Peggy Hamill wants to make one thing perfectly clear: She and her group, Pro-Life Wisconsin, are not actually calling for the excommunication of Gov. Jim Doyle. They are merely asking the Catholic bishops to "hold Gov. Doyle accountable for the scandal he caused by his actions," by beginning a process that "unfortunately could lead to excommunication."
As the spokeswoman for the group, which boasts 30,000 member "families," Hamill insists that "No one wants that to happen." But, reiterating recent comments to a local Christian radio station, she believes Doyle, a Catholic, has "intentionally separated himself from his church" by rejecting its teachings. Specifically, he's engaged in "open advocacy for abortion, birth control and embryonic stem-cell research."
Hamill wants the bishops to pursue the process set forth under canon law to "bring those who claim to be Catholic into the fold, with concern for the well-being of their souls." She hopes and suspects this is a process that's already begun.
In May, Doyle received a letter from Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Madison Bishop Robert Morlino urging him to rethink his support for embryonic stem-cell research. Doyle responded by pointing to families who look to this research to deliver cures for loved ones: "As governor, I cannot allow politics or shortsighted acts by the Legislature to take away the hope these families have."
There is precedent for church leaders using their power to compel obedience from Catholics in public roles. In 2004, Bishop Raymond Burke of La Crosse told U.S. Rep. David Obey to refrain from partaking in the sacrament of communion because of his support for reproductive rights. And this summer, a senior Vatican official called for the excommunication of Catholic scientists who engage in stem-cell research.
Carla Vigue, a spokeswoman for Gov. Doyle, rebuffed repeated efforts to learn whether church officials have had subsequent contacts with Doyle on these issues. But Brent King, a spokesman for Morlino, says that while there are no new letters, the bishop and governor have had meetings in the last year.
Morlino, says King, feels "it's important to take steps with regard to these issues" but did not want to push the matter during the recent election. Now, "Bishop Morlino looks forward to further conversations with the governor."
Is excommunication on the table? "They would never be too quick to do that," says King, "because a person's soul is affected by those decisions." He says the bishop would "rather have an open dialogue with the governor."