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Bennett • Thursday May 8, 2003

Associated Press, May 8, 2003
By RICHARD N. OSTLING AP religion writer

Gambling is no virtue but, religiously speaking, is it a vice?

Since William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, was revealed as a high-stakes casino player, several Protestant organizations have lamented his gambling, which they consider sinful.

But groups from the Roman Catholic Church, Bennetts own denomination, have remained largely silent, reflecting a long-standing split in Christianity over gaming.

Bennett, who was education secretary under President Reagan and drug policy director for the first President Bush, swore off casinos Monday following stories by Newsweek and The Washington Monthly that detailed his gambling.

This is not an example I wish to set, Bennett said.

Yet the U.S. Catholic bishops conference, which has pronounced on virtually every major social problem over the past few decades, has never addressed this issue though individual bishops and groups of bishops have sometimes opposed legalized gambling in their cities and states.

By contrast, both liberal and conservative Protestant church officials have issued repeated denunciations of legalized gambling.

They agree that its a serious social problem and a sinful practice that builds upon greed and deceit, destroys families, exploits the poor and fosters crime.

Pained responses came this week from conservative Protestants, for whom Bennett has been a favorite Catholic commentator.

The Presbyterian Lay Committee, a conservative organization that featured Bennett at its national meeting, said Bennetts claim that gambling was not a moral issue showed the same ethical indifference he has decried in others.

Gambling is a cancer in our society, the Presbyterians stated.

The same view came from James Dobson, an evangelical who has hosted Bennett on his influential Focus on the Family radio program and features Bennetts books on his Web site.

Dobson said we are disappointed that Bennett has what appears to be a gambling addiction. Dobson stressed that his organization is strongly opposed to any form of gambling due to its power to ensnare and wound not only its victims but also those closest to them.

Bennett told Newsweek and Washington Monthly that I liked church bingo when I was growing up and that he had gambled ever since. Many Catholic parishes in America have used bingo or casino nights to raise money.

I dont play the milk money. I dont put my family at risk, Bennett said. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice but become morally unacceptable if they deprive people of basic needs.

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