Kerry's Catholic Question

Cardinal Edward Egan faces a defining moment in the 2004 race for the White House

While the cardinals did not publicly discuss their Condoleezza Rice meeting, Cardinal Pio Laghi, who simultaneously met with Bush and gave him a letter from the pope, told an Italian newspaper that he would tell Bush, "From the moral perspective, the question of non-adherence to the just-war doctrine is clear." The Vatican's foreign affairs specialist, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, was then calling an Iraq war without U.N. authorization a "crime against peace." Egan is fully in tune with these Vatican views and those of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which issued a strong statement against the war before Congress passed the authorizing resolution in late 2002.

While the Times and the rest of the mainstream media devote major play to every single-standard bishop who threatens Eucharistic sanctions against pro-choice politicians, the much broader antiwar views of the American church have been routinely ignored. Egan, who is an authentically pro-life and apolitical prelate, is known to be as upset about the loss of innocent Iraqi life as he is about the unborn. He was one of 22 church leaders from six continents to appear on an international webcast organized by the Vatican shortly before the war, declaring that U.N. weapons inspectors must determine that Iraq posed "a clear and present danger" before war could be justified. Calling the inspectors' findings "essential," Egan said "the truth of the danger must be established beyond any doubt" and "clearly set before us" before any invasion, urging that no one "rush into combat."

It's that balancing act of countervailing abortion and war issues—both seamlessly involving life, in Egan's view—that may force him to take both Bush and Kerry off the invitation list, in sharp contrast with O'Connor and the currently partisan prelates. The former bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Egan has nonetheless been registered in New York since 1985, without affiliating with either party, whereas O'Connor was a registered Republican in Pennsylvania for decades before becoming New York's archbishop in 1984. The Voice then revealed that O'Connor had registered as an independent here just as he launched his Ferraro attack, claiming on his registration card that he had not been previously registered in an apparent attempt to conceal his prior Republican affiliation. Similarly, Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento, one of the most aggressive prelates on the current communion-denial issue, is also a registered Republican.

Ironically, the Smith dinner, which raises hundreds of thousands for archdiocesan health programs, was named after the first Catholic nominee for president, who lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928, losing the Democratic South solely because of his religion. Abortion was not a national issue when he or Kennedy ran; but both were pluralists who strongly championed American diversity, with Smith installing Herbert Lehman as New York's first and only Jewish governor. By denying the dinner as a platform for Bush—whose party has exploited the abortion issue without ever meaningfully delivering on it—Egan will continue in the Smith tradition, understanding that democracy and religious dictate are incompatible.

Research assistance: Abby Aguirre, Daniel Magliocco, Marc Schultz, and Ned Thimmayya

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