WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Judging from some of the early reaction to the U.S. bishops' "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," debate about the more than 10,000-word document on political responsibility overwhelmingly approved by the bishops Nov. 14 is far from over.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston drew national attention when he told The Boston Globe daily newspaper after the vote that the Democratic Party "has been extremely insensitive to the church's position, on the Gospel of life in particular, and on other moral issues."
He said the document, considered by the bishops every four years since 1976, was clearer than earlier versions about the importance issues such as abortion and euthanasia have over other political issues with lesser moral weight.
But others say the document is not strong enough in condemning Catholic politicians who take positions contrary to the church on abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and other life issues.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, told LifeSiteNews.com that the bishops "failed to say anything about pro-abortion politicians who are Catholic and the obligation that they as bishops have to deny holy Communion (to those politicians) and I am terribly distraught about that."
"Such documents are going to have no significance whatsoever because they're not supported with any daily, weekly effort on the part of the bishops as a united body to teach and to demand that their priests teach the fundamental teachings of the church," she added.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., who headed the committee of committee chairmen that drafted the document, said at a press conference that the Communion issue had been dealt with in earlier bishops' documents and did not need to be in "Faithful Citizenship" because it was directed at Catholic voters, not Catholic politicians.
The document makes clear, however, that "the intentional taking of innocent human life," such as in abortion and euthanasia, "must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned."
It criticizes "a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity" and says, "The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many."
Cardinal O'Malley said that in previous documents "there was always the fear that we were considering sort of a smorgasbord of issues, but without any prioritizing, or giving the impression that all issues are of equal value."
He said the support given by Catholic voters in Massachusetts to Democratic candidates who want to keep abortion legal "borders on scandal, as far as I'm concerned."
"My plea with Democratic leaders is always that they make space for pro-life politicians, and I have many pro-life Democrats come to me and say that they not making space for them," the cardinal added. "I think that that is a very serious problem, particularly in a state like Massachusetts, where it is so heavily Democratic."
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, expressed strong support for the document in a statement and called on "priests to preach on its contents, on candidates to study its lessons, and on voters to heed its guidance."
He noted that "Faithful Citizenship" calls on Catholics to work to challenge political parties if their policies "fail to correspond to the demands of justice and the common good."
"In particular, we at Priests for Life call upon the Democratic Party to abandon its pro-abortion stance, recognizing that such a stance imperils and dilutes any progress that can be made on other issues," Father Pavone added.
Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, said in a statement that the bishops offered "a powerful message for people of faith to raise a clear moral voice for the dignity of the human person and a particular concern for the poor and most vulnerable."
"We are called as Catholics not to simply follow partisan political agendas but to draw wisdom and guidance from the fullness of Catholic social teaching with its focus on peace, justice and the common good," she added.
Meanwhile, on the same day as the bishops' vote on the politics document, the Center of Concern announced a new project called "Voting the Common Good: Election 2008," aimed at helping Catholic and non-Catholic voters to apply Catholic social teaching to issues in the 2008 election.
"While the church's positions on abortion, marriage, cloning and euthanasia are well known, simplistic sound bites have prevented Catholic social teaching from being understood by the general public," said Jesuit Father James E. Hug, president of the Washington-based center.
"There is too little analysis of the pressing issues and the faith values essential to moving our policies toward the common good," he added.