Is it a Sin for Catholics to Vote for Senator Kerry?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Oct. 13, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST:  In the "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight, the archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput (search) says Roman Catholics should not support politicians who  support abortion rights.

Says the archbishop, "If you vote this way, are you cooperating in  evil?  And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to  confession?  The answer is yes."

Joining us now from South Bend, Indiana, is Father Richard McBrien who  teaches theology at Notre Dame (search), and, here in the studio, Father Frank Pavone, the national director for Priests for Life (search).

I do want to give the archbishop in Denver a break here because he did  say some other things, and I want to put it in context.  He goes, "The  reason I want to stress that," what he just said up on the screen, "is  because it's not like bishops are issuing edicts about who you should vote  for.  It's issuing statements about how a Catholic forms her conscience or  his conscience."

So do you see a problem with the archbishop making a strong statement  that was taken by most press people and compacted.  They didn't do what I  do and read, you know -- he's advising Catholics on conscience rather than  who to vote for, I think, is apparent.

FATHER FRANK PAVONE, PRIESTS FOR LIFE:  Which is exactly what I've  been doing for years as well.

O'REILLY:  Right.  And it's legitimate that he do that.

PAVONE:  Exactly.

O'REILLY:  However, it can be misconstrued as an endorsement for  President Bush, can it not?

PAVONE:  Well, there's nothing with people coming to conclusions.  WE  want to help form people's consciences, and, if they come to the  conclusion, well, this means I have to vote for the president or I have to  vote against somebody else, that's the -- that's their responsibility as  voters.

We respect the conscience of each American voter.

O'REILLY:  But you...

PAVONE:  Part of respecting the conscience is informing the   conscience.

O'REILLY:  OK, but, Father, you must be deluged with questions from  people like me who say, you know, I might want to vote for John Kerry.  Am  I doing anything wrong?  What will you say?

PAVONE:  Well, here's how I frame the response.  You know, this past  spring, Bill, there were court trials held across the country in which  doctors who perform abortions took the stand and testified under oath to  what they do.

Now they used the words, not me, not the Vatican, not the arch bishop,  but they used the words "dismemberment," "decapitation," "crushing the head  of a baby," "inserting poison in"...

O'REILLY:  This is partial birth.

PAVONE:  No, no.  These were -- these were testimonies on the D&E  procedure and other pro...

O'REILLY:  All right.

PAVONE:  They were testifying about all the procedures.  Now that's  how we have to start answering this question.

O'REILLY:  But you're dodging the question.

PAVONE:  What is an abortion?  No, no.  We're answering it because the  question of whether or not it's a sin to elect somebody who says this  should remain legal has to begin by understanding what "this," namely  abortion, really is.

O'REILLY:  All right, but you're still...

PAVONE:  People...

O'REILLY:  You're giving them a philosophy lecture, not an answer to  the question.

PAVONE:  No, no.  We're answering the question with our question.  The  answer to the question is: Do you want to elect somebody...

O'REILLY:  No, I...

PAVONE:  ... who's going to...

O'REILLY:  ... want to know -- and this is a hypothetical.  I'm not  saying I'm voting for Kerry.  So don't give me any of that.  But I want an  -- can you give me an answer, Father McBrien.

FATHER RICHARD MCBRIEN, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME:  Are you asking me  if I -- one can vote for Senator Kerry?

O'REILLY:  No, no.  Look -- Look, I'm a student in Notre Dame.  I'm  coming over to you.  You're the theology pooh-bah.  You know everything  about God.  You know him personally.  And I say, you know, I'm thinking  about voting for John Kerry, but I'm hearing the archbishop and I'm  confused.  I don't want to do anything immoral.  What do you say to me.

MCBRIEN:  Well, first -- first of all, I'd ask if they were from  Denver because the archbishop's authority is limited to his own archdiocese  of Denver.

O'REILLY:  So it's a sin in Denver, but it's not a sin in  Pennsylvania?

MCBRIEN:  Well, listen to me.  The American Catholic Bishops as a body  do not follow the approach that's been taken by the archbishops of Denver,  St. Louis and Newark and some other bishops of smaller diocese.

They have made it very plain ever since 1988, the 1988 campaign when  Bush -- President Bush's father was a candidate against Governor Dukakis of   Massachusetts, that they do not presume to instruct anyone on how to vote  by endorsing or opposing candidates.

Now the reason they added the words "or opposing" and they are still  in every one of their quadrennial statements ever since 1988, is because in  the '84 campaign -- the reelection campaign of President Reagan, Cardinal  O'Connor of New York, Cardinal Law of Boston and other bishops were so  strong in their opposition to the Mondale-Ferraro ticket, that it was clear  to many people that they were, in effect, indirectly endorsing President  Reagan.

