WASHINGTON — There are few candidates, but the number of voters’ guides purporting to educate Catholics on positions and issues is on the rise. Never before have there been so many different election guides from which to choose.
The proliferation of issues-based guides led the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities to issue a statement in 2006.
“Some of these groups promote valid social teachings of the Church but fail to give due attention to issues relating to direct attacks on human life or to the protection of the family; others deal almost exclusively with the latter issues,” wrote Cardinal William Keeler, then chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. “There is also a concern that some of the legal advice supporting use of these materials may be incomplete or at times influenced by a partisan agenda.”
FRC Action, an arm of the Family Research Council, has produced a detailed presidential voting guide examining the candidates’ positions on approximately a dozen key issues.
Priests for Life has created a website (PoliticalResponsibility.com) and a chart comparing the candidates, with particular focus on life and family issues.
Catholic Answers Action is again making available its “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics.” The guide focuses on the five “non-negotiable” issues: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and homosexual “marriage.” To date, the group has distributed more than 10 million of its guides online and in print.
Eternal Word Television Network has unveiled a new website (EWTN.com/Vote) linking to audio and video resources on Church teaching.
The lobbying group Fidelis has created a CatholicVote.com website and video.
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which is directed by Alexia Kelly, former director of religious outreach for the Democratic National Committee and the Kerry-Edwards campaign, has produced a chart highlighting the candidates’ views on the war, taxes and the environment.
The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns has an election guide, as does the Catholic Social Justice Lobby Network.
Catholics United, which distributed separate Democratic and Republican guides during the caucuses and primaries, is putting the final touches on its own guide for the general election.
Most of the guides point to the U.S. bishops’ 2007 statement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” for further guidance.
An analysis of the guides bears out Cardinal Keeler’s words. Some of the guides, such as those put out by Priests for Life and Catholic Answers Action, tend to focus on issues related to life and family, while not including issues such as the war in Iraq or the death penalty.
“‘The Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics’ references and quotes from official Church documents,” said Jimmy Akin, director of apologetics and evangelization with Catholics Answers. “As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in ‘Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,’ on issues such as the death penalty and the decision to go to war, there can be a legitimate variety of opinion among Catholics.”
Meanwhile, guides such as those put out by Catholics United, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby Network, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good tend to ignore issues such as same-sex “marriage” and partial-birth abortion, both issues that the Pope and the U.S. bishops have highlighted as paramount for Catholic voters.
Pope Benedict XVI highlighted the redefinition of marriage in his private meeting with President Bush during his visit to the U.S. earlier this year. The bishops’ 2007 bulletin insert “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” also discusses this issue: “The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the fundamental unit of society. This sanctuary for the creation and nurturing of children must not be redefined, undermined, or neglected.”
In the same document, the bishops make it quite clear that the Church does not treat all issues as morally equivalent, and that the taking of human life through abortion is a “preeminent example” of an “intrinsically evil act that must always be rejected and never supported.” It goes on to state that, “A legal system that allows the right to life to be violated on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed … This exercise of conscience begins with always opposing policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.”
The bishops’ stance was reiterated by Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops’ conference, in a Sept. 2 statement.
“This teaching has consequences for those charged with caring for the common good, those who hold public office. The unborn child, who is alive and is a member of the human family, cannot defend himself or herself. Good law defends the defenseless,” he wrote. “Our present laws permit unborn children to be privately killed. Laws that place unborn children outside the protection of law destroy both the children killed and the common good, which is the controlling principle of Catholic social teaching. One cannot favor the legal status quo on abortion and also be working for the common good.”
Regardless, some groups hold to their own take on the issues.
“‘Faithful Citizenship’ says life is a preeminent concern, but 'Faithful Citizenship' also says that it's a distortion of the Catholic faith to neglect our other obligations to other threats to human dignity,” said James Salt, organizing director for Catholics United.
Seana Sugrue, associate professor of politics at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., said that voters have to consider the source when approaching such guides.
“Those who are producing them are presented as civic-minded, but they have other purposes and agendas. You have to be aware that they have their particular biases,” said Sugrue. “It’s buyer beware. Each of us has a duty to know the candidates as well as the sources from which we get information, and their predilections.
“The proliferation of these kinds of guides is a phenomenon of the late 19th century and early 20th century, and the rise of interest groups in relation to political parties. Interest groups are fulfilling the responsibilities that political parties used to fulfill.”
According to Sugrue, one cause for the rise of such groups is that campaign finance reform has led to the displacement of political parties.
“While we’re shrinking contributions that can be made to candidates or parties, she noted, “in issues-based funding, anything goes.”
The Power of Prayer
In addition to producing its documents, the bishops have invited all U.S. Catholics to pray an election novena for life, justice and peace. The “Novena for Faithful Citizenship” is available for download or as a podcast online at FaithfulCitizenship.org.
Joan Rosenhauer, associate director for the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, described the special novena as part of “the bishop’s campaign to help Catholics develop well-formed consciences for addressing political and social questions.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Get Your Guide
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in a 2004 letter to Washington’s archbishop:
“There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
Here are Catholic voter guides that meet Cardinal Ratzinger’s and the U.S. bishops’ instructions for making the right to life the preeminent issue:
“McCain and Obama on ‘Catholic’ Issues,” the Register’s editorial comparing John McCain and Barack Obama’s voting records. Click “Opinion.”
FRC Action, an arm of the Family Research Council examines the candidates’ positions on a dozen key issues.
Priests for Life has created a website focusing on the candidates positions on life and family issues.
Catholic Answers Action’s “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics” focuses on the five “non-negotiable” issues: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and homosexual “marriage.”
Eternal Word Television Network links audio and video resources on Church teaching.
The lobbying group Fidelis has created a CatholicVote.com website and video.
— Tim Drake