Catholic presidential candidates share views on faith, policy
By Donis Tracy
NEWTON, Mass. (CNS) -- Two Catholic senators and presidential candidates shared their views on their faith and how it affects their public policy decisions April 23 at Boston College's Conte Forum in Newton.
"My faith has had a huge influence on me," particularly the teaching of Catholic social justice, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., told the crowd of nearly 4,000. However, he underscored that "faith informs my decisions. It doesn't define my decisions."
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also said his faith is "a big part of the decision-making process," but he noted that most of his views predate his joining the Catholic Church four years ago.
Both senators agreed that all too often the concept of the separation of church and state has stymied the discussion of faith in regard to public policy.
"I think we've made a huge mistake" not talking about faith in the public sector, said Dodd. "People confuse the notion of having faith-based policy and replacing policy with faith beliefs."
The separation of church and state is necessary, Brownback said, but it "shouldn't be a wall so high that we can't meet to talk."
Moderated by Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," the forum featured discussion by the senators on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty and the war in Iraq.
When asked about the war, both agreed on the need for President George W. Bush to meet with legislators to seek a resolution to the conflict.
"The only solution is a three state-one country solution," Brownback proposed. "We're not going to solve the Sunni-Shia fight." Sunnis and Shiites, also called Shia, are two of three main groups in Iraq; the Kurds make up the third group.
Dodd concurred, adding that Iraqis must themselves decide to resolve the conflict. "There's not a military big enough or a treasury deep enough if they don't make a decision to end the conflict," he said.
Russert asked the senators to express their views of the death penalty in light of the exoneration of Jerry Miller, the 200th person released from prison as the result of DNA testing that proved his innocence. Both senators supported the existence of capital punishment but said it should only be applied in extreme circumstances when public safety is at risk. In addition, both of them felt strongly that the entire prison system in the United States needs to be reformed.
"We have a national problem with this and it's a big one," said Brownback, urging Boston College students to get involved in reforming the system.
The senators, however, disagreed sharply on other societal hot-button issues such as embryonic stem-cell research, abortion and same-sex unions.
Dodd indicated he is in favor of embryonic stem-cell research in cases where "the choice goes down to whether to discard embryonic stem cells or utilize them." However, he noted he is opposed to human cloning.
Dodd also said he is in favor of legal recognition of same-sex unions, though he added that he is "not comfortable" applying the term marriage to those unions.
Regarding abortion, he said he believes in a woman's legal right to choose and expressed concern that the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act might not adequately take into account protection of a woman's health.
However, he noted that the government "bears an obligation" to try to reduce the number of abortions taking place each year. To that end, he announced he is going to submit legislation that would promote adoptions in this country.
Brownback, who is opposed to embryonic stem-cell research, said he believes the issue "boils down to one question: What is the youngest of humans -- is it a person or property?"
"What we're doing with this is treating the youngest of humans as property," he said. Alluding to the slave trade, Brownback added, "We've been down this road in human history before and we've always regretted it."
Rather than support embryonic stem-cell research, Brownback believes the government should support adult stem-cell research, which has already been credited for treating 73 different diseases, most recently juvenile diabetes.
In addition, Brownback said he believes allowing same-sex marriage would weaken heterosexual marriages, noting that in European countries where same-sex marriages have been legalized, heterosexual marriages have sharply decreased.
Despite their differences, Dodd stressed the need for the nation's leaders to "come together" to discuss ways to move beyond their ideological differences.
"The country is not as divided as we think on these issues," he said. "We've got to do a much better job than get into our respective corners, screaming at each other."