Catholic Conundrum: What's an Anti-Abortion, Pro-Immigrant Voter to Do?

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Those voters might turn red Arizona violet and could also help in the state's Ninth Congressional District, where former state senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, faces Republican Vernon Parker, a former Paradise Valley town council member, on November 6.

Like Edilia Gonzales, religious-minded Americans also have to reconcile conflicting stances on political views within the church itself.

For example, both Mormon and Catholic doctrines preach anti-abortion and traditional family values that align with the Republican way. At the same time, church leaders also publicly adopted a Democrat-esque, humane approach to immigration enforcement, inccluding a path to citizenship.

"It is very confusing," Ulibarri says. "I grew up Catholic in Utah. And today's Catholic Church is not, in many ways, the same Catholic Church I grew up in. Before, it was about helping the poor, helping the aging, helping the 'least among us.' Now, the conversation among Catholics is just about abortions, just about contraception."

The conversation also is about immigration and church officials' views that politicians should adopt a more tolerant view of the presence of immigrants.

The softer stance stems from a growing number of undocumented immigrants converting to Mormonism — an estimated 70 percent of Latino Mormons are undocumented. In the Catholic Church, where membership is steadily declining, immigrants are offsetting those losses.

A 2012 poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization, revealed that 69 percent of foreign-born Latinos identify themselves as Catholic. To maintain membership, religious leaders must tread lightly near these issues.

But not on abortion. Or gay marriage.

Pope Benedict XVI, the world leader of the Roman Catholic Church, left little room for doubt about Jesus Christ's expectations of his followers earlier this summer as he delivered a sermon in Castel Gandolfo, a small town 15 miles southeast of Rome.

In the August 26 address, Benedict compared disobedient and unbelieving Catholics to Judas. Remaining in the church while not fully believing its teachings is a betrayal, a falsehood.

The Christian Post reported on August 29 that Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro, the Human Life International Rome Director, confirmed that the pope's comments are very much related to the Catholic Church's formal teachings in support of traditional marriage and anti-abortion views.

Bob Grossfeld, a Phoenix-based Democratic political consultant, says that it would be a fantasy for any religious leader to believe they could influence their members to walk in lockstep with the church.

"It depends on the individual as much on the church leader," Grossfeld tells New Times. "There are Catholics who try to live close to the ecumenical teachings of the Vatican, and then there are those who take the rules and pronouncements as suggestions — and [there's] a wide range in between."

Still, the Catholic Church continues to sway parishioners to vote against abortion and same-sex marriage — and anyone who supports either.

Robert DeFrancesco, a spokesman for the Catholic diocese in Phoenix, tells New Times that though the church "does not endorse political candidates or engage in partisan politics . . . [it] has a long tradition of teaching on the sanctity of life, marriage and family, religious liberty, immigration, and many other important issues."

Indeed, the church has a rich history of political involvement, as do many of its members — including Biden, Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The church's political involvement has prompted questions — and complaints with the IRS — over whether it should lose its nonprofit tax status.

On September 7, Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the IRS to investigate a New York City church that endorsed Mitt Romney in its September 2 bulletin.

The nonpartisan educational organization, dedicated to maintaining a separation between church and state, also filed an IRS complaint in April against a Catholic bishop in Chicago who compared Obama to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

An IRS-developed tax guide for churches acknowledges that "churches and religious organizations take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office."

It cautions them, however, from getting involved to the point where, even though they are not "expressly" telling an audience to vote for specific candidate, they deliver "any message favoring or opposing a candidate."

The bottom line is that the IRS rarely takes action against churches, and churches persist in shaping the collective conscience.

In 2008, Olmsted, head of the Catholic diocese in Phoenix, told local Catholics to support a state constitutional amendment that would protect the institution.

Olmsted reminded Catholics in a YouTube video that church doctrines should guide them "at home, at work, at school, and even at the voting booth" and that some teachings "are non-negotiable, ones in which Catholics can not legitimately disagree."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo