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Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly calls on local Catholic politicians to examine abortion positions before worshiping

Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly, seen here in a photograph from October 2018, sent a letter last week that called on local Catholic politicians to reconcile with the church if they have supported policies allowing abortions. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly, seen here in a photograph from October 2018, sent a letter last week that called on local Catholic politicians to reconcile with the church if they have supported policies allowing abortions. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly’s call for local Catholic politicians who support legislation enabling abortions to get right with the church drew a skeptical response Monday from two Spokane City Council members.

Daly signed a letter Friday calling on local politicians “who obstinately persevere in their public support for abortion” to abstain from the sacrament of Communion until they’ve “reconciled to Christ and the Church.”

Daly cites legislation approved in New York state and proposed in Virginia in his letter and invokes language from Catholic canonical law indicating that actions promoting such laws are grave offenses to the church that would require public atonement.

“The Church’s commitment to the life of every human person from conception until death is firm,” Daly wrote. “God alone is the author of life and for the civil government to sanction the willful murder of children is unacceptable. For a Catholic political leader to do so is scandalous.”

Spokane City council members Ben Stuckart and Karen Stratton, who were both raised Catholic and have taken Communion in the church, said the bishop’s words sent the wrong message.

“It hurt my feelings to read that,” said Stuckart, who said he doesn’t “regularly” attend church but that he’d been baptized and confirmed in the faith. “It’s the exact opposite of what Spokane should be.”

Stratton agreed, saying she supported “a woman’s right to choose” and that she was raised in the church by nuns who encouraged her to be a strong-willed person.

“Those kinds of comments, they split people,” Stratton said of the letter. “He should be setting an example.”

Both city lawmakers said abortion is not an issue that frequently comes before the City Council, and that it was odd for the bishop to be singling out local politicians.

Stratton could only cite one instance in her four years on the panel, when the council added a provision to the municipal code that prevented protests from occurring on public streets. The measure was intended to address public demonstrations outside the local Planned Parenthood clinic, but Stratton said Monday she would have done that “for any business.”

The state’s two U.S. senators are both Democrats and both Catholics, and both have legislative records that have received full endorsements by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national organization that seeks to expand access to abortion and other reproductive rights. Neither Sen. Patty Murray nor Sen. Maria Cantwell could be reached Monday for comment on the bishop’s letter.

Daly called out by name New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the New York legislation that anti-abortion groups have railed against. New York Catholics have suggested the governor should be excommunicated from the church.

Daly’s letter is a request for believers to reassess their relationship with the church, and is not a call for the formal process of excommunication, said the Rev. Mark Pautler, canon lawyer and chancellor for the Spokane Diocese.

“In all likelihood, for a Catholic politician that says I want to do something about this, their sin is of a very public nature,” Pautler said. “In order to remedy the situation, a public repudiation of that would probably be the remedy.”

Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in Eastern Washington, said the purpose of the legislation Cuomo signed has been misrepresented by political opponents, and that it does the same thing Washington voters achieved through referendum in 1991. Planned Parenthood’s volunteers and workers include Catholics, Dillon said.

“I think it’s a real hard-line interpretation of a more conservative take on Catholicism, which is really sad and also not representative of how many in the community feel,” Dillon said.

Pautler said the bishop’s message is in line with the teachings of the faith, that anyone who takes the sacrament should be in line with the teachings of the church.

“It’s an admonition to a person whose life is not in communion with the church,” he said.

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