February 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 26
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Clinton at Prayer Breakfast bemoans demonization

    VATICAN ( -- In a message to the United States, released on February 5 to coincide with the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Pope John Paul II has challenged Americans to live up to their responsibilities in defending human life.

    The Pope's message, addressed to the US Congress, was conveyed to the participants in the National Prayer Breakfast-- including President Bill Clinton-- by the papal nuncio in Washington, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo.

    "We are confronting the burning question of the protection of the inalienable right to life of every human being, from conception to natural death," the Pope wrote. Although his message does not mention specific threats to that right-- such as abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty-- the Pontiff urges American leaders to provide "legal protection to all the members of the human community, in particular the weakest and most vulnerable."

    The Pope also emphasized the "moral responsibility" of American political leaders. He said that key moral questions cannot be considered as "purely private" affairs, observing that the entire world looks to the United States for leadership, especially on matters involving human rights.

    President Bill Clinton told the 50th annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday that the politics of demonization had poisoned Washington, DC, and was making inroads throughout society.

    Speaking to an audience of members of Congress, administration officials, religious leaders, and other visitors, including former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, Clinton said he was troubled at the "resurgence of society's oldest demon, the inability to love our closest neighbors as ourselves if they look or worship differently from the rest of us."

    The president pointed to Northern Ireland where continued fighting between Catholic republicans and Protestant unionists threatened the fragile peace accords and joint government; discord in peace talks between Israel, Palestinians, and Syria; border skirmishes between India and Pakistan; and fighting between Christians and Muslims in the Balkans and Indonesia. He then turned his focus to the US where he said ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and religious groups, including Jews, are subject to attacks "because of who they are."

    "And here in Washington, we are not blameless for we often, too, forget in the heat of political battle our common humanity," he said. "We slip from honest difference, which is healthy, into dishonest demonization," Clinton said. "We ignore when we're all tight and in a fight all those biblical admonitions we profess to believe, that we all see through a glass darkly, that with St. Paul we all do what we would not, and we do not do what we would."

    Clinton did not mention specific instances of demonization, but in recent months the president, members of his own party, and campaign workers for Democratic campaigners have used demonization to attack their Republican opponents. In January, Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign, said Republicans would rather take pictures with black children than feed them. In December, other administration officials and Democrat senators called Republican senators racist for voting against confirming a black nominee to a federal judgeship.


February 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 26

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