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The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, is the archbishop of Denver, and widely admired among those who hope and pray for renewal in the American Catholic Church.

Bishop Chaput has taken an unprecedented step: He has commented upon a political debate pitting Republicans against Democrats in the United States Senate. The debate is over the nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and it has been marked by a vicious campaign against Pryor that appears to many, including me, to be rooted in hostility to Pryor’s faith – a robust, traditional Roman Catholicism.

At the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Pryor last week, verbal brawling broke out, and Democrat Richard Durbin lashed out at critics of the treatment of Pryor who saw in that treatment a thinly disguised hostility to traditional Roman Catholic belief concerning the unborn. Pryor has testified that he will apply the law of the land, but he is unapologetic in his views on abortion – like his church, Pryor views abortion as a serious wrong.

Archbishop Chaput picks up the story in his column on the hearing, available at the Denver Archdiocese webpage:

According to Sen. Durbin (as reported by EWTB), “Many Catholics who oppose abortion personally do not believe the laws of the land should prohibit abortion for all others in extreme cases involving rape, incest and the life and health of the mother.” This kind of propaganda makes the abortion lobby proud, but it should humiliate any serious Catholic.

At a minimum, Catholic members of Congress like Sen. Durbin should actually read and pray over the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” before they explain the Catholic faith to anyone.

They might even try doing something about their “personal opposition” to abortion by supporting competent pro-life judicial appointments. Otherwise, they simply prove what many people already believe – that a new kind of religious discrimination is very welcome at the Capitol, even among elected officials who claim to be Catholic.

Now this is leadership: A strong statement that in no uncertain terms rebukes Durbin and his allies for engaging in religious discrimination. On its own, it might give the filibuster-minded pause when Pryor’s nomination arrives on the floor soon. If Chaput’s stand was backed up by his fellow American cardinals and bishops, the Senate would quickly confirm Pryor and a message would be sent to the rabid abortion-rights lobby that it had crossed a line that requires the religious and the friends of religious freedom to rally and fight back hard.

If Pryor is defended by the authorities of his Church, a repeat of this ugly episode of religious bigotry will not occur. If he is not defended, and the Democrats succeed in sinking his nomination because he is a serious man of faith, other serious Roman Catholics can give up on being confirmed to the federal bench. Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle – all Catholics – will have succeeded in implementing a “religious test” for office despite the Constitution’s explicit ban on such tests.

Archbishop Chaput has entered the fray, perhaps sensing that if he failed to act in these circumstances, then no future letter from him to his flock on abortion could ever be credible. Others in the Roman Catholic hierarchy need to think on this problem and consider Archbishop Chaput’s powerful example. They too should be heard from, and soon.

Over at the website of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops /United States Catholic Conference, there is a comprehensive list of every bishop in America and e-mail links. There is also a section devoted to “Pro-Life Activities.”

There is no statement on the nomination of Attorney General Pryor, however, and the irony is apparently lost on the bureaucracy that there is no point in promoting pro-life activities if you won’t defend pro-life public officials.

If you are a Catholic, contact your bishop and your senator. If you aren’t, then just contact your senator. The outrageous treatment of William Pryor must stop.

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