The Great Divide
At issue here - and it comes up during every major election - is whether the faithful of the Catholic Church can morally vote for candidates who support acts the church considers a direct attack on human life, including abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and destruction of human embryos for research.Among many others, the bishop who just recorded a radio spot "reminding all Catholics" that "Barack Hussein Obama is a pro-abortion candidate" would probably take issue with that... but, as always, so it goes.
For Arizona Catholics, the answer they get may differ depending on whether they live in the Diocese of Tucson or the Diocese of Phoenix.
That's partly why the Rev. Bill Remmel, pastor at Most Holy Trinity, 1300 N. Greasewood Road, was so offended by the unauthorized distribution of the election materials at the parish, which is private property. The Rev. Bart Hutcherson, pastor of the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Centerat the University of Arizona, also was left fuming by the appearance of similar literature on the car windshields of churchgoers attending Sunday's 11:15 a.m. mass there.
"I get very angry, yes, because it's sneaky," Remmel said. "I don't want people to sneak around. And if I say, 'No, we don't allow that to be distributed because that's against the policy of the diocese,' I would expect Catholics to respect that."
The Diocese of Tucson doesn't censor the readings of Catholics. But Bishop Gerald Kicanas has been specific about which voter guides and election-related materials are authorized for distribution in local parishes.
Kicanas has said they can make available only official documents of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Arizona Catholic Conference and his own statements.
"No one and no group have been given permission to pass out any other materials in our parishes or Catholic institutions. If they do so, it is without my permission," Kicanas, who is in Rome, wrote me in an e-mail....
"Point blank, (the bishops) say, 'we are not telling Catholics how to vote.' Point blank, they say, 'we cannot be one-issue kinds of voters,' " Remmel said.
Kicanas noted in his e-mail that the "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" document clearly states that a voter should "take into account a candidate's commitment, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue."
Kicanas specifically hasn't authorized for distribution in Tucson a second piece of literature that the churchgoers found on their windshields - the "Catholics in the Public Square" booklet written by Diocese of Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.
Olmsted writes that all social issues are "absolutely not" equal when it comes to choosing a candidate. Some issues - such as support of abortion rights - are non-negotiable.
The church is interested in a number of social issues, he wrote. "However, when it comes to direct attacks on innocent human life, being right on all the other issues can never justify a wrong choice on this most serious matter."
While Kicanas did not answer my question on whether the two Arizona bishops are at odds on whether a Catholic can morally vote for a pro-choice candidate, he said each bishop bears the responsibility for teaching in his own diocese.
He and Olmsted "are of one mind on this," Kicanas wrote.
So, what about those Tucson Catholics fearing eternal damnation should they mark their ballots for Obama, Giffords or Grijalva, or, to be fair, a flawed (by Catholic standards) Republican candidate?
Fear not, Remmel said.
Not only isn't it a mortal sin, he said, "It's not a sin at all."