Religion: Bingo

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To thousands of U.S. clergymen, bingo is a fighting word. Roman Catholic priests generally defend it as an innocent game of chance which helps raise money for many a parish cause; most Protestant ministers condemn it as gambling, and therefore a moral evil. In New Jersey last week, on the eve of a statewide referendum to legalize bingo and raffles for charity and other good causes, both sides fired off loud barrages.

Against the referendum were the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians, as well as the State Federation of Women's Clubs and the New Jersey Congress of Parents and Teachers. Protestant pulpits resounded with anti-bingo sermons. Said Methodist Bishop Fred P. Corson: "Gambling is a destructive force in personal and community life. It is just as evil . . . when disguised under the cloak of charity or religion as when it appears openly in the form of slot machines and numbers rackets."

Not so, said a front-page editorial in the Advocate, official newspaper of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Newark: "It is not gambling but the abuse of gambling that involves an immoral act . . ." Said Father Thomas J. Conroy of St. Cecilia's Church in Kearny: "A fight should be waged against such sins as birth control, divorce and euthanasia, not against the harmless practice, engaged in by older people, mostly women, of putting five little squares in a row on a card."

Then the voters went to the polls and made bingo and raffles respectable by a crashing 3-to-1 vote.