Friday, October 31, 2008

Bishop's letter to Hispanic voters ignores Gospels and the sanctity of the American ballot box

During his last days before his crucifixion and resurrection, Christ preached what is now recognized as direction to each believer on how to conduct their lives as compassionate human beings dedicated to his ministry of forgiveness and redemption.

You'll find his passionate direction in the Gospel of Matthew, in its 25th chapter. Christ tells us that we will find him in the people who are poor, naked, imprisoned, sick and strangers. And if we don't recognize and help these good people, Our Lord tell us that we will be condemned to live eternally outside of his presence.

Yet too many Catholic bishops have torn this chapter of the Gospel out of scripture and Catholic teaching in their messages to the faithful during the 2008 presidential race.

They've in turn replaced this most moving instruction with what I call "Cafeteria Catholicism". It entails picking one matter of faith out from the all the Gospels and centuries of church teaching. Then, they champion this one entree to the exclusion of so many other meaty matters of faith that make a good Catholic, responsible neighbor and involved American.

Just days before the most important election in our lifetime, retired Bishop Rene H. Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas, arrogantly and wrongly issued a letter by e-mail to almost three million American voters of Hispanic descent. He told them not to vote for "Barak Hussein Obama".

And Cafeteria Catholicism gained a new champion.


I write this refutation of his faith-less message not to tell any Catholic who they should cast their ballot for -- be it for president or Congress. My point is that Bishop Gracida's message is not affirmed by complete church teaching or the Gospels. His message -- at a time in this nation's history of so much division, corruption and callousness -- is damningly destructive and quite frankly non-Christian.

My credentials to write? I've been a practicing Catholic all my life, just like my parents and my abuelos who came to this nation from Mexico between 1910-1915. There and here, they kept an altar in their homes with continuously flickering votive candles before a large statue of the Christ child in full vestment. It was flanked by statues and images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Francis, St. Anthony and St. Jude -- all who lived lives of poverty or dedicated their whole being to the impoverished and suffering.

That's the tradition I proudly continue. And I also have done so in action, in my professional career as a journalist and my personal journey as a believer. Leukemia struck me down three years ago. I almost died two years ago during 13 days in Vanderbilt Medical Center. If not for all the prayers of my loved ones and the intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe and mi Padre todopoderoso, I would not be writing this message today.

And before ever writing on this most sensitive matter in previous columns during the presidential campaign, I have prayed the rosary for months asking for Our Lady's guidance because she is the patroness of all life.

In dedication to her and gratitude, I have been part of the fundraising effort in Nashville that resulted in the opening of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church here, which now is the largest Catholic church in Tennessee.

By her blessing, I have raised more than $145,000 to keep the church open and pay off its debt. The diocese and bishop here have not offered one penny for the church despite Pope Benedict XVI's appeal earlier this year to American Catholics to champion their fellow immigrant believers.


So I'm not that impressed with bishops in this nation. Gracida's letter makes my disappointment more profound. My cousin in Topeka, KS., where I was born and much of my family still lives, feels the same about her bishop. He sent out a letter in September telling Catholic believers there how to vote, against Obama.

Thankfully, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Topeka, where my mother and father were married in the barrio, the letter was not posted for Hispanic believers to read. Good for Father Cordes.

Gracida's letter should be treated the same way by Catholic churches and believers across this nation,, Hispanic or not. And I'll be calling my relatives in New Mexico, Colorado, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to tell their fellow Catholics of Hispanic descent to spread the word that this bishop has betrayed his flock and our heritage as proud Americans of Hispanic descent.

By our numbers at family reunions and on cell phone contact lists, we Americans of Hispanic descent believe in life. But for my family specifically, we viewed life as an issue from the womb to the the last breaths on this earth. No one segment of that sacred chain has ever been considered superior or weaker than the other.

My parents and grandparents never spoke out more about abortion than the gross inequity of revenge and capital punishment, or the need for universal health care to heal the sick and oust the profitmakers like Christ routed the moneychangers before the temple, or the need for employers to provide a living and fair wage for the labor given so families could clothe and feed themselves -- not the federal government or charities.

Gracida and too many other bishops, however, would have us burn the the pages of the Gospel concerning Christ's mandate of the Last Judgment for the simplistic and wrongheaded interpretation of the moral Catholic life.


People who are pro-choice are not automatically for abortion. They shudder and cry for this tragedy, too. And people who are passionately, politically and publicly against abortion -- and generally the people of Matthew 25 in effective public policy -- are not pro-life.

The sanctity of the patient/doctor relationship should not be violated by any government or religion or men continuing their bigoted dominance over women. I know about that relationship intimately for the past three years from battling leukemia with my Vanderbilt hematologist, Dr. John Greer.

