Catholic bishop in Missouri criticized for letter on voting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri is urging parishioners to vote for candidates who are anti-abortion, which some critics contend amounts to an endorsement of Republican candidates.

In a letter dated Sept. 14, Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. does not endorse a political party or specific candidates. But he says Catholic voters “would do well to weigh a candidate’s position on each of these essential God-given rights that government has a duty to protect, beginning with the right to life.”

Several people posted social media comments suggesting the letter was political campaigning, which violates the principle of the separation of church and state, KCUR reported. Others suggested Catholic voters need to consider several issues, not just abortion.

Cynthia Spaeth, a member of the Visitation Parish in Kansas City, said she thought the letter was an endorsement of President Donald Trump.

“I think people should follow the spirit and the letter of the law and he’s not allowed to make endorsements and maintain his tax exemption,” Spaeth said. “So just on that basis it was offensive.”

Johnston told KCUR he was only urging parishioners to vote with their conscience.

“And so I mainly wanted to begin there, to review some of the basic, fundamental understanding of what a conscience is and how do you properly form it,” he said. “And if you get that right, people then can follow that and make a good decision.”

The letter conforms with the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said in a letter last year that abortion is of “preeminent priority” to the church.

It also follows other Catholic leaders who have written similar letters.

Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik urged his parishioners to vote with their conscience based on church teachings.

In September, the Rev. James Altman, a parish priest in La Crosse, Wisconsin, declared in a YouTube video that “you cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat.” La Crosse Bishop William Callahan criticized Altman for entangling the church in scandal.

Roman Catholic voters are an important voting bloc in this year’s election, and both parties are appealing for their votes based on their faith. Roman Catholics have voted for the winner in nine out of the last 10 presidential elections.

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.

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