Boston Globe, September 26, 2004
GOP urges Catholics to shun
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- The Republican Party is attempting
to convince Roman Catholics that Democratic
nominee John F. Kerry is "wrong for Catholics"
and at odds with his church.
Earlier this month, the Republican National Committee
launched a website called "KerryWrongForCatholics.com"
that takes the Massachusetts senator to task
for voting against the Defense of Marriage
Act, favoring civil unions for gays and lesbians,
opposing vouchers for private schools, and
taking stands on abortion and other issues
that are contrary to church teachings.
The GOP site points out where Kerry, a Catholic,
is at variance with the Vatican. A section
on Kerry's stance on same-sex unions, for example,
is headlined: "Kerry Said Vatican Should
Not Instruct Catholic Politicians, Calling
It 'Inappropriate.' "
The site suggests that Bush, a Methodist, has
a stronger record on Catholic values.
Private groups also have been urging Catholics
to oppose candidates who favor abortion and
other issues the church condemns. Earlier this
month, a nonprofit organization called Priests
for Life announced a $1 million campaign, including
television commercials, aimed at persuading
voters to support candidates who oppose abortion.
Another nonprofit, Catholic Answers, is issuing
millions of voter guides that list five "nonnegotiable"
issues for Catholic voters: abortion, euthanasia,
embryonic stem cell research, human cloning,
and "homosexual marriage."
The combined effect of the party and private
efforts could be as significant politically
as the swift boat veterans attack on Kerry,
the difference being that this one is occurring
without blistering television commercials and
is mostly "below the radar screen,"
according to John Green, who studies religion
and politics at the University of Akron.
And the stakes are high: Twenty-five percent
of those expected to cast ballots for president
Nov. 2 are Catholics, with even higher percentages
in some battleground states such as Wisconsin,
Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. A recent poll
conducted by the Pew Research Center indicated
that Bush leads Kerry among Catholics nationwide
by a 7-percentage-point margin, a big swing
from a 3-percentage-point lead that Kerry held
The GOP campaign is careful to focus only on
Kerry, leaving aside other Catholic politicians,
including Republicans, whose views are not
aligned with the Vatican. Governor George Pataki
of New York, for example, supports abortion
"John Kerry is who we are talking about
here and reaching out to voters concerning
Senator Kerry's record," Ed Gillespie,
chairman of the Republican National Committee,
said in a telephone interview.
Gillespie has authored a statement urging "fellow
Catholics" to "join the Catholic
team" and defeat Kerry at the polls.
A Kerry spokesman, Michael Meehan, expressed
offense at the nature of the Republican Party's
"It is outrageous that they say Kerry is
'wrong for Catholics,' " Meehan said.
"He is a Catholic, and the issues that
he believes in, most Catholics believe in."
Meehan acknowledged that Republicans are ahead
in organizing by religion, saying that this
year marks "the first serious effort that
a Democratic presidential candidate has made
in faith-based organizing. While we are making
inroads, we are clearly behind where Republicans
have been for the last 25 years because they
organize along religious lines as part of their
The dissection of Kerry's record as a Catholic
by other Catholics is a "remarkable sea
change" compared to what happened in 1960,
when John F. Kennedy had to reassure non-Catholics
that he was not under the Vatican's control,
said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on
Religion & Public Life. In that race, Catholics
mostly banded together to back a fellow Catholic,
while Kennedy's religion was an issue among
some people of other faiths.
"Kennedy was essentially saying, 'I don't
take orders from Rome,' and here we are in
2004, and if there is any question about Kerry's
Catholicism, it is whether he is Catholic enough,"
The sea change is also evident in the allegiance
of Catholic voters. In 1960, Catholics supported
the Democrat, Kennedy, over Republican Richard
M. Nixon in the presidential race by a margin
of 78 percent to 22 percent. Catholics gradually
began to back Republicans, with former President
George H. W. Bush getting 52 percent in 1988.
Democrats regained the Catholic vote recently,
with Bill Clinton and Al Gore winning a majority
of that vote in the last three elections.
The GOP strategy to win the Catholic vote depends
in part on volunteers who agree to be "Catholic
Team Leaders" who encourage church members
to support Bush. As of last week, the GOP had
commitments from 52,615 such volunteers, according
to Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the
Republican National Committee. The volunteers
work through the Internet, telephone drives,
and local gatherings to promote the message
that Kerry is wrong for Catholics.
Some of those opposing Kerry say that church
doctrine guides Catholics against voting for
politicians who favor abortion rights. The
Kerry campaign responded that Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a letter
recently saying that a Catholic could vote
for a politician who favors abortion rights
under certain circumstances. The letter, which
has been the subject of intense discussion
among Catholic leaders, says:
"A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation
in evil, and so unworthy to present himself
for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately
vote for a candidate precisely because of the
candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or
euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share
a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or
euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for
other reasons, it is considered remote material
cooperation, which can be permitted in the
presence of proportionate reasons."
Some of those opposing Kerry have focused on
the quote about "cooperation in evil,"
while Kerry's backers have said the document
provides permission for a Catholic to vote
for an abortion rights supporter.
"The Republicans have done a much more diligent,
comprehensive regular outreach job to Catholics
than the Democrats," said Frances Kissling,
president of Catholics for a Free Choice, which
describes itself as a nonpartisan group that
has dissented on some church policies, including
abortion rights. "One reason is that in
general the Republican Party is much more comfortable
with religion, whether dealing with the Christian
Coalition or evangelicals. It is a much more
overt part of Republican agenda."
In addition to the jabs at Kerry's stand on Catholic
issues, the GOP has been pursuing a controversial
program of asking church members to provide
membership lists in an effort to register more
churchgoers, whom the party believes are more
likely to support President Bush.
Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the
US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said a parish
that formally provides a mailing list to the
Republican National Committee would endanger
its nonprofit status because that is "a
valuable property which would be considered
a contribution." But Maniscalco said,
"this advice is not applicable to individual
A GOP memo urging collection of church directories
has been published on the website of the National
Catholic Reporter. It quotes an official of
the Republican Party's Catholic Outreach as
writing: "Access to these directories
is critical as it allows us to identify and
contact those Catholics who are likely to be
supportive of President Bush's compassionate
conservative agenda. Please forward any directories
you are able to collect to my attention. .
. . It is critically important in the 2004
election that faithful Catholics turn out to
vote in record number." A Republican National
Committee official verified the quotation is
"It is outrageous that they organize by
asking for church membership lists," Meehan
Gillespie, the committee chairman, confirmed
that the GOP is trying to collect church membership
lists from members. "There has always
been an ongoing effort to get whatever lists
we can," Gillespie said.
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