Dubuque, Iowa, is a "heavily Catholic city," the Associated Press reported. And it's the kind of Catholic that supports church teaching that abortion is murder and a grave sin. So when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry attended Mass Sunday at Dubuque's Church of the Resurrection, "several churchgoers separately quizzed Kerry about his legislative support for abortion rights," the news service reported.

"It's hard," the candidate said. "It's a difficult line to walk." He told another, "I'm against partial birth abortion," explaining that he voted against the partial birth abortion ban six times because Republicans "did it for a political reason. They tried to drive home the politics of it."

But Kerry's most notable comments—which have been widely published but not as widely as one might expect—came in an interview with the Telegraph Herald newspaper:

"I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception. But I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist . . . who doesn't share it. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America."

Since Kerry has voted to support abortion every chance he has had as a senator, his belief that life begins at conception comes as a bit of a surprise.

Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter told The Washington Post that "she could not recall him ever publicly discussing when life begins."

The Bush campaign attacked Kerry's comment, saying, "John Kerry's ridiculous claim to hold conservative values and his willingness to change his beliefs to fit his audience betrays a startling lack of conviction on important issues like abortion that will make it difficult for voters to give him their trust."

Wall Street Journal blogger James Taranto makes a similar criticism:

Far from staking out a moderate position on abortion--pro-choice with limits, or pro-life with exceptions--Kerry expects us to believe that he stands for both pro-life and pro-choice absolutism. "Personally," he claims to agree with the Catholic Church's position that life begins at conception, full stop. That means abortion is murder. But politically he never met an abortion he didn't like--not even the partial-birth kind, which 17 of his fellow Senate Democrats voted to ban last year. This isn't nuance; it's trying to have it both ways.

And the National Right to Life Committee's Dave Andrusko called it a "shameless ploy … [of] blatant opportunism and stunningly transparent insincerity."

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Concerned Women for America called it an "attempt to fool voters," but then suggested a less cynical—but more nefarious—reason for Kerry's remark. "Kerry's belief that life begins at conception and his support of pro-abortion legislation shows that killing babies is okay with Kerry," said CWA's Janice Crouse. "Pro-family constituents want to see a candidate's claims to personal moral conviction influence his voting record. Good intentions are useless without action."

Other commentators suggested that Kerry is simply confused and conflicted.

"It is morally outrageous and ethically indefensible for Senator Kerry to publicly acknowledge that life begins at conception, and then state that he is prepared to do absolutely nothing to safeguard innocent human life at every stage of development," said Catholic League president William Donohue. "He cannot have it both ways; if life begins at conception, then the newly formed human being is entitled to the full panoply of rights afforded all Americans. The time has come for Senator Kerry to follow the logic of his biological observation and rethink his position on abortion."

But the real story here is that Kerry doesn't believe his comment is a biological observation. For him, it's only religious. He calls it "my article of faith" and says that he's barred from making political decisions based on that believe because of the "separation of church and state in America."

At a rally on Sunday, Kerry stressed this separation. "I'm a person of faith, and I know I'm surrounded by people of faith," he said. "But there's nothing conservative about allowing your administration to cross that beautiful line drawn by the founding fathers that separates affairs of church and state in the United States of America."

Kerry's words don't suggest ridiculous political ploy. He's actually being consistent with his earlier comments—not on abortion, but on church and state. Back in April, Joseph Bottum's excellent Weekly Standard piece on Kerry's Catholicism explained that Kerry's views on the First Amendment are much more radical than his views on abortion:

When Kerry claims that pro-life teaching is inherently sectarian—when he suggests it is, as George Weigel notes, "something analogous to the Catholic Church trying to force everyone in the United States to abstain from eating hot dogs on Fridays during Lent"—he has carried the separation of church and state into strange, new dimensions: The fact that the Catholic Church supports a position somehow becomes a reason a Catholic politician has to oppose it.
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Kerry's comments on separation of church and state deserve much more attention—from actual scholars and analysts, not from partisan pundits trying to score points. The political theory he's promoting here is truly remarkable. If Kerry is not voting according to his conscience, what's he using as his matrix? Not public opinion, or he would have voted for the partial-birth abortion ban. What makes an issue religious? Kerry has, in the past, (wrongly) equated Catholic teaching on abortion with teaching on other issues, such as capital punishment and the war in Iraq. But on those issues, he's on the same side as his church. Why does "separation of church and state" not come into play on these points?

We probably won't get an answer, unless these questions get asked in a presidential debate. Meanwhile, they won't get asked by abortion supporters. So far, it looks like the Boston Globe's Eileen McNamara is the sole writer on that side of the debate even talking about Kerry's comment. She says she

mistakenly assumed that, on this very personal issue, Kerry's conscience was at odds with the teaching of his church. … Now, I don't know what to think. I cannot respectfully disagree with him as I do with an abortion opponent whose conscience prompts her to work to unseat lawmakers like Kerry. I understand her. She is acting on principle, lobbying to change laws antithetical to her conscience. I don't understand him, voting consistently in opposition to what he now tells us is one of his core beliefs.