Greer and other talented and compassionate doctors take an oath to first do no harm. They respect and fight for life more than any bishop or Operation Rescue advocate or journalist such as me.

A woman and doctor should decide on what is best. They must have all options available do what is best for the health matter at hand.

And national statistics continue to show that abortions are declining significantly without any legal prohibition. I believe in people to do the right and moral thing, led by good and compassionate doctors.


I don't have that kind of faith in our bishops and elected leaders. That's because as a political columnist writing about the people of Matthew 25, I've never found the bishops regularly around the suffering to make a difference.

I've been in lethal public housing projects at night with mothers who dare not let their young ones sleep against a bedroom wall. Bullets from the gunfire between drug dealers penetrate even walls made of brick.

I've been on Tennessee's two death rows, where all the children -- now saved by discouraging and even blocking choice -- somehow went wrong as teens and adults because there was no one around in their lives who really cared. Society in turn didn't want to pay taxes for programs to keep them off the streets and away from criminal elements.

I've been in public schools where poor children are left behind or damned by the unnecessary descent into special education or ignored because they did not speak English. I recruited believers of all creeds and non-believers to set up English language computer labs, sponsor sports teams and save a band program from elimination in one Music City elementary school. Yet as one minister once told his congregation: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I have the solution to rescue our public schools that are failing our children. The bad news is that the solution is in your wallets and pocketbooks." Amen to that.

I've been in nursing homes where our senior citizens are warehoused like old newspapers, considered no longer of use despite all the wisdom in the pages of their minds and volumes of goodness in their souls.

I organized more than 100 fellow Catholics from the pews in Nashville in creating a "Voices of the Faithful" chapter to fight the indifference and outright immorality of America's bishops and the Vatican in failing to stop the abuse of thousands of young innocents by priests -- who were simply transferred to another parish to destroy more lives and families. And I bet some of these young ones were saved from abortion to be forever damned and damaged by a church and its shepherds who professed to be Christ among us. The previous bishop here felt forced to address the group -- in private and confront the faces of the abused. He was the only U.S. bishop to do so then at the height of the national scandal.

And I've lobbied in my writing to state lawmakers here to put the matter of what Tennessee Constitution says about choice and abortion to a vote of the people and the faithful.

For my writing on all these people of Matthew 25 -- and those Christ would have included if could even begin to explain the coming evil his supposed shepherds would unleash (and condone) on innocents -- I was humbled to receive the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

But I would have traded that honor to regularly find one Catholic bishop in those places I covered to use his clout and his diocese's wealth to champion change for these young and old lives in need.

And I would have washed the bishop's Lexus every Saturday for one letter calling on Catholic Americans to share their wealth and time with the people of Matthew 25 in their choices in life and for public policy at the ballot box.


With this election, my thoughts return to 1960 and the first Catholic to win the presidency and overcome what JFK said was this nation's historical disenfranchisement of Catholics as candidates for elective office -- at the moment of their baptism. Powerful.

All that President John F. Kennedy suffered, survived and soared above would be stripped from the pages of history and heartache if Catholics followed such a dictate from Gracida, his fellow bishops and Rome at the ballot box. Our consciences as Americans and believers should suffice, just as with the man who brought this nation so much hope in a New Frontier, fighting Jim Crow, the Peace Corps and a mission to the Moon.

The separation of church and state is also something sacred in this nation, as it was to JFK. Gracida and his cohorts would trample upon it and bring derison, distrust and bigotry upon Catholics that we thought was long vanguished. They would bring back the disenfranchisement of Catholics at the moment of baptism.

Shame on these selfish, narrow-minded, inspiration-less shepherds.


I have called on the bishop here to publicly discuss this matter of being only against abortion versus what it really means to be a Catholic in living a moral life and supporting public policy for the people of Matthew 25. And if he or any bishop wants to ban me from the Holy Eucharist, bring it on.

The judgment of God will be on them, not me. It is every believer's wish to be a martyr for something or someone larger than themselves.

This Tuesday, I go to the ballot box as an American and a Catholic directed by my conscience and my continuing pleas to Our Lady of Guadalupe for her intercession -- that I might have wisdom and purity of heart and mind in all I do.

A vote for John McCain or Barack Obama should be a source of intense pride for any believer, or someone who does not believe in a higher power except the call of his or her conscience.

No bishop has the right to interfere with that sacred American moment for Hispanics or people of a different race or ethnicity. That's why our country remains free and Americans are able to worship as one nation under God now and siglos de siglos, Amen.

These modern-day moneychangers and Pharisees -- posing as faihtful shepherds -- should be cast out of America's voting booths. I believe Christ would be proud.

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