Sanchez Banned from Home Church

The Catholic diocese in which Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez grew up has banned him from speaking at church facilities because of his position favoring abortion rights.

Bishop Edmond Carmody of Corpus Christi on Monday also said Democratic lieutenant governor candidate John Sharp is banned because of his abortion stance, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Sanchez has spoken out twice publicly over the past 10 days about his support for abortion rights.

Asked after his appearance last week at a women's luncheon whether the Catholic church is wrong in its opposition to abortion, Sanchez paused and said, "That's a very difficult question."

"But I think the only thing that is really important to me is how I think about abortion. I consider myself a devout Catholic. I go to Mass and communion a couple of times a week. I don't feel I'm wrong in my position," he added.

In a prepared statement Monday, Sharp, who once carried legislation to restrict abortion rights, said: "I am absolutely opposed to abortion, but unlike the people who wrote the Republican platform, I do not believe in using government to make other people adopt my moral position."

Republican Gov. Rick Perry said he believes abortion should be legal only in cases involving rape or incest or when carrying a pregnancy to term would threaten the woman's life.

Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, the GOP's candidate for lieutenant governor, said he believes abortion should be legal only for pregnancies that threaten the woman's life.

Under "pastoral guidelines" in effect in the Corpus Christi diocese since 1999, Catholics who declare themselves in support of abortion rights cannot hold church positions or speak at any Catholic institutions in the region.

Helen Osman, spokeswoman for the Austin diocese, said there is no similar ban at Central Texas Catholic churches. Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he knows of no widespread enactment of such bans.

The Corpus Christi diocese includes 11 counties and part of another. Webb County, where Sanchez lives, was part of the diocese until 2000.

The Corpus Christi guidelines say the intent is to draw Catholics who favor abortion rights to a "reconsideration of their pro-choice positions and be brought to a real conversion of heart so that they may accept wholeheartedly the truth of Christ as taught by the church." 

In a year when Democrats' chances of winning statewide elections may depend upon their ability to attract a record number of Hispanic voters, the top candidates' split with their religion could be important because the Catholic Church is influential in many Hispanic communities.

Historically, however, Texas Hispanics have overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates, almost all of whom have favored abortion rights.

A 1999 nationwide Gallup Poll showed that 50 percent of Catholic respondents called themselves "pro-choice," while 46 percent identified themselves as "pro-life."

Ed Shirley, a professor of religious studies at St. Edward's University in Austin, said Sanchez's position seems defensible against that kind of backdrop.

"He is not arguing for the morality of abortion," Shirley said. "He is arguing for what is the best political action to take at this point. I don't know that every Catholic, including the hierarchy, would necessarily say now is the time to push for a law outlawing all abortion."