But she hasn't been able to ask Kerry for further explanation, and Betsy Cavendish, interim president of NARAL Pro Choice America, told her to shut up about it. Cavendish, McNamara wrote,

was offended that I wanted to discuss Kerry's abortion comments on ''such a great day." Why, she asked, would I spin a ''minor comment" into a ''minicyclone" when abortion rights supporters should be keeping our ''eye on the prize, defeating Public Enemy Number One, George Bush." For all we know, she said, Kerry sees life as a continuum, with conception the acorn and childbirth the oak. Shouldn't she ask him, I wondered. ''Why?" she asked. ''Our job is to get Bush out."

Wouldn't Cavendish be surprised, though, if Kerry decided that it was wrong to protect abortion clinics from violence because the separation of church and state prohibits such a defense of human life?

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More articles

Church & state:

  • AmeriCorps agency loses suit on religion | The federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps must stop financing programs that place volunteers in Catholic schools, a judge has ruled, saying it unconstitutionally crosses the line between church and state (Associated Press)
  • Petition seeks to restore cross to county seal | The symbol was removed after the ACLU threatened to sue. Some officials want it back (Los Angeles Times)
  • Religion and the pledge | What did you think of the Supreme Court's decision recently to retain the words 'under God,' in the Pledge of Allegiance? Religious leaders respond (Los Angeles Times)
  • Catholics angry over teacher plan | A union move to legally challenge the public funding of private schools is a "Catholic-bashing" tactic that will create religious divisions, Labor's federal vice-president, Warren Mundine, has warned (Sydney Morning Herald)

UK religious hate law:

  • New religious hate laws unveiled | Inciting religious hatred is to be made a criminal offence under plans unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett (BBC)
  • Q&A: Religious hatred law | Government proposals for a law on religious hatred are complicated - and will face a tough time in Parliament (BBC)
  • Blunkett to outlaw inciting religious hatred | David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has said he will relaunch plans to make inciting religious hatred a criminal offence (The Telegraph, London)
  • Doubts grow over religious hate law | David Blunkett could face severe difficulties getting his resurrected pledge to criminalise incitement to religious hatred through parliament, it emerged today (The Guardian, London)
  • Fear over hate law | Birmingham's Muslim leaders today expressed fears that Government proposals to make incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence could result in ethnic minorities being targeted rather than protected (Evening Mail, Birmingham, England)
  • Sideline the extremists - Home Secretary | Religious and political extremists are a scourge of modern society who prey on the most vulnerable and insecure, Home Secretary David Blunkett said today in a major keynote speech on race (Press release, Home Office)

Religion & politics:

  • Politicians talk more about religion, and people expect them to | In a New York Times poll taken last month, 42 percent of those surveyed said they welcomed candidates discussing the role of religion in their lives. Fifty-three percent said religion should "not be part of a presidential campaign" (The New York Times)
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  • Third parties making life difficult for Bush, Kerry | The Constitution Party has nominated a presidential candidate who wants to outlaw abortion (The Washington Times)
  • Win may bring power to appoint 4 justices | Campaigns urged to focus on impact (The Boston Globe)
  • Church groups lead protest mission to Cuba | Pastors for Peace violates the embargo by refusing to apply for documentation to export to Cuba and by using Mexico to bypass U.S. restrictions to Cuba. The caravans have in recent years passed through the border without much incident (Associated Press)
  • In Colorado, a wellspring of conservative Christianity (Los Angeles Times)
  • Piety has vital role in voters' decisions | Religious are leaning toward Bush, polls indicate (San Francisco Chronicle)

Judicial nomination:

  • Senate narrowly okays Arkansas judge nominee | The Senate narrowly approved President Bush's nominee to a federal district court in Arkansas last night after six hours of sometimes-bitter debate (The Washington Times)
  • Senate confirms controversial nominee to federal court | The Senate voted 51 to 46 yesterday to confirm a nomination to the U.S. District Court in Little Rock after a sharp debate over his comments about abortion, women's rights and other topics (The Washington Post)
  • After fight, Senate agrees to Bush's choice for judge | The judicial nomination wars, dormant in recent months, re-emerged Tuesday as the Senate narrowly confirmed one of President Bush's nominees to the bench (The New York Times)
  • Senate okays Holmes for Arkansas judgeship | Arkansas lawyer Leon Holmes narrowly won Senate confirmation to be a federal judge Tuesday, overcoming concerns over his views on abortion and women (Associated Press)
  • Senate confirms Bush court pick | Democrats opposed J. Leon Holmes over his views on women's rights and abortion (Los Angeles Times)

War & terrorism:

  • Simple, solitary prayers for fallen U.S. troops | Chaplain blesses coffins as they arrive (The Washington Post)
  • America he saw was a perfectly pagan place | We can make the case to Muslims that freedom is not a secular invention. Rather, freedom is a gift from God (Dinesh D'Souza, San Francisco Chronicle)
  • Agnostics make lousy suicide bombers | Those of us who regard questions about religion as distractions from the urgent issues of this life are repeatedly startled and dismayed by the willingness of zealots - be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jewish - to kill and die for their faith (Paul Lewis, The Globe and Mail, Toronto)
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Smacking in UK:

  • The House of Lords restrains the hand that hits the child | The House of Lords - the upper house of Parliament - resolved Monday to limit, but not forbid, the right of parents to punish their children by slapping or spanking them, changing a 144-year-old law that gave parents the right to hit children as "reasonable chastisement" for misbehavior (The New York Times)
  • Christians divided over compromise on smacking | Differences of opinion have emerged amongst Christians following the vote in the House of Lords for a compromise measure outlawing the smacking of children that causes obvious harm (Ekklesia, U.K.)
  • Partial reform on smacking is not enough | Until the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' is removed from our legal system, any move to ban smacking will result in compromise, and children will be the losers (Kirsty Scott, The Guardian, London)
  • British reject ban on spanking of kids | British lawmakers on Monday voted against a ban on parents spanking their children, and decided instead to tighten existing rules (Associated Press)


  • Brazil sets example for taming AIDS | A decade ago, health experts predicted an AIDS explosion in Latin America, striking hardest at Brazil, with its teeming population and sexual permissiveness. But the explosion never came, and experts say Brazil's handling of the problem may keep it from ever happening (Associated Press)
  • Back to AIDS basics | For all the recent gains in making lower-cost AIDS drugs more available in the developing world, treatment efforts will be overwhelmed unless countries do a better job of prevention (Editorial, The Boston Globe)
  • Aids defeating world's best efforts as record numbers are infected | The lethal spread of the HIV/Aids pandemic across the globe is speeding up, in spite of intensifying efforts on the part of UN agencies, the US, Britain and other European governments to turn the tide. A record five million people were infected by the virus last year and nearly three million died (The Guardian, London)


  • U.S., U.N. raise pressure | World leaders weigh sanctions on Sudan and say that Khartoum has little time to stop ethnic violence (Los Angeles Times)
  • Lawmakers call for U.N. to act in Sudan | Two Republican lawmakers, after seeing firsthand the devastation of Darfur, Sudan, yesterday called for the United Nations to intervene in the war-torn nation and prevent a genocide like those in Rwanda, Kosovo and Nazi Germany (The Washington Times)
  • Time for action in Darfur | The crisis in Darfur threatens to undermine the North-South accord and return Sudan into an anarchic harbor for terrorists (John Olver, The Boston Globe)
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Oregon archdiocese bankrupt after abuse lawsuits:

  • Filing for bankruptcy halts priest abuse trial | The stage is set for a bitter fight over archdiocesan assets (The Oregonian)
  • Priests, lay leaders sad but supportive | Worshippers, accepting hard times for the archdiocese, insist their faith is unshaken (The Oregonian)
  • Oregon archdiocese files for bankruptcy protection | The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., became the first Roman Catholic diocese in the nation to seek such relief in response to mounting claims by victims of sexually abusive priests (The New York Times)
  • Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., declares bankruptcy | Sexual abuse lawsuits have cost it more than $53 million in claims (The Washington Post)
  • Oregon diocese 1st to file bankruptcy | The Catholic district in Portland seeks financial protection against potential sex-abuse claims. Others are expected to do likewise (Los Angeles Times)
  • Oregon archdiocese files for bankruptcy | The Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., yesterday became the first Catholic diocese in the country to seek bankruptcy protection because of multimillion-dollar awards given to victims of clergy sex abuse, halting two such court cases set to begin yesterday (The Washington Times)
  • Diocese in Ore. files for Chap. 11 | It's an unprecedented step for a Roman Catholic diocese and a dramatic illustration of the devastating financial impact decades of sexual abuse by priests are having on the nation's largest religious denomination (The Boston Globe)
  • Portland diocese files bankruptcy amid sex claims | Believed was the first such action by a U.S. Roman Catholic diocese (Reuters)
  • Oregon archdiocese files for bankruptcy | The archdiocese took action because of the steep costs from clergy sex abuse lawsuits, halting the trial of a lawsuit against Maurice Grammond, accused of sexually abusing more than 50 boys in the 1980s (Associated Press)
  • Document: Archbishop Vlazny's letter concerning Chapter 11 reorganization (Archdiocese of Portland)

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
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Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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