O'REILLY:  All right.  So...

MCBRIEN:  So the bishops added the words "or opposing" in 1988.

O'REILLY:  I got it, I got it, but both of you guys are not serving me  as a confused parishioner.  I want to do the right thing in this election,  and I think most Americans do want to do the right thing in the election,  and we come to men like you, Father Pavone and Father McBrien. and we say,  you know, I know this is a big church issue.  I know it's a big moral  issue.  But can I in good conscience take the other issues...

MCBRIEN:  May...

O'REILLY:  Go ahead.

MCBRIEN:  May I answer that?

O'REILLY:  Sure you can.

MCBRIEN:  I'll take the position which may seem strange to some of my  critics out there -- I'll take the position taken by Cardinal Joseph  Ratzinger who is the head of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith  in the Vatican, and he sent -- he had a paragraph in a memorandum he sent  to the bishops June, and the paragraph is led off by the initials "NB,"  which in Latin means nota bene, note this very well.

He said if a Catholic were to vote for a pro-choice candidate  precisely because of that candidate's support of abortion, not abortion  rights, but abortion as such, then it would be wrong.

O'REILLY:  Right.

MCBRIEN:  But he said if someone votes for a candidate for other  reasons  well, taking other issues into account as the American Catholic  Bishops say they should, we should put everything in a consistent ethic-of- life framework, they said, then it would not be a sin to vote for...

O'REILLY:  OK.  So -- and then now I'm starting to understand.

Go ahead, Father.

PAVONE:  Father McBrien, are you forgetting the word "proportionate"?

MCBRIEN:  No.  In fact -- in fact, Ratzinger...

PAVONE:  Then how come you didn't mention it?

MCBRIEN:  Ratzinger used the word.  I've just written a poem about  this.

PAVONE:  But you didn't.  Listen, you're misleading this audience.   The cardinal said that one can vote...

MCBRIEN:  I'm glad you're not.

PAVONE:  The cardinal said -- he used the words "for proportionate  reasons."  Now I ask Father McBrien, I ask our viewers what is  proportionate to 3,500...

MCBRIEN:  Well, let me give you...

O'REILLY:  Who, whoa, whoa.  Let him finish, Father.  I'll give you  time.

MCBRIEN:  ... 3,500 innocent children being deliberately destroyed,  not my words, but the words of these abortionists, heads being crushed,  arms and legs being torn off.

O'REILLY:  All right.  So you put it at the head of the list.

PAVONE:  There's nothing more proportionate.

O'REILLY:  OK.  I got it.

PAVONE:  Now that -- we don't need a Vatican cardinal to tell us about  that.

O'REILLY:  I got it.  I got it.

Go ahead, Father McBrien.  Go ahead.

MCBRIEN:  Father Pavone and I agree, I think, on the teaching of the  church regarding abortion.  But I also -- but I don't know if Father Pavone  agrees with the teachings of our bishops that we have to follow a  consistent ethic of life.  The proportionate reasons would involve taking  other life issues in account.

I have here the statement of the bishop -- that Pope John Paul II  himself gave to the Vatican diplomatic corps in  January of 2003, and he  said, "War itself," war itself, "is an attack on human life since it brings  in its wake suffering and deaths.  The battle for peace is always a battle  for life."

The proportionate reasons would be that you're looking at a candidate  and trying to see what that candidate's views and policies are on a broad  range of life issues...

O'REILLY:  I got it.

MCBRIEN:  ... including, for example, the war in Iraq.

O'REILLY:  All right.  So we're all back to where we started again.

MCBRIEN:  It's a judgment call.

O'REILLY:  That means that everybody's got to vote their conscience.

MCBRIEN:  Absolutely.

PAVONE:  No, they may not.  The bishops and the pope have said that  abortion trumps the other issues because it...

O'REILLY:  All right.

MCBRIEN:  They have never said that.  They have never said that.

PAVONE:  They certainly have.

O'REILLY:  All right.  I don't want you guys to duke it out.

MCBRIEN:  Listen, Bill, this is not...

PAVONE:  Bill, it would be a sin, I believe.  I would...

MCBRIEN:  This is not a card game.  There's no trump card.


PAVONE:  I would consider it a sin for me to vote for Kerry.

O'REILLY:  All right.

MCBRIEN:  This is not a -- well, that's fine.

O'REILLY:  And you're entitled to it.  I think -- all right.  It was a  very interesting discussion, and I'll let the folks decide because I'll  just get into a lot of trouble.

Gentlemen, thanks very much.  Very, very good discussion.

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