A political group was wrong to use a letter from the New Mexico bishops for a newspaper ad backing a gubernatorial candidate in the upcoming election, the state’s Catholic bishops have said.
Two newspaper ads, published recently in The New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal newspapers, urged readers to “Vote your Catholic Values” and highlighted parts of a 2017 pastoral letter by New Mexico bishops dealing with abortion and assisted suicide.
The state’s bishops say they aren’t connected to those ads.
The ad says it was from “Concerned Fellow Catholics.” It was put out by the Dallas-based Hispanic Action Network, an evangelical Christian policy advocacy group that also produces election guides.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops were caught off-guard by the ads and disapproved of the political use of their letter.
“We’re very disappointed a political action committee would use a statement out of context like that,” Sanchez told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.
“We want people to vote,” Sanchez said, adding that people should weigh all issues and “seek the common good.”
“What we object to is somebody trying to use the teaching of the Church to advance candidates,” he said, charging that the ad’s sponsors are “trying to appeal to the authority of the bishops for their own purpose.”
The ads emphasized the bishops’ words against abortion and physician-assisted suicide as “morally impermissible” and “always wrong.” The ads also described New Mexico as “the late-term abortion capital of America and the world.”
With the election approaching, the ads backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce’s stand against abortion and assisted suicide, noting his Democratic rival Michelle Lujan Grisham’s support for assisted suicide and abortion rights.
The group’s founder, Mark Gonzales, is an evangelical Christian pastor and longtime Republican advisor, volunteer and leader. According to his biography on the group’s website, he was part of the steering committee that led to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s June 2016 meeting with 1,000 prominent evangelicals in New York.
The Hispanic Action Network’s website says it aims “to educate, equip and engage the faith community from a biblical worldview, to pray and impact culture by turning our faith into action.”
“The values we stand for and live by are based on the scriptural truths found in the Bible. While culture and morals may change over time, we believe in the timeless truth of God’s word. We believe Biblical Values are the standard upon which any healthy and successful culture is founded,” it continued.
CNA contacted the Hispanic Action Network for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
The New Mexico bishops’ March 6, 2017 letter voiced concern about legislators’ statements “that seem to say that a faithful Catholic can support abortion or doctor-assisted suicide.”
“It is not appropriate for elected officials to publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official Church teaching. This misrepresents Church teaching and creates a public scandal for the faithful,” the letter said.
“Support for abortion or doctor-assisted suicide is not in accord with the teachings of the Church. These represent the direct taking of human life, and are always wrong,” the letter continued.
“Individuals and groups do not speak for the Catholic Church. As bishops, we do,” the bishops said.
Sanchez said an external group’s use of the letter was self-contradictory.
“The whole point of that letter was that other people aren’t the voice of the Church,” he said, calling on Pearce to condemn the ads.
A Pearce campaign spokesman, Kevin Sheridan, directed questions about the ads to the groups sponsoring them, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.
“Steve Pearce supports people of faith, and it’s not surprising they support him,” Sheridan said.