Of churches and elections

The Vatican announces what it thinks is right and wrong, but not how to vote.

A new player reluctantly entered the U.S. election season. The Vatican released a sweeping ideological summary Monday that outlined the Roman Catholic Church’s positions on issues varying from poverty to abortion.

The Vatican’s new handbook, “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” covers a variety of issues, some of which President George W. Bush’s positions fall closely in line with. These include abortion and gay marriage.

On other issues, such as poverty, capital punishment and human rights, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s ideas more closely resemble Vatican doctrine. On one topic particularly important to Pope John Paul II, pre-emptive war, neither candidate’s position is in line with Vatican doctrine.

Also, last week, an unnamed Vatican official categorically stated Kerry cannot be excommunicated for failing to oppose abortion rights. That and the timing of the release seem to indicate the Vatican seeks to distance itself from claims such as those of St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke.

The roles of many religious institutions in this election have been troubling, and the Vatican deserves credit for attempting to take itself out of the “concrete aspects” of U.S. elections.

Burke and some other U.S Catholic bishops asserted voting for Kerry is a “grave sin” for which Catholics must confess before receiving the Eucharist. Burke has since backed off his claim.

All of this means U.S. Catholics, like all other voters, have to weigh the presidential candidates for themselves and decide how to vote on their own.

This is not to say religious ideas are not relevant to Election Day decisions. Quite the contrary, one’s spiritual identity rightfully informs voting choices. But going so far as to direct any faithful in how to vote divides congregations.

Reading “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” will tell a person what the Vatican thinks is right and wrong, but it won’t tell him or her how to cast a ballot.

Therein lies the fundamental difference other religious officials and institutions seem to have forgotten.