Priest defends election stance

Eben Harrell

A local Roman Catholic priest met with his parish last night to offer “moral guidance” on how to vote in next week’s presidential election after his comments in a Mass sparked controversy.The Rev. Michael O’Brien of St. Mary Catholic Church upset several parishioners Sunday with a sermon supporting the position of Colorado Archbishop Charles Chaput. Chaput has actively opposed Sen. John Kerry’s candidacy, calling his pro-choice views “evil,” according to a report in The New York Times.In last night’s meeting, attended by approximately 40 parishioners, O’Brien stopped short of endorsing a candidate. But during his talk, which began and finished with a prayer, he laid out what he termed “foundational issues” of Catholic morality. He said if a candidate goes against church teachings on these issues, Catholics should not vote for him.According to O’Brien the foundational issues are abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia and homosexual marriage, all of which the church opposes. Kerry publicly supports embryonic stem-cell research and is generally viewed as a pro-choice candidate. “Why is this such a big issue? Because you have a Catholic running for office,” O’Brien said. “He’s taken a public pro-choice stance on abortion. The church has no option but to respond. If [the church] looks the other way [it is] a sin.”He was interrupted several times by an angry parishioner who said President George Bush’s launching of the Iraq war was just as evil as abortion.”How can we teach people to respect human life and oppose abortion when there’s blatant killing in Iraq and a president who supports the death penalty?” asked the parishioner, who left before he could be identified.O’Brien said the Vatican opposed the Iraq war from its inception. But he said the war’s damage could not be compared to the “death of 1.3 million innocent lives caused each year by abortion,” as one parishioner put it. Supporting abortion, O’Brien said, trumps just about everything else.”Too many times in the past the church has endorsed a candidate who supports abortion because he has a nice education plan or a nice health-care plan. That has to stop,” O’Brien said.Parishioner Mary Gleason responded that Kerry has said he personally opposes abortion, but would be powerless as president to overturn Roe v. Wade.O’Brien disagreed, saying Kerry, if elected, would likely influence abortion policy through federal funding to abortion clinics and the likely appointment of a pro-choice Supreme Court justice.The evening concluded with an example of Aspen’s uniquely privileged setting. A parishioner recounted her friendship with Kerry and said he was a “man of integrity.” Another parishioner responded by saying that he was a “dear friend of George Bush” and admired him greatly.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is