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Stung by a priest's pronouncement that he'd likely refuse communion to Illinois Sen.

6/2/2004 8:10:00 PM by St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Karen Branch-Brioso

WASHINGTON - Stung by a priest's pronouncement that he'd likely refuse communion to Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin for his pro-abortion-rights voting record, Durbin released a survey Wednesday that he says shows most Catholic Democratic senators like himself vote in line with church teachings - except when it comes to abortion.

The study, compiled by Durbin's staff, looked at two dozen issues cited as legislative priorities by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Abortion-related stances were included. But so were issues as widely varied as the death penalty, immigration, gun control and increasing the minimum wage.

"Unfortunately, recent media attention has focused on one or two priorities of the Catholic Church, while obscuring others," Durbin, D-Ill., said. "This has made it more difficult for Catholic voters to understand the full range of issues that have been identified by the (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as priorities for public life."

The survey's findings: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, D-Mass., and Durbin topped the list of 24 Catholic senators as supporting the Catholic agenda more than 60 percent of the time. The survey prompted an angry conference call by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., a Catholic who stood with the U.S. Conference of Bishops' issues listed in the survey just 40 percent of the time.

"This is a selective attempt to make John Kerry and a bunch of liberal Democrats who disagree with the church's teaching to look like faithful Catholics," Santorum said. "To suggest, as this scorecard does, that the issue of taking innocent human life is on par and has the moral equivalency of how many television stations somebody owns in Erie, Penn., is a deliberate attempt to confuse and obfuscate what is the true teaching of the church. They are not morally equivalent issues."

While Durbin's study weighs each of the issues equally, it notes that the Catholic Church does not: "The (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) has noted that 'the defense of human life and dignity is not a narrow cause,'" a preface to the study noted.

Kathie Sass, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield, Ill. - Durbin's hometown - reiterated that in reaction to Durbin's survey: "This bishops say there are a whole range of issues you must consider. It also says some issues are more important than others, and these are the life issues."

In April, Monsignor Kevin Vann, pastor of the Blessed Sacrament Church in Springfield where Durbin used to attend, told the State Journal-Register that Durbin's "pro-choice position puts him really outside of communion or unity with the church's teachings on life. And that's why I would be reticent to give him Holy Communion."

During the news conference, Durbin said, "It is a very painful experience for someone who has been a practicing Catholic for 59 years plus."

Durbin, who attended Catholic school in East St. Louis and whose three children attended Blessed Sacrament in Springfield, voted anti-abortion until the late 1980s. He changed his stance after speaking to two teenage runaways who had abortions after instances of rape and incest. His switch to voting in support of abortion rights also was influenced at the time by the stance of anti-abortion activists who were not also against the death penalty.



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