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 www.prayercampaign.org.”
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 judgments.”
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 guide.
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.”