Image: Catholic Bishops Francis E. George, David J. Malloy
Steve Ruark  /  AP
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, left, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Monsignor David J. Malloy, of Milwaukee, general secretary of the conference, applaud during the conference's semi-annual meeting Monday in Baltimore.
updated 11/10/2008 6:44:15 PM ET 2008-11-10T23:44:15

The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opening a national church meeting Monday, said that continued support for abortion rights will undermine any advances in social justice that come from a new president and Congress.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George said "we must all rejoice" that an African-American will be in the White House for the first time in a country that "once enshrined slavery" in law.

But he said the nation still violates what he called universal human rights by keeping abortion legal. "The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice," George said.

In his speech, George did not directly address the policies of President-elect Obama, who is Protestant, and Vice President-elect Biden, who is Roman Catholic. Both men support abortion rights and take other stands that differ from Catholic teaching.

However, in a later news conference, George, the conference president, said bishops' are preparing to lobby the Obama administration on any policies that diverge from Catholic teaching on marriage, abortion and other issues.

Religion at the polls
During the election, many of the bishops spoke out on abortion more forcefully than they had in the 2004 campaign. They said that a candidate's stand on the issue must be the most important consideration for Catholic voters. Many bishops also directly criticized Biden and other Catholic candidates and public officials for backing legalized abortion. Some said Biden should not take Holy Communion when attending Mass.

Still, Obama received a majority of the Catholic vote over Republican John McCain, according to exit polls. Obama won more Catholic support than John Kerry, who is Catholic, and was the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.

On Tuesday, the bishops are expected to once again take up the issue of Catholics in public life. George urged Catholic officials to consider church teaching when setting policy.

"We respect and love you, and we pray that the Catholic faith will shape your decisions so that our communion may be full," George said.

But he also warned that it would "betray the Lord Jesus Christ" if those in public life try to "impose their own agenda on the church."

Catholic leaders — who run hospitals, adoption agencies and other charities nationwide — are deeply concerned that any changes in state and federal law not interfere with policies in Catholic agencies that reflect church theology.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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