(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responding to calls that they discipline pro-abortion Catholic politicians, has established a commission to consider whether the public figures can be excommunicated, according to individuals monitoring this week's autumn convention of the bishops in Washington, D.C.
The politicians in question include Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Dennis Kucinich.
"This was not something that was on the agenda, but was brought up and...the first steps are being taken to seat this committee," said Joe Giganti, spokesman for the American Life League's Crusade for the Defense of Our Catholic Church, which Monday launched an ad campaign to try to persuade the bishops to take action.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said the commission was approved Monday night and Dallas, Texas, Bishop Joseph Galante was selected to head the panel.
"Something had to be done with these pro-abortion politicians who claim to be Catholic," Brown said. "For 30 years, hundreds of pro-abortion Catholic politicians have created scandal in the church, and I think the bishops have finally determined that they are going to deal with this, and that is why this commission was created."
The American Life League has identified 412 state and federal politicians nationwide who have identified themselves as Catholic while also supporting abortion rights.
Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Kucinich (D-Ohio) both adhere to the Catholic Church's opposition to capital punishment but are at odds with the church over abortion. Telephone calls to both presidential campaign offices went unreturned Tuesday, but Kerry's campaign website clarifies the senator's position on abortion.
In defending the right of women "to control their own bodies, their own lives and their own destinies," Kerry's website boasts: "He recently announced he will support only pro-choice judges to the Supreme Court.""
Brown pointed out: "What's really strange about Kucinich in particular is that for years, he claimed he was pro-life. When he decided to run for president, he had a conversion experience."
In fact, Kucinich's presidential campaign website acknowledges the conversion.
"I've had a journey on this issue that a year ago, before I became a candidate for president, caused me to break from a voting record that had not been pro-choice," Kucinich's website states. "After hearing from many women in my own life, and from women and men in my community and across the country, I began a more intensive dialogue on the issue. A lot of women opened their hearts to me. That dialogue led me to wholeheartedly support a woman's right to choose."
Kucinich added: "A woman can't be free unless she has this right."
The Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law 915 specifies that: "Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.""
The controversy involving pro-abortion Catholics has not been isolated to Democrats. Former Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, who currently serves in the Bush administration as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, clashed with his own bishop in Erie, Pa., over the issue in 1999.
Ridge, a former altar boy and regular churchgoer, according to a Detroit News article, was told by Bishop Donald Trautman that he would not be allowed to speak at church events because of his support of abortion rights.
Later, when he was mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate to George W. Bush, Ridge's dispute with Trautman was seen as a potential turn-off for Catholic voters and viewed as a factor in Ridge being eliminated from the running.
"It's obviously pretty difficult for me because it puts me at odds with my faith community," Ridge said during the controversy.
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, described as the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization, believes the bishops have "been getting enough heat from the people who pay the bills who are the orthodox Catholics" to look at possible changes in the way the church treats pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
"And there are enough bishops themselves who are up in arms over this thing. It's become a running joke within the Catholic community," Donohue said.
However, Donohue cautioned that if the bishops decide to establish a tougher policy on abortion, they might eventually have to deal with other thorny issues as well.
"When you go down the line of excommunication, denying the sacraments in public and things of that nature, you've opened up the door to those people who are going to say, 'Well, what about this guy who differs with the Catholic Church about the death penalty?'"
Still, Donohue said: "There's nothing that rivals the interest that the church must have about protecting innocent human life. It trumps farmers' rights, the economy and the environment.
"The fact that [the bishops are] moving in this direction, that they're being nudged to respond, I think is encouraging."
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