The Catholic archbishop for northeast Kansas has written a widely circulated editorial column criticizing Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is Catholic, and urging fellow church members to pray "that she might reconsider her long held position supporting legalized abortion."
"It is never permissible for a Catholic to support the legalization of the killing of innocent lives by abortion, much less lead the fight for legal abortion," wrote Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
It isn't the first time Sebelius, a longtime supporter of abortion rights, has drawn the church's ire. Strongly worded rebukes from Catholic leaders have followed Sebelius, a Democrat, almost the entirety of her career in Kansas politics with little apparent detriment to her. She served multiple terms in the Kansas House and then was state insurance commissioner before winning election as governor.
The archbishop's column appeared in "The Leaven," a diocesan newspaper with 52,900 circulation. But it wasn't immediately clear how influential it might be.
Dan Watkins, who attends St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lawrence, said Catholics must practice a faithful citizenship, which encompasses a whole range of issues in addition to respect for life.
"The fact that a public official upholds what is the law of the land, even if their faith and personal belief tells them that that's wrong, that shouldn't disqualify them in the eyes of other Catholics," said Watkins, a Lawrence lawyer and active Democrat.
Watkins said he had not read Naumann's column but said that the governor agreeing to uphold the law differs from her advocating for abortion.
"It is a polarizing issue, and I think that people may not have looked carefully enough at what her position is," he said.
The Rev. John Schmeidler, pastor at St. John's in Lawrence, also said it was difficult to judge a candidate on one issue.
"Abortion is wrong, so we really have to hold that as part of it. You can't weigh it lightly, but you also have to weigh it against any other issues, too," he said.
Schmeidler also said he had not read Naumann's column.
Naumann said he wrote the column in response to several letters he received from people who disagreed with the governor's recent veto of Senate Bill 528. It would have required abortion clinics to report "detailed reasons for the termination of a pregnancy past 22 weeks of gestation."
In her letter attached to the veto, Sebelius wrote she did not believe the bill would reduce abortions.
"My Catholic faith teaches me that life is sacred. Personally, I believe abortion is wrong," she wrote.
But Naumann questioned Sebelius' abortion record as a legislator and governor.
Naumann stopped short of asking Catholics to vote against her.
The governor's response to the column was muted.
"The governor appreciates her ongoing counsel with the archbishop, and we believe this is a matter best left to the privacy of their discussions," said Nicole Corcoran, a Sebelius spokeswoman.