The papal directive last spring ordering Rep. Robert F. Drinan and other Roman Catholic priests out of partisan politics has not deterred other Catholic clergymen from working actively this fall against candidates who support abortion rights.
From parish priests to cardinals, members of the clergy have been urging votes for certain candidates appealing for funds for antiabortion candidates and, in one case, serving as adelegate to a national political convention.
"Where is the moral line? Where is the political line?" asked the superior of a local priest whose name was on a solicitation for an antiabortion political group. "It's a very fine line to draw."
Church leaders see a difference between running for public office and working for candidates who oppose abortion.
An aide to the apostolic delegate here explained that the church bars priests from partisan politics to prevent them from becoming divisive factors. "When you are elected to a public office, you are then bound to another constituency that you have to represent, and it's almost inevitable that there would be a conflict" with the priests's role, said the Rev. Richard Pates.
Yet the church "has the right to pass moral judgments even on matters touching the political order, whenever basic personal rights of the salvation of souls make such judgments necessary," according to a document of the Second Vatican Council, which ran from 1962 to 1965.
When Drinan, the Rev. Robert Cornell, a former member of Congress, the politician-priests of Latin America and others were ordered to get out of partisan politics, the Vatican issued no new dirrective, but merely enforced a long-standing policy.
But while Drinan and Cornell are bringing their political careers to an end, other priests continue to take active roles in politics when abortion is at stake.
Item: In Boston this month, five days before the primary to choose the Democratic candidate to fill Drinan's seat, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros issued a pastoral letter to more than two million local Catholics, saying it was a "deadly sin" to vote for legislators who support abortion rights. The statement was widely interpreted as encouraging a vote against State Rep. Barney Frank, whom Drinan endorsed to fill his seat, and Rep. James Shannon, who was seeking renomination as the Democratic candidate from the 5th District.
Item: Earlier this summer, a Washington area Jesuit, the Rev. Vincent Tanzola, used the letterhead of the Fund to Defeat Abortion Candidates to send out thousands of letters to Catholics and evangelicals, appealing for contributions to "defeat abortion candidates and elect prolife representatives."
Item: The Rev. Leo Tibesar, a theological librarian at St. Paul Roman Catholic Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last month and fought hard for a stronger antiabortion plank in the party's platform."I actively worked to be elected in the Minnesota caucus this year to ensure a strong voice prolife," said Tibesar, who said he got into politics four years ago to fight abortion. Tibesar said he has had no criticism from his superiors for his involvement in partisan politics, "probably because I was involved in internal party affairs . . . If you hold public office, that's a more divisive influence."
Item: At St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church, a large church on upper Wisconsin Avenue, something was added to the masses last month.Between the sermon and holy communion, ushers moved through the congregation handing worshippers red-and-white petitions that they were urged to sign and return before the service ended. Addressed to D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and key members of Congress, the petition demanded that they "cut off all tax funding of all abortions in . . . the nation's capital."
The Catholic involvement in abortion politics is not limited to the United States. The Catholic hierarchy in West Germany recently issued a pastoral letter that strongly criticized the Social Democratic Party for its pro-abortion stand and other party positions. And in Italy, the pope has rejected demands by political leaders there that he stop interfering in Italian politics, again on the abortion issue.
Describing abortion as "above all a problem of moral responsibility," the Vatican said that to limit the pope's comment on the issue -- "would mean to offend the right of religious liberty."
Almost a year ago, the administrative board of the United States Catholic Conference published a statement on "Political Responsibility: Choices for the 1980s." The thrust of the 16-page brochure was that informed participation in the political process is a Christian responsibility. Half of the statement was devoted to discussing a range of issues that it said Catholics should use to evaluate political candidates. In addition to abortion, the list included capital punishment, arms control and disarmament, food and agricultural policy, mass media, housing, health care and international tensions.
In developing the statement, the leaders of the American hierarchy noted that "We specifically do not seek the formation of a religious voting bloc; nor do we wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing candidates."
On the contrary, they said, "We hope that voters will examine the positions of candidates on the full range of issues as well as the persons integrity, philosophy and performance."
Those sentiments were echoed in a joint message of the four Catholic bishops of Massachusetts. "We do not presume to instruct people how to vote by endorsing candidates, nor do we seek the formation of religious voting bloc," said the message, published on the front page of the Sept. 12 issue of the Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston archdiocese.
But stripped across the top of the page, under the headline, "Cardinal Asks Vote 'To Save Our Children,'" was Medeiros' pastoral letter devoted solely to candidates and the abortion issue. "Those who make abortions possible by law -- such as legislators -- and those who promote, defend and elect these same lawmakers, cannot separate themselves totally from that guilt which accompanies this horrendous crime and deadly sin. If you are for true human freedom -- and life -- you will vote to save our children, born and unborn."
Despite, or in the view of some analysts, because of, Medeiros' efforts, both Frank and Shannon defeated their antiabortion opponents.
Asked to explain Tanzola's work, Joe Barrett, Chairman of the Washington-based Fund to Defeat the Abortion Candidates, said. "Father Tanzola was a priest who was kind enough to sign a letter for us when we rented some Catholic lists." The three-page letter, which carries Tanzola's name in the letterhead and in the signature, is a highly personalized appeal to Catholics. "Please pray with me," the letter implores. "Please help LIFE-PAC [the Fund to Defeat's parent organization] do our special work. lPlease hear the words of our beloved Pope John Paul Ii and help us put an end to abortion by helping to elect prolife candidates to office."
The mailing, which included a color photograph of the pope during his visit here last year, pleaded for funds to "win important primary rights and allow us to reach the concerned prolife vote in your area. Without your sacrifices, many good candidates will go down in defeat."
Tanzola's superior in New York, the Rev. Daniel Fitzpatrick, said he had not seen the letter, which arrived in mailboxes here in July. Fitzpatrick said he could not say whether Tanzola's action violated the pope's decree on priestly involvement in partisan politics.
The priest said Tanzola, who did not return a reporter's phone calls, is currently assigned to the Diocese of Arlington, but diocesan spokesmen said he is not assigned to a parish.
Barrett said Tanzola is no longer associated with the Fund to Defeat the Abortion Candidates. "When he [tanzola] heard what the pope did [in ordering Drinan and others out of partisan politics] he removed himself," said Barrett. But he added, "He has not told us not to use the letter."