Catholic Voters’ Many Choices
— In Guides on Faith Issues
This election season, there
are a number of voters’ guides offered for Catholics who are looking for
direction. The Register takes a look.
National Catholic Register
October 22-28, 2006 Issue
BY WAYNE LAUGESEN
WASHINGTON — Catholics choosing
between a pro-abortion Democrat and a pro-life Republican for president were
largely credited with moral victories in the 2004 election.
Hoping for similar results, a
variety of Catholic organizations have published voters’ guides to help the
faithful discern their choice in a year that lacks the clarity of pro-life vs.
pro-abortion presidential candidates defining the issues.
The “Faithful Citizenship” voting
document of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops isn’t published in mid-term
election years, but organizations as diverse as the Maryknoll Office for Global
Concerns, Priests for Life, Red Letter Christians and the Kansas Catholic
Conference have stepped forward to fill the gap.
In play is the balance of the
U.S. Congress, a variety of gubernatorial races in which pro-life candidates
face pro-abortion opponents, and ballot issues that will determine whether life
and traditional families should be defended by government.
“It’s a mid-term election, so
there’s obviously less awareness among voters,” said Father Frank Pavone,
national director of Priests for Life. “But I don’t see that the values voters
that surprised analysts two years ago have gone away. I see a lot of grassroots
activity that’s not necessarily reflected in polls.”
Key ballot issues important to
Catholics include: an initiative in Missouri to allow human cloning; a proposal
to nullify a law in South Dakota that would outlaw abortion, a measure to
protect traditional marriage between a man and woman in Virginia, an initiative
that would give homosexual unions in Colorado status nearly identical to
heterosexual marriages, and a proposed Colorado constitutional amendment that
would define marriage as the union of a man and woman.
“We are in a time when the
sovereignty of the people is in play. We are turning to the people and saying,
‘Accept or reject this major change in cultural tradition,’ and it’s a
responsibility that we ought to view by the providence of God as a special
responsibility that we should consider as a great privilege,” said former GOP
presidential candidate and Catholic political scholar Alan Keyes.
To educate Catholic voters about
important issues in each state, Father Pavone has been traveling throughout the
United States distributing the Priests for Life election booklet, homily
materials for priests and church bulletin inserts.
“We have speakers on the road,
more than ever before, going to all 50 states,” Father Pavone, a priest with the
Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, said. “We also have a major prayer novena
going on, and that can be found at
Father Pavone said some of this
year’s candidates and ballot issues can be confusing for Catholic voters,
because some progressives on the issues of abortion and homosexual “marriage”
have learned to soften their rhetoric and disguise what they truly stand for.
Catholics, he said, must study voters’ guides and ask questions.
“The question is not only, ‘Where
does the candidate stand,’ but, ‘Where does the party stand?’ There is a moral
component to be considered: What does this vote do, not only to put a candidate
in power, but a party in power?” Father Pavone said.
In Colorado, voters are given the
choice between two Catholic gubernatorial candidates who both claim to be
pro-life. A ballot initiative that would give homosexual relationships all the
rights and privileges of heterosexual marriage has been advertised as, “It’s not
marriage, it’s basic legal rights” for homosexuals. Another ballot initiative
would change the state Constitution to define marriage as an institution between
a man and a woman.
The Archdiocese of Denver and the
Colorado Chapter of Legatus, a Catholic business leader’s organization, hosted a
debate Oct. 5 in an effort to facilitate Catholics in deciding which Catholic
gubernatorial candidate to vote for. In the debate, Democratic candidate Bill
Ritter said he favors abortion in cases of rape and incest, favors the measure
establishing homosexual unions, favors making the “morning after” pill more
easily available, favors funding Planned Parenthood and promised to veto any
bill similar to the South Dakota law that would outlaw abortion.
In his closing remarks, Ritter
told the audience that Catholic public servants sometimes must stray from their
Catholic beliefs in order to balance conflicting needs of society, which is why
he distributed condoms in Africa while serving as a missionary.
Congressman Bob Beauprez, the
Republican candidate, said he opposes abortion in all circumstances, opposes
state-sanctioned homosexual unions, and supports defining marriage as between a
man and a woman.
Mainstream newspapers, before and
after the debate at the archdiocese, reported that both candidates are Catholics
opposed to abortion. But when asked how their faith would influence their public
service, Beauprez said he can’t “be Catholic part time and secular part time.”
“My faith has always guided my
principles, and my principles guide my actions, and they are always
intertwined,” he said.
In the Denver Catholic Register,
all three Colorado bishops urged voters to read the new voters’ guide published
by neighboring Kansas bishops before casting their votes.
“For Catholics, conscience is
never merely a matter of personal preference or opinion,” the Colorado bishops
wrote. “Nor can conscience be formed in a vacuum. Conscience is shaped by our
understanding of the truth.”
The Kansas guide states: “In some
moral matters the use of reason allows for a legitimate diversity in our
prudential judgments. Catholic voters may differ, for example, on what
constitutes the best immigration policy, how to provide universal health care or
affordable housing. Catholics may even have differing judgments on the state’s
use of the death penalty or the decision to wage a just war. The morality of
such questions lies not in what is done (the moral object), but in the motive
and circumstances. Therefore, because these prudential judgments do not involve
a direct choice of something evil and take into consideration various goods, it
is possible for Catholic voters to arrive at different, even opposing
The guide says Catholics may not
differ regarding “the fundamental dignity of every human person from the moment
of conception to natural death. This is a non-negotiable principle. It is the
foundation for both Catholic social teaching and a just society.”
The apologetics organization
Catholic Answers came up with a list of five “non-negotiable” principles for
Catholics in the 2004 election and has updated the guide this year with
reference material. The organization’s voting guide used Vatican documents to
identify the issues, which are: abortion, human embryonic stem-cell research,
euthanasia, same-sex “marriage” and cloning.
A million copies of an
alternative Catholic voter’s guide are being distributed this year by a new
organization called Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, based in
Washington and headed by the former religion adviser for John Kerry’s
presidential campaign. Kerry, a Catholic, promoted a pro-abortion agenda but
said he personally opposed abortion.
A press release announcing the
Alliance’s voter’s guide said it was written in response to the Catholic Answers
Alexia Kelley, who heads
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, told the Register she has been
troubled that other voter’s guides she has read do not focus on the need to
reduce poverty, increase the minimum wage, achieve nuclear disarmament and
improve conditions for immigrants.
Catholic League President Bill
Donohue charged in a press release that the Alliance’s guide is trying to fool
voters into believing a candidate’s stand on social issues such as the minimum
wage should be given equal weight to a candidate’s position on abortion,
euthanasia or fetal stem-cell research. He called the guide “a slick attempt to
get the abortion albatross off the necks of Catholic Democrats.”
But Kelley said her organization
is non-partisan. She downplayed her association with Kerry, saying she worked
with him “for only several weeks during his campaign.”
“This guide came out of a
movement of Catholics who are committed to the social traditions of the Church,”
Kelley said. “We wanted to emphasize the fact that God gives us reason, and
there’s no litmus test for how you participate in public life.”
Father Pavone said Kelley’s guide
appears to emphasize an array of issues that are important for Catholics to
consider when voting, but said Catholics must understand the “non-negotiable”
issues no matter what guide they’re using.
“On immigration, there is a
non-negotiable,” Father Pavone said. “The Church stands with the natural right
of people not only to live, but live where they want, obviously within the
bounds of reason. That is a teaching to which we are bound. But there is not a
particular policy on immigration that can be identified as non-negotiable. By
contrast, abortion is simply wrong in all circumstances.”
Like the Kansas bishops, Phoenix
Bishop Thomas Olmsted, in a new voter’s guide, specifically directs Catholics to
distinguish between poverty concerns and fundamental life issues.
“When it comes to direct attacks
on innocent human life, being right on all the other issues can never justify a
wrong choice on this most serious matter,” Bishop Olmsted wrote.
Jimmy Akin, an apologist with
Catholic Answers, said he hopes the vast array of Catholic voters’ guides will
help Catholics make solid moral choices.
“Today, we’re seeing broad
dissatisfaction with both parties,” he said, “and I’d like to see Church
teachings articulated the way in which the Church itself would articulate them.”