Faith & Values

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Faith & Values: Two banners at St. Peter’s

By Michael Gordon

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s decision to give the closing prayer for the Democratic convention in Charlotte next week eases, if ever so slightly, months of tensions between the church, the party and the Obama administration over such issues as contraception and abortion.

Dolan’s choice to close both conventions sends a subliminal message that God, at least for now, remains “an undecided.”

Yet, it doesn’t quiet the country’s spiritual roiling, and a subtle example of that will play out uptown.

There, the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, taking a page from Martin Luther, has gone to a church to make its beliefs visible to all.

Its banner, high on a wall beside St. Peter’s Catholic, has been up a week.

“A message from the Catholic Church,” it reads. “Protect the Unborn, Defend Marriage, Safeguard Religious Liberty.”

Bishop Peter Jugis wrote it. The issues he cites come from the church’s guide to “Faithful Citizenship.”

They also are the three in which the Catholic hierarchy is most closely aligned with the GOP. Jugis, according to voting records, is a registered Republican.

Meanwhile, the Catholic guide also lists such issues as immigration reform, helping the poor and the death penalty.

These are topics in which the church – and the bishops – veer toward the Democrats. These are also the areas – particularly immigration and poverty – on which St. Peter’s has built its longstanding social justice efforts.

On abortion, marriage and contraception, the parish is split, and it has held discussions in which members have shared points of view. “It is our pride that we can talk,” says the Rev. Pat Earl.

Toward that end, Earl says dozens of parishioners have expressed support for the bishop’s banner.

Other members, feeling that visitors to the city might mistake the bishop’s words for the church’s mission, quietly seethe.

“It’s ‘in your face,’ ” Earl says. “But if this is what the bishop wants, it’s his church.”

Yet Earl also believes it’s important for the U.S. church not to leave the impression that “we are the Republican Party at prayer.”

Jugis, who declined a request for an interview, has entered political waters before. In 2004, he was one of three bishops who issued “Worthy to Receive the Lamb.” The statement gives priests in the Charlotte diocese the right to refuse Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians. David Hains, the bishop’s spokesman, says the policy remains in effect.

As for the banner, St. Peter’s was selected for its proximity to the convention; the issues because they “jumped out” at Jugis for their timeliness, Hains says.

With the convention about to break out around his church, Earl believes the presidential campaign has hit a new low, “people just yelling at each other and not talking seriously about issues.”

Referring to emotional debates among Catholics, he added, “I hate to see it when the church … mimics the ordinary political style around us.”

Jugis originally wanted three banners at St. Peter’s. He and the church settled on two. The second faces The Green. This time Earl came up with the wording.

It reads: “Religious Liberty: The Soul of Democracy.”

Gordon: mgordon@charlotteobserver.com
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