The Baltimore Sun

Keep sacraments untaited by politics

David O'Brien and Lisa Sowle Cahill's column "Don't play politics with Communion" (Commentary, June 9) should be a wake-up call to American Catholic bishops. They need restate with clarity that the sacraments of the church ought not to be mixed with politics.

The bishops first attempted to sort out this issue in 2004, not long after St. Louis Archbishop Raymond L. Burke proposed denying of Holy Communion to Sen. John Kerry during Mr. Kerry's presidential bid.

In June of that year, the bishops released a document, "Catholics in Political Life," that attempted to ameliorate the matter by deferring to each bishop's local authority regarding candidates and Communion, admitting that "bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action."

But tensions remained among the American bishops themselves, as evidenced last year by a prominent article by Archbishop Burke that criticized the reasoning of "Catholics in Political Life."

The upshot of this is that again this election year, American Catholics are roiled by what seems to be an effort to employ the sacraments in the conduct of politics.

Last fall, various Catholic candidates for the presidency were warned officiously about receiving Communion by this or that bishop or priest. This spring's incidents involving Professor Douglas W. Kmiec and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius reveal that the controversy is not abating.

It is, of course, entirely the bishops' responsibility to see that the church's rules for the dispensation of sacraments are applied faithfully and uniformly. But the responsibility for the clergy here is pastoral, not political.

Thus clergy should be guided in such matters by the norms of pastoral care - norms that do not include comments in the public media. And however much it is legitimate to deny sacraments for reasons of serious sin, great care needs to be exercised so that such denial cannot be construed as an involvement of church authority in partisan or election politics.

The church does have a job in American public life. That job is to encourage citizens to participate in public life in pursuit of the common good. And, yes, part of this job is constantly reminding people that abortion is America's most pressing public policy issue.

But for very good reasons concerning the future of the church itself, that job cannot cross over (or seem to cross over) into partisanship.

Let's hear the bishops talk loudly about abortion, health care, poverty, just war and all else the common good demands. But, please, keep the sacraments away from political controversy.

Stephen F. Schneck, Washington

The writer is a professor of politics and director of the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America.

Larsen leaves PSC with job unfinished

The departure of Public Service Commission Chairman Steven B. Larsen will leave the once-proud consumer protection agency nearly back where it was when he came on board to restore its credibility ("Md. PSC chief to step down," June 10).

Following the rampant politicization of the agency under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler, there were high hopes that Gov. Martin O'Malley would do the right thing and re-regulate energy markets.

Not only has that not happened, but it could be reasonably argued that things have gotten worse.

Utility rates continue to increase at an alarming rate, and wind power has been largely exempted from state environmental oversight.

Most of the new governor's appointments to the commission have close ties either to the industries they are supposed to be regulating or to prominent energy lobbyists.

An evaluation of Governor O'Malley and Chairman Larsen would yield about the same marks as one for former Governor Ehrlich and former Chairman Schisler.

I guess one could say: Not much has changed, has it?

John N. Bambacus, Frostburg

The writer is a former state senator and former mayor of Frostburg.

Car-pooling curbs fuel use, pollution

Pity the poor put-upon American commuter given the rising cost of gasoline. But what about a "no-brainer" way to ease the situation ("Fast ways to ease gas prices ignored," June 11).

Just take a look around and notice that the vast majority of the cars on the road are carrying one person, the driver.

In today's world, with Internet access, instant cell phone communication and flexible work schedules, could arranging car-pooling be so difficult?

Sharing commuting costs with one other person in the car would effectively reduce a driver's fuel price to $2 a gallon and cut those two people's carbon footprint in half.

But apparently many Americans prefer to whine about a problem rather than work toward a solution.

Richard Meade, Granite

Palestinians had a shot at statehood

The writers of the letters "Mideast status quo foments violence" (June 9) and "Israel lobby exerts excessive influence" (June 9) seem to disregard entirely one very important fact of history and geopolitics: Had the Palestinians agreed to the United Nations' partition plan for the area in 1948, instead of rejecting it, they would now be celebrating 60 years of statehood.

Leo Bretholz, Pikesville

McCain's economics just more of same

While American families struggle in a failing economy, Sen. John McCain promises more of the same Republican policies that are ruining the middle class and neglecting the needs of the poor ("McCain, Obama duel on economy," June 11).

The economic creed embraced by Mr. McCain and President Bush insists that lower taxes for the rich and less regulation of business will bring us prosperity. But that hasn't happened. The richest 5 percent of the population has done very well under our current policies, but workers' incomes have stalled or declined and the economy has slid toward recession.

Without government intervention, capitalism has a tendency to concentrate wealth in a minority that can buy political power to secure its advantages at the expense of the welfare of the general population.

That summarizes what's happened in recent years, with full support from Mr. Bush; Mr. McCain marches to the same drumbeat.

On the other hand, Sen Barack Obama and the Democrats believe in activist government committed to policies that serve the common good.

They know government has a vital role in protecting the public from the ugly excesses of market economics.

Raymond S. Gill, Crownsville

Voters defied racism, sexism

If the voters are as racist as some supporters of Sen. Barack Obama would have us believe and as sexist as some supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton's charge, why were the white guys the first candidates out of the Democratic presidential race?

Rick Magee, Abingdon

Red arbitrary color for communism

As the holder of a master's degree in Russian, though not a native speaker, I was gratified to see some comments on the derivation of the name Krasnaya ploshchad ("From Red to Green," June 8).

The author has it almost right. He says krasniy (or krasnij; there are several transliteration systems in use) is the Russian word for "beautiful." Actually, krasniy means "red"; "beautiful" is krasiviy.

But the words have the same etymological root, kras, which means color. Other Russian words with that root include kraska (dye or paint), krasnet (to blush) and krasota (beauty).

And I must thank the author for dismissing the old canard about the words for "beauty" and "redness" proving that Russians love communism.

The selection of red as a symbolic color for the Bolsheviks was a completely arbitrary choice, and, besides, white was taken by another, more liberal political party in pre-revolution Russia.

Anyway, the article's premise assures us that Russians surely love capitalism way better than communism.

Beth Woodell, Baltimore

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