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 CNS Story:

KNIGHTS-BUSH Aug-3-2004 (390 words) With photo. xxxn

Bush lauds Knights' pro-life efforts, pushes faith-based programs

By Bill Howard

Catholic News Service

DALLAS (CNS) -- President Bush courted Catholic voters by praising the Knights of Columbus' support of issues such as school vouchers, faith-based initiatives and pro-life legislation during the group's national convention Aug. 3 in Dallas.

Bush received a rousing ovation from a packed room of more than 2,500 Knights and their families.

Much of Bush's talk was devoted to listing efforts of his administration in terms such as "building a culture of life," a favorite phrase of Pope John Paul II that resonated with the Catholic fraternal organization audience.

Among the references receiving the heartiest applause in Bush's speech were his thanks to the Knights for "your working to protect the Pledge of Allegiance, to keep us one nation under God," and his reminder that he had signed into law a ban on partial-birth abortion.

He also thanked them for "defending the values of faith and family that bind us as a nation," and listed their support of the Federal Marriage Amendment Act, the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and proposals to ban human cloning.

Bush called the Knights "soldiers in the armies of compassion" and lauded the fraternal group as "one of the great American organizations dedicated to charity and mutual assistance and the fight for civil liberties."

"You have a friend in this administration," he said. "You have someone who wants to work with you."

Bush recalled meeting with Pope John Paul II in June and called the experience "awesome."

"Pope John Paul II has been a unique and commanding voice for the cause of the poor, the weak, the hungry and the outcast. He has challenged our nation and the entire world to embrace the culture of life," Bush said. The president did not mention Iraq in his address, or that during their meeting the pope reiterated his strong criticism of the U.S. military action there.

Bush used the occasion to announce about $188 million in grants to programs under the administration's faith-based initiatives, including those that provide mentoring for children of prisoners, an addiction recovery project and the Compassion Capital Fund, which supports a variety of local and faith-based groups.

"One of the most effective ways our government can help those in need is to help the charities and community groups that are doing God's work every day," he said. "I believe government needs to stand on the side of faith-based groups, not against faith-based groups, when it comes to saving lives."

"Government can hand out money, and of course, there will be arguments whether we're handing out enough or not," he continued. "But what government can never do is put love in a person's heart, or a sense of purpose in a person's life. In order to heal, to help the lonely, it works every time when a loving soul puts their arm around (someone) and says, 'What can I do to help you? How can I help you in your life? What can I do to make your life better?'"

Bush cited his administration's efforts to improve schools where children are promoted year after year without being able to read at their grade level, and to support school voucher programs that allow parents to send children to parochial schools.

One of the Knights, Stan Schroeder, treasurer of the Arizona State Council, said he was impressed with "the very strong message of life" in Bush's speech and with his knowledge of the Knights of Columbus.

Kevin Hague, Virginia State Council development and assistance officer, called Bush's speech "sincere" and said it "echoed the solidarity between his view of the morality of America and the places we need to go and the basic tenets of the Knights' beliefs."

Outside the hotel where the Knights met, several dozen protesters and supporters of Democratic Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid wore buttons and carried signs saying things such as "I'm a Catholic for Kerry and it's not a sin."

Kerry, a Catholic, has been criticized for political positions that conflict with church teaching on issues such as abortion. A handful of U.S. bishops have said they would deny Kerry Communion if he came to their churches for Mass.

At a June meeting, the bishops as a conference decided that each bishop should decide the issue for his diocese. They also said that "all must examine their consciences" about their worthiness to receive Communion, including with regard to "fidelity to the moral teaching of the church in personal and public life." Most bishops who have issued their own statements on the subject have said the same thing.

A few bishops have said even voters who support politicians who disagree with the church on abortion should not present themselves for Communion.

A Knights spokesman told The Associated Press that Kerry was not invited, although the president is routinely asked to attend.

The last time a president accepted the invitation also was an election year. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush spoke to the convention. President Ronald Reagan addressed the Knights by video in 1986 and in person in 1982. Both the elder Bush and Reagan emphasized their opposition to legal abortion.

Though the Knights of Columbus is a nonpartisan organization, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson welcomed Bush by saying his visit to the convention provided "our chance to say thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for restoring moral integrity to the office of the presidency."

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Contributing to this story was Patricia Zapor in Washington.


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