The leading U.S. Catholic prelate warned Wednesday (Nov. 12) that President-elect Barack Obama's promise to unify the country would be shattered if he pursues policies to increase access to abortion.

"If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion," said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis would be impossible to achieve."

"Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion," George said.

George's statement was unanimously approved by nearly 300 bishops in a closed-door session at the end of the bishops' semi-annual meeting here, according to church officials.

After an election in which 54 percent of Catholic voters backed Obama, who supports abortion rights, over the strenuous objection of some church leaders, the Catholic prelates gathered here were eager to reassert themselves as teachers of the faith.

"The intention is to clarify the commitment of the bishops to participate in the public life of the country," George said in an interview Tuesday. The cardinal added that Catholic officials may meet soon with leaders of the incoming Obama administration.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, an outspoken anti-abortion advocate among the bishops, said the statement was also directed at the nation's 67 million Catholics.

"It's a message to the people of the church that we're not going to give up on the abortion fight until abortion is no longer accepted as part of our culture," Chaput said in an interview.

George said ...

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