New York Times, October 12, 2004
Group of Bishops
Using Influence to Oppose Kerry
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
and LAURIE GOODSTEIN
DENVER, Oct. 9 - For Archbishop Charles J.
Chaput, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic
prelate in Colorado, there is only one way
for a faithful Catholic to vote in this presidential
election, for President Bush and against Senator
"The church says abortion is a foundational
issue,'' the archbishop explained to a group
of Catholic college students gathered in a
sports bar here in this swing state on Friday
night. He stopped short of telling them whom
to vote for, but he reminded them of Mr. Kerry's
support for abortion rights. And he pointed
out the potential impact his re-election could
have on Roe v. Wade.
"Supreme Court cases can be overturned,
right?" he asked.
Archbishop Chaput, who has never explicitly endorsed
a candidate, is part of a group of bishops
intent on throwing the weight of the church
into the elections.
Galvanized by battles against same-sex marriage
and stem cell research and alarmed at the prospect
of a President Kerry - who is Catholic but
supports abortion rights - these bishops and
like-minded Catholic groups are blanketing
churches with guides identifying abortion,
gay marriage and the stem cell debate as among
a handful of "non-negotiable issues."
To the dismay of liberal Catholics and some other
bishops, traditional church concerns about
the death penalty or war are often not mentioned.
Archbishop Chaput has discussed Catholic priorities
in the election in 14 of his 28 columns in
the free diocesan newspaper this year. His
archdiocese has organized voter registration
drives in more than 40 of the largest parishes
in the state and sent voter guides to churches
around the state. Many have committees to help
turn out voters and are distributing applications
for absentee ballots.
In an interview in his residence here, Archbishop
Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr.
Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic
stem cell research would be a sin that must
be confessed before receiving Communion.
"If you vote this way, are you cooperating
in evil?" he asked. "And if you know
you are cooperating in evil, should you go
to confession? The answer is yes."
The efforts of Archbishop Chaput and his allies
are converging with a concerted drive for conservative
Catholic voters by the Bush campaign. It has
spent four years cultivating Catholic leaders,
organizing more than 50,000 volunteers and
hiring a corps of paid staff members to increase
Catholic turnout. The campaign is pushing to
break the traditional allegiance of Catholic
voters to the Democratic Party, an affiliation
that began to crumble with Ronald Reagan 24
Catholics make up about a quarter of the electorate,
and many conservative Catholics are concentrated
in swing states, pollsters say. Conservatives
organizers say they are working hard because
the next president is quite likely to name
at least one new Supreme Court justice.
Catholic prelates have publicly clashed with
Catholic Democrats like former Gov. Mario M.
Cuomo of New York and Geraldine A. Ferraro,
the former representative and vice-presidential
But never before have so many bishops so explicitly
warned Catholics so close to an election that
to vote a certain way was to commit a sin.
Less than two weeks ago, Archbishop Raymond L.
Burke of St. Louis issued just such a statement.
Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs
and Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark have
both recently declared that the obligation
to oppose abortion outweighs any other issue.
In theological terms, these bishops and the voter
guides argue that abortion and the destruction
of embryos are categorically wrong under church
doctrine. War and even the death penalty can
in certain circumstances be justified.
But it is impossible to know how many bishops
share this view, and there is resistance from
a sizable wing of the church that argues that
voting solely on abortion slights Catholic
teaching on a range of other issues, including
war, poverty, the environment and immigration.
Liberal Catholics contend that the church has
traditionally left weighing the issues to the
individual conscience. Late in the campaign,
these Catholics have begun to mount a counterattack,
belatedly and with far fewer resources.
In diocesan newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania
and West Virginia, they are buying advertisements
with the slogan "Life Does Not End at
Birth." Organizers of the campaign say
it is supported by 200 Catholic organizations,
among them orders of nuns and brothers.
"We are looking at a broader picture, a
more global picture," said Bishop Gabino
Zavala, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles
who is president of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic
peace group that initiated the statement. "If
you look at the totality of issues as a matter
of conscience, someone could come to the decision
to vote for either candidate."
In the presidential debate on Friday, Mr. Kerry
discussed his religious beliefs. "I was
an altar boy," he said. "But I can't
take what is an article of faith for me and
legislate it for someone who doesn't share
that article of faith, whether they be agnostic,
atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever."
Alexia Kelley, director for religious outreach
for the Democratic National Committee, said
Mr. Kerry's policies reflected overall Catholic
The Republican Party is betting that many observant
Catholics will disagree. The National Catholic
Reporter reported that that on a visit to the
pope this year Mr. Bush asked Vatican officials
directly for help in lining up American bishops
in support of conservative cultural issues.
For four years, the party has held weekly conference
calls with a representative of the White House
for prominent Catholic conservatives. To ramp
up the Catholic campaign last summer, the party
dispatched its chairman, Ed Gillespie, and
a roster well-known Catholic Republicans on
a speaking tour to Catholic groups throughout
the swing states.
The party has recruited an undisclosed number
of Catholic field coordinators who earn $2,500
a month, along with up to $500 a month for
expenses to increase conservative Catholic
In an interview this week from Albuquerque, where
he was rallying Catholic outreach workers,
Leonard A. Leo, executive vice president of
the Federalist Society, a conservative legal
group, who has taken the role of informal adviser
to Mr. Bush's campaign on Catholic issues,
said Republicans hoped that Mr. Bush could
draw even more of the Catholic vote than Reagan,
who attracted 54 percent when he ran for re-election
in 1984. Mr. Bush received just under half
of the Catholic vote in 2000. In a Pew Research
poll this month, 42 percent of white Catholics
favored Mr. Bush, 29 percent favored Mr. Kerry,
and 27 percent were undecided.
"I can't think of another time in recent
political history where a political party and
a campaign have paid more attention to faithful
Catholics," Mr. Leo said.
How the bishops' guidance or the new voter guides
are playing in the pews remains to be seen.
In a poll for Time magazine in June, 76 percent
of Catholics said the church's position on
abortion made no difference in their decisions
about voting. But in a New York Times poll
conducted over the summer, 71 percent of Catholics
favored some restrictions on abortion, compared
with 64 percent of the general public.
Republican strategists say Catholics and others
who attend religious services at least once
a week tend to be more conservative. Fifty-three
percent of those Catholics supported Mr. Bush
in 2000 compared with 47 percent of all Catholics,
according to exit polls. The Rev. Frank Pavone,
national director of Priests for Life of Staