Democrats Try to Score Catholic Votes

QUEENS, N.Y. — Democrats in Congress have created a scorecard with women like Flor Marten-Ellis in mind.

The Queens, N.Y., woman, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic 43 years ago, is not just an undecided voter. She cares so much about the right to life that she sometimes goes to abortion sites and tries to talk young women into choosing life. She'd vote for President Bush, but she's not sure he'll come through on his promises to protect life in the womb.

As for Sen. John Kerry, she said: “He says a woman has a right to do whatever she wants with her body, but at the same time he goes and takes the Precious Blood of Christ. This is not for me.”

To Marten-Ellis, who has been voting for as long as she's been a U.S. citizen — some 11 years — both candidates are merely looking for votes.

Many Catholic voters seem to face a similar dilemma. On the one hand, there are candidates who purport to be Catholic yet do not uphold Catholic teaching on life issues. On the other, there are politicians who are in line with Catholic teaching regarding the sanctity of human life, even though they might not be Catholic, but whose records on helping the poor, going to war or supporting capital punishment differ from John Paul II's teachings.

Amid the confusion, organizations of various stripes are attempting to educate and influence the Catholic vote.

In fact, Catholicism has become one of the key playing cards this election year as both major parties have attempted to make their case as to who is more “Catholic.”

Deal Hudson, who advises President Bush and the Republican National Committee regarding Catholic outreach, isn't surprised by the prominence religion has taken in this election.

“Catholics provided the crucial swing voting block in the 2000 election,” said Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine. “Both sides see it as a key to winning.”

The issue of Catholic lawmakers whose votes are not consistent with Catholic teaching has come under increased scrutiny since Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., became the leading Democratic presidential candidate. He is the first presidential candidate who is Catholic since John F. Kennedy.

Catholic Scorecard

Even bishops have entered the fray.

“Catholic lawmakers who do not vigorously seek to protect human dignity and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death are not serving democracy,” wrote Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in his April 14 Denver Catholic Register column. “They are betraying it.”

Responding to such criticism, Catholic Democrats in Congress have been preparing a “Catholic Voting Scorecard” that compares the votes of Catholic members of both parties on a selection of issues defined as legislative priorities by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The issues include partial-birth abortion, human cloning, the Defense of Marriage Act, AIDS-relief funding, assistance to needy families and raising the minimum wage. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, is leading the scorecard project with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

“Under the misconception that single issues such as choice or gay rights best represent their interests, Catholics are voting for Republican candidates with increasing frequency,” a document accompanying the scorecard stated. It concluded that “Democratic House members vote with the Catholic interest much more often than their Republican counterparts.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee responded by accusing Lampson of trying to mislead voters.

“Nick Lampson hasn't voted in line with the Catholic Church since he came to Congress,” committee spokesman Carl Forti said in a statement. “Instead of changing his votes to reflect Catholic teachings, Lampson appears to be trying to change Catholicism to be more in line with his votes.”

Both Lampson and DeLauro have strong pro-abortion records. DeLauro, a former executive director for the pro-abortion political action committee Emily's List, received a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2003. Lampson voted in support of Planned Parenthood positions 80% of the time between 1995 and 2001.

The content of the scorecard has raised concern because it gives equal weight to issues that are morally dissimilar.

”The scorecard is a sham,” said Earl Appleby Jr., editor of the Catholic Web log Times Against Humanity from Berkeley Springs, W.Va. “The scorecard issues are tilted to inflate the rating of pro-abortion Catholic Democrats to allow them to pass as ‘pro-life.’”

Life Comes First

Hudson agreed, describing the scorecard as “just more of the same old nonsense trying to provide political cover to Kerry and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians by equating less-significant policy decisions with positions on the principle of protecting innocent life.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee noted that the 11 issues used to rate Catholic members do not include other issues “that are dear to Catholics, such as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, school vouchers and stem-cell research,” because most Catholic Democrats “are on the wrong side of those issues.”

“The kindest explanation for this sort of behavior is that a lot of Catholic candidates don't know their own faith,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.

He pointed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's 2002 “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” which reiterates the Church's teaching “that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

While Archbishop Chaput stated that abortion, immigration law, the death penalty and housing for the poor were all vitally important issues, he said “no amount of calculating can make them equal in gravity.”

“The right to life comes first,” he wrote. “It precedes and under-girds every other social issue or group of issues.”

Besides Archbishop Chaput, a 2003 publication, “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” provides guidance from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“As bishops, we seek to form the consciences of our people. We do not wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates,” the bishops' conference stated.

A task force of bishops is currently studying how to deal with Catholic elected officials who vote against Church doctrine. The task force is headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who held a private meeting with Kerry in April. Those guidelines are not expected to be ready until after the election.

But Michael Hernon, former deputy director for grass-roots out-reach for the Republican National Committee, said Catholic laity should be more active in politics and not leave everything to the bishops' conference.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “It is not the role of the pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens” (No. 2442).

“Too often faithful Catholics are waiting for the bishops to lead,” said Hernon, a Steubenville, Ohio, councilman and a business and political consultant. “They'll say we're waiting for the bishop to excommunicate so and so before we get involved, but the Pope has explicitly said it is the laity's area to lead in politics.”

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.