Pope Benedict XVI has bestowed a key position on an American prelate who was the leader of a faction in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that believes Catholic voters should judge political candidates primarily by their views on abortion. With a presidential election looming, supporters of the separation of church and state can hope that the appointment of Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis as the head of the Vatican's supreme judicial body will defuse the controversy in the church about single-issue voting.
Burke, an icon of conservative Catholics, is best known as the prelate who announced in 2004 that he would deny Holy Communion to Sen. John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee, because he was pro-choice. Burke's insistence that voting for pro-choice policies is the equivalent of procuring an abortion, and thus disqualification for the sacraments, puts him at one pole of a debate within the U.S. hierarchy. Now in Rome, he reiterated this view this week in a magazine interview.
At the other pole are churchmen such as Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who has been savaged by conservative Catholics for refusing to bar pro-choice Catholics such as Kerry and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from the Communion rail. Asked how he would respond to Catholic politicians who support legalized abortion, Wuerl replied: "Teach. That is what Jesus did."