Signs of the Times

Bush Opposes Abortion, Supports Death Penalty

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush reiterated his opposition to abortion and support for school choice but disagreed with Catholic stands on the death penalty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in a wide-ranging interview with Catholic News Service and Our Sunday Visitor on Sept. 20.

One of the things I do in my speeches, Bush said, and what I’ll do as president is to talk about the culture of life, the need for a welcoming society, the need for Americansno matter what their personal view is on the life issuethat we can do better as a society. I recognize that until we have a cultural shift, there’s going to be a lot of folks who disagree with my pro-life position. But that’s not going to stop me from setting the goal that the born and the unborn ought to be welcomed in life and protected by law.


Specifically, Bush pledged to sign a partial-birth abortion ban as president, said he supported parental notification before a minor’s abortion and spoke against the use of tax money to fund abortions. But the Republican candidate said his commitment to the culture of life does not extend to capital punishment, which he supports and the Catholic Church opposes. The state of Texas leads the country in the number of executions since 1976, with 231, and Bush has kept up the pace since becoming governor in 1994, with 35 executions in Texas in 1999 and 32 so far this year.

It’s the difference between innocence and guilt, he said. In an abortion, the baby is innocent. The death penalty is a case of a person being guilty. Bush said, I believe when the death penalty is administered surely, swiftly and justly it saves lives, it sends a chilling signal throughout our society that we will not tolerate...the ultimate violent act of taking somebody’s life, he added. But I completely understand the position of the Catholic leadership and I respect them for it.

Bush also spoke against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Catholic bishops had urged the U.S. Senate to ratify. Although he pledged to keep in place the current U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing, Bush said the treaty as currently written will not keep in check nations that want to acquire weapons of mass destruction because it is not verifiable.

On health care issues, Bush said he supported restoration of many of the Medicare cuts that resulted from the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. I’m mindful of the pinch on hospitals, he said. I’m mindful of what the Balanced Budget amendment did, and the cuts are beginning to be restored.

On education, Bush said he supported giving federal education money directly to parents if local schools failed to educate their children. If schools cannot teach and will not change, the portion of the money for that disadvantaged child from the federal government ought to go to the parents, with the parents able to make a different choice for that child, including religious schools if he or she chooses, he said.

Asked how he would appeal to Catholic voters, Bush said he had a universal messagethat he would restore honor and dignity to the White House. He said, The Catholic mom or dad is just as offended by the behavior at the White House as any other religious personor nonreligious for that matter.

Bush discussed a number of faith-based programs that have succeeded in Texas and which he would like to take nationwide, such as maternity group homes for teen mothers and the InnerChange Freedom initiative that seeks to reduce prison recidivism through Bible studies and assistance from faith-based groups after inmates leave prison.

If you change a person’s heart, you change their behavior, Bush said. And the whole premise of this interfaith effort of changing hearts is confirming the lessons of the Bible. Or the lessons of whatever other faith you subscribe to. So it’s not just a program within the walls of a prison. It’s a program that somebody’s out there to help you after the walk from the prison.

He said he would create an office of faith-based action in the White House that would recruit and encourage faith-based programs to become involved but would also be charged with informing other government offices that we don’t expect bureaucrats to create rules and regulations that will prevent [faith-based groups] from exercising their call.

Bush cited the case of Teen Challenge, a drug and alcohol treatment program in Texas, whose officials faced so many rules and regulations that they were getting thwarted and frustrated and didn’t want to be involved with government.

He praised Mary Jo Copeland of Sharing and Caring Hands ministry in Minneapolis as one of the brave soldiers in the army of compassion...who exist not because of government but because of love. The U.S. government must not fear these little units in the army of compassion, he said. We must encourage them.

Gore Sees Hope for Common Ground’ Movement on Abortion

Vice President Al Gore said he sees hope for common ground on abortion at the grass-roots level and said the effort should be respected and empowered. In a wide-ranging 25-minute interview with Catholic News Service on Oct. 14, Gore said, The truth is, the vast majority of those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice actually agree that certain common-sense steps should be taken to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the number of times women feel like they’re in a situation of such anguish that they have to contemplate that choice.

Gore said his willingness to sign a law banning partial-birth abortionprovided it allows exceptions when the life or health of the mother is endangeredis one thing that should be considered by people who agree with him on most other issues but hesitate to vote for him because of his record of support for legal abortion. Reminded that wording about protecting the health of the mother is an obstacle because the term health has been broadly interpreted, Gore said he’s confident such a law can be phrased to satisfy most people.

Some on both sides have invested in particular language and are willing to see the conflict continue rather than settle it, Gore said. Several ways have been suggested that have been turned down because it’s a symbolic issue. The issue itself can be solved, no question about that.

As for the death penalty, Gore said he is not yet convinced that the way capital punishment is imposed at the federal level justifies a moratorium on its use. However, he said, in states where evidence shows the death penalty is applied unevenlysuch as seemed to be the case in Illinois, where Gov. George Ryan stopped executions earlier this yeara moratorium ought to be imposed. And if further investigation of the application of the death penalty at the federal level reveals a situation similar to that, then I would support a moratorium, he said.

On another subject, Gore said although he does not believe tax money should be used for education voucher programs that include parochial schools, he thinks the federal government and religious institutions, including schools, can work together in many other ways.

I strongly support the availability of Title I funding [for programs like remedial reading for children from low-income families] to parochial schools, he said. I also strongly support public charter schools to increase choice and competition. And those who bid for the management contracts for public charter schools can include all kinds of groups, so long as they agree to abide by the First Amendment and not use public funds for any religious purposes.

His opposition to voucher programs that bring tax money to parochial schools is based both on public schools’ needs and a concern for protecting religious institutions from government interference, he said. Once public funds are used directly to support parochial schools, it would bring government mandates and interference in the curriculum and whatever else the majority wanted to impose, he said.

He said he fears a downward spiral for public schools if taxpayer funding is diverted to parochial schools that do not have the same obligations of public accountability. And if such schools were held accountable, he said, they would be subject to interference that’s inappropriate between state and church.

But when it comes to federal collaboration with faith-based groups through programs like one at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, run by Joe Hacala, S.J., Gore is an enthusiastic supporter. The success of partnerships between government and faith-based organizations has been stunning, he said. I want to see it expanded in several areas where it can really do more good than any other approach.

He said that would include opening an office for faith-based cooperation in the White House and including faith-based organizations at the table when social challenges are discussed in a Gore-Lieberman White House.

Gore also said he wants to see a change in how immigrants, even illegal immigrants, are treated by the United States. Detention policies need to be changed, and a renewed emphasis on family reunification in immigration policies is needed, he added. Gore said policies and procedures need change, particularly with regard to the U.S.-Mexico border in the Southwest, where changes in enforcement policies have led to dramatic problems for those crossing illegally and for U.S. residents and landowners.

He said he supports no-nonsense enforcement of laws against illegal immigration because the nation’s tradition of welcoming legal immigrants can only continue if we assert a right to control our borders and shores against destabilizing waves of illegal immigration. But even those who enter illegally must be treated as human beings, with respect, with dignity, with fairness, with due process. That is not being done in all cases and it must be. That means adequate funding. It means adequate training for personnel. It means good management.

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