Religion, politics in spotlight |

Religion, politics in spotlight

Eben Harrell
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrates Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Aspen on Sunday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

A Roman Catholic archbishop who has criticized the policies of presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry delivered Mass in Aspen yesterday, a week after a local priest sparked controversy by featuring the presidential election in his sermon.The appearance comes as other local religious leaders denounced the Catholic Church’s involvement in the election and argued for the separation of church and politics.Archbishop Charles Chaput, whose Denver-based archdiocese stretches from Kansas to eastern Utah, received national attention this fall after he told The New York Times that voting for a pro-choice candidate such as Kerry would be “to cooperate with evil.”At last Sunday’s Mass, and in a follow-up meeting on Tuesday, the Rev. Michael O’Brien of St. Mary Church in Aspen defended Chaput’s views, angering some parishioners. Yesterday, Chaput said he “stopped by” because he was in Old Snowmass over the weekend, adding that his visit was in no way political.”My visit has nothing to do with what happened here last weekend. I read about it in the papers, but that’s not why I came,” he told the parish.

Chaput is currently facing a complaint filed by an abortion rights group with the Internal Revenue Service. It accuses the archdiocese of Denver of invalidating its tax-exempt status by meddling in the election, according to The Associated Press.Chaput’s sermon made no mention of the election, focusing instead on a passage from the Gospel in which a Jewish tax-collector, Zacchaeus, is converted by Jesus Christ.Chaput’s sermon was well received by the parishioners, including those who have publicly criticized the archbishop. Parishioner Mary Gleason, who recently wrote a letter to The Aspen Times saying Chaput should not comment on politics, called yesterday’s sermon “thoughtful and appropriate.””I was very pleased,” she said. “He took on the topic of living the Catholic life through actions but didn’t make specific demands on how we do it.””I think that was a touché to The New York Times article,” fellow parishioner Kent Kelly said. “There was such wisdom in his sermon.”Chaput’s appearance in Aspen comes after local leaders of other religions called for greater separation of church and politics.

Steve Woodrow, First Baptist pastor, said he supports Chaput’s pro-life beliefs, but said they should not be the focus so close to the presidential election.”Organized church should transcend politics. If the church’s main mission gets messed up with politics, the message can get lost,” he said. “That’s not to say moral issues – such as life issues and abortion – should not be talked about, but I wouldn’t deal with these issues right before the election. People would assume that I was promoting one candidate or the other.”Mendel Mintz, rabbi at Aspen’s Jewish Resource Center Chabad, said he speaks frequently with his congregation about the election, but never in his capacity as spiritual leader.”It’s not my job to tell anyone how to vote,” he said. “If people ask my opinion I’ll share it, but it’s a personal view, like ‘What kind of skiing do I like.'”Bruce McNab, rector of Christ Church in Aspen, said Catholics “are in a tricky spot” because the Vatican outlines policies on issues pertinent to the election. McNab’s sermons, however, do not address political issues.

McNab, who was ordained during the Vietnam War and marched on Washington in opposition to it, said religion and politics should occasionally mix, but now is not the time.”It’s pretty much not done to tell people how to vote,” McNab said. “I felt the Vietnam War was a very significant time for [activism], but with our congregation I don’t feel like I’m dealing with that sort of political tension.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is