HONESDALE – A presidential election forum at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church on Sunday centered mainly on abortion.
The argument and audience, however, erupted when Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino unexpectedly arrived and vehemently expressed his distaste for what was said about the church’s stance on voting for pro-choice candidates and the exclusion of his anti-abortion letter at the forum, which recommends voting against pro-choice candidates for moral reasons.
Prior to Martino’s arrival, the forum began with four panelists – local businessman Tom Shepstone, University of Scranton professor William Parente, Sister Margaret Gannon of Marywood University and Wayne County Commissioner Wendell Kay – sharing their views about presidential candidates Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Shepstone, who supports McCain and focused on abortion, said a vote for Obama will not protect the unborn.
“The common ground begins with the respect to the dignity of every life,” said Shepstone, noting the U.S. government’s role is to protect the public’s and the unborn’s inalienable rights of life and liberty. “The right to life ... is the natural God given right.”
“Rights John McCain respects and Barack Obama does not,” he said.
Kay, who supports Obama, touched on several national issues, briefly addressing abortion.
“I am pro-life,” said Kay. “I don’t agree with the Roe (vs.) Wade decisions.”
He noted, however, that it was a Supreme Court decision and that “we’re kidding ourselves” to think one political candidate or political party will overturn it.
Parente, who supports McCain, said a vote for Obama “is foolish, although not sinful, for Catholics.”
He acknowledged a majority of Jesuits, a male Catholic religious order, at the University of Scranton are “ardent Democrats.”
“I believe in good conscience, good Catholics, will be voting both ways in this election,” he said.
He warned, however, that “the election of Obama will bring us liberal justices on the court.”
Gannon, who did not state her candidate preference, cited statements from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which say a political candidate’s position on abortion must be weighed against other moral issues, such as unjust wars or stem-cell research.
According to the USCCB’s “Faithful Citizenship” statement, approved by the full body of U.S. bishops in 2007, “a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. ”
Martino, who arrived while the panelists were stating their viewpoints, took issue with the USCCB statement, which was handed out to everyone at the meeting, and that his letter was not mentioned at the forum.
“No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese,” said Martino. “The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.”
“The only relevant document ... is my letter,” Martino said. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
His letter, published Sept. 30 and circulated throughout the diocese, states that a candidate’s abortion stance is a major voting issue that supersedes all other considerations due to its grave moral consequences.
After the bishop’s comments, most of the audience stood and clapped loudly while some were angry that Martino usurped the forum. About a quarter of the audience left after the bishop’s comments, which preceded the last half of the forum, a question-and-answer session with the panelists.
Martino exited shortly after his comments.