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Island's Roman Catholic Leaders Come Down On Rossello… Archbishop Urges `Pro-Family' Vote In Puerto Rican Race

Island's Roman Catholic Leaders Come Down On Candidate

Ray Quintanilla, Sentinel Columnist

October 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- For those of us who consider ourselves Catholic, there's nothing worse than someone challenging us with this question: "Are you a good Catholic?"

In the few times that question has been posed to me, my response has always been: "Was Jesus a good Catholic?" (For the record, Jesus was a Jew.)

Now, before you blow a fuse, this isn't about drawing a comparison between Jesus and me. It is, however, the reason a feud has erupted on the island between former Gov. Pedro Rossello, the leading candidate for the office in the November election, and the leaders of the island's Roman Catholic Church.

Here's where the feud began.

A few days ago, Rossello told reporters he regularly attends non-Catholic services. He has even appeared publicly with Protestant religious leaders, and he acknowledged making donations to those churches.

In response, San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves and Cardinal Luis Aponte Martinez called their own news conference to say Rossello should no longer consider himself a Roman Catholic, because he regularly attends Protestant services.

The cardinal described Rossello as a "renegade Catholic." And, he told the San Juan Star that "a Catholic who votes for [Rossello] is going to vote for a declared apostate." The archbishop added this gem: "I think this is an identity crisis."

So much for keeping religion out of politics.

When was the last time you can recall such high-level religious leaders, Catholic or otherwise, so aggressively condemning a political candidate?

We all fall short in God's eyes. Don't we? Isn't that why we go to church in the first place?

It would be one thing if Rossello were worshipping at the Church of Satan. Rossello acknowledges attending some Protestant churches on the island, and -- no big surprise here -- political candidates do such things.

The leading candidate for governor says he was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic. He hasn't renounced his membership in the church.

Whatever happened to these famous words from Jesus himself as noted in the Bible's Book of John: "This is my commandment," Jesus said. "That ye love one another, as I have loved you."

Who becomes the island's next governor doesn't matter to me as much as why the Catholic Church's leaders seem to give Rossello's church attendance more attention than many of the more important issues on the island.

For instance, one doesn't hear or see these Catholic leaders stepping out on a limb to solve the island's out-of-control murder rate. Or the island's growing homeless population.

Instead, the archbishop maintains political status is Puerto Rico's "most neuralgic" issue.

This isn't about condemning the Catholic Church or its leaders. They do plenty of good.

It's about tending to the flock.

Archbishop Urges `Pro-Family' Vote In Puerto Rican Race The Catholic Appeal Coincides With A Feud With The Gubernatorial Front-Runner

Ray Quintanilla, Sentinel Staff Writer

October 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Flexing muscle in the gubernatorial election, the island's Catholic archbishop has released a 136-page pastoral letter urging Puerto Rico's 1 million Catholics to support "pro-family" candidates Tuesday.

The letter reminds parishioners the Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion, homosexuality, divorce and contraception programs for minors.

"Without a family unified in God, Puerto Rico cannot continue as we know it," said San Juan Archbishop Gonzalez Nieves in issuing the letter, which already is making its way to local churches in time for Sunday services.

The pastoral letter also is a swipe at the candidacy of gubernatorial front runner Pedro Rossello, who has been in an open feud with Nieves about church teachings for months. The disagreement began in the summer when the former governor, who is running for election again, acknowledged attending Protestant churches and giving them money.

Rossello has since begun to refer to himself as a "Protestant-Catholic."

Though none of the three candidates for governor has openly discussed abortion rights on the island, where such services are readily available, Rossello has spoken out strongly in favor of sex education and contraceptives for minors.

Rossello, who in the latest polls holds a comfortable lead in the race, would not comment on the pastoral letter. His staff would say only that it's "too close to the election to continue with this bickering."

Rossello, who represents the pro-statehood New Democratic Party, is running against pro-commonwealth Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila and the Independence Party's Ruben Berrios. Religion has not been an issue in either of their candidacies.

Archdiocese officials said the church often makes its views known in Puerto Rico's elections. But church officials could not remember the last time a pastoral letter was released within days of a major election.

On the mainland, the Catholic Church recently voiced similar concerns about "pro-choice" Catholics running for office this November, including presidential candidate John Kerry.

In August, three Catholic clerics issued a pastoral letter telling pro-choice Catholics running for or elected to public office that they will not be served Holy Communion in their southern dioceses.

Parishioners outside San Juan's Catholic Church of St. Anne on Wednesday said that they were not bothered by the archbishop's letter.

"You have to be able to live out your faith," said Carla Mesa, 35, a mother of three from Santurce.

"We all know about the problems between Rossello and the church. But remember you can't be against church teachings and then say you are doing what's right for everyone on the island," she said.

Other parishioners, however, said they thought the archbishop might only be adding fuel to a fire, as it appears Rossello is on his way to winning Tuesday's election.

"Well, you know there's been disagreements between the two. I just wish they would find a way to work together because both of them can really help Puerto Rico," said Martin Solis Diego, 60, as he exited St. Anne's.

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