In a move that has caused a firestorm of controversy in both the press and the pews, a number of Catholic bishops are making blunt appeals to mass-goers to vote for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party on Election Day over President Obama.
Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky has ordered all the priests in his diocese to read a strongly worded letter he wrote accusing the Obama administration of an unprecedented 'assault upon our religious freedom' and implying that Catholics who support Democrats who support abortion rights are like those who condemned Jesus to death.
'Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present,' Jenky wrote in the five alarm letter, which he has ordered priests in his Peoria diocese to read at all Masses this Sunday, November 4.
On Thursday, the bishops of Pennsylvania — a key battleground state where most Catholics are currently supporting Obama — released an unmistakably partisan letter to local voters declaring that the White House's policies on contraception, abortion and gay rights meant the nation was 'losing its soul by little steps.'
Legal equality for gays, the letter implied, would defy God, and contraception and abortion should not be contemplated under any circumstances.
In Wisconsin, Bishop David Ricken wrote a letter to parishioners saying that the Democratic platform was evil. The party's support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage and other 'intrinsic evils' made it impossible for Catholics to support the party without putting their souls at risk. Vote for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party or burn in hell, Bishop Ricken suggested.
In Alaska, Bishop Edward J. Burns wrote a column in the local newspaper on October 27 comparing Vice President Joe Biden’s support for abortion rights to supporting slave owners in the antebellum South, and he reportedly questioned both Biden's character and his Catholic faith.
Meanwhile bishops from Newark, New Jersy to Springfield, Illinois to Colorado Springs have made similar party political appeals. Although they stress they are not endorsing any particular party or candidate they usually start with their opposition to abortion and marriage equality and other policies that Republicans support and Democrats generally oppose.
The flocks standing as Catholics and their eternal salvation are always in peril if they make the wrong choice, the bishops declare.
Although the Catholic hierarchy’s growing support for Republicans has been plainly obvious to church-watchers for years now, their blunt statements in the 2012 campaign still stand out.
'Yes, the bishops, some of them anyway, are more active this year. The tone — again, of some — is more stark,' Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Washington Post.
There is a fear, Shaw said, that American society is ready to embrace greater rights for gays and lesbians and maintain or expand on current abortion policies.
But James Salt, executive director of the progressive group Catholics United, said Jenky was 'using the pulpits of his diocese for partisan proclamations' and he said that was not only wrong but was driving young people away from the church.
'By brazenly violating IRS and church guidelines against partisan activity, Bishop Jenky has shown that he is more interested in following the paths of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson than the Gospel of Jesus Christ,' said Salt.
'As more and more younger Catholics abandon the faith on account of the bishops’ far-right politics, Bishop Jenky should ponder how his antics will affect the relevance of the Catholic bishops for generations to come.'