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Catholic Church says care for the environment a ‘moral’ obligation in Costa Rica voter guide

The Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica, the governing body of the Roman Catholic Church here, called environmental degradation a “moral problem” and urged lawmakers to remember their constituents and not their pocketbooks in its 2013-2014 voter guide released Tuesday morning.

The church’s voting guide comes at a time when Costa Ricans are increasingly moving away from institutional religion and after Pope Francis I stated that the church has become “obsessed” with social issues like gay rights, sex education and abortion.

The guide outlined eight principles for Catholic voters to consider when selecting their lawmakers and elected leaders on Feb. 2, 2014, but the most novel was the church’s call to view the environment in moral terms.

“God, in his generosity, has given us this beautiful Creation in which we all [live] and it is our duty to care for and respect Creation,” said Óscar Fernández Guillén, president of the Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica and bishop of Puntarenas. 

In September, Pope Francis shocked many when he told reporters that the Catholic Church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay rights and birth control in an interview for La Civiltà Cattolica, reported The New York Times.

Catholic Voting Guide - 1

Bishop of Puntarenas and President of the Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica Óscar Fernández Guillén (right), Bishop Ángel San Casimiro Fernández of Alajuela (center), and Bishop Guillermo Loría Garita of San Isidro de El General (left) present the Catholic voter guide, “Rehabilitating Politics,” on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

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“I believe the pope’s words were taken out of context. The pope did not say that we should stop talking about abortion, about gay marriage, no, no. [He said] that our discourse should not only address these topics because there are many more that speak to the dignity of human beings,” said the bishop of Alajuela, Ángel San Casimiro Fernández.

The guide avoided any specific mention of gay rights, abortion and in vitro fertilization, which is prohibited in Costa Rica, but the church’s disapproval could be read between the lines. The sections dedicated to the “promotion of the family” and “respect for life in all its stages” laid out the universal church’s disapproval for the practices. 

“You don’t negotiate principles,” said Bishop San Casimiro, coauthor of the guide.

While the Catholic Church remains an important social force in Costa Rica, fewer Ticos are turning to the institution for moral, much less electoral, guidance, according to Mario Méndez, director of the Ecumenical School of Religion at the National University.

“Faith is becoming less and less institutional. It’s not that people are atheists but neither do they follow the instructions of their church,” Méndez said, suggesting that the guide could have little impact outside academic circles or the media. 

“Young people are increasingly critical and have positions independent of their church, while some adults have a tie to a political party beyond an individual candidate,” he added.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church continues to have “weight,” especially in social issues like reproductive and gay rights, along with religious and sex education.

Bishop Guillermo Loría Garita of San Isidro de El General, and vice president of the Episcopal Conference, opined that some reject the church’s decision to enter politics because they do not understand its positions.  

“Often times there is great confusion about church doctrine. Often, they misinterpret or are ignorant of it. Even though the church deals with the spiritual, the supernatural, the transcendent, it remains part of reality,” he said.

The guide also addressed the need to focus on people as the ultimate beneficiaries of government, the need for honesty and transparency, clear and “realistic” promises from lawmakers, the promotion of an “inclusive” culture, and social justice.

The guide did not mention any specific political party or candidate. The church printed 20,000 copies of the yellow pamphlet, which is also available online here.

“We must elect our brothers and sisters to lead us and we believe that these criteria will be a light in this march,” said Fernández.

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