missouri state legislator, said Wednesday that the Bishops also instructed Catholics, who have a moral obligation to vote, to look at candidates’ competence and character.

“The question is if you have a moral obligation, how do you form your conscience when no body is ever going to perfectly fill the whole area of principles concerns and values that the Catholic teaching holds,” Dougherty said.

“Every person has to look at those issues, look at the candidates and issues, and then discern for themselves how they’re going to vote.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is a practicing Catholic but he has been criticized by some for his support of abortion rights. Trump, who identifies as Presbyterian, rarely attends church and critics say his stance on other social issues conflict with Catholic teachings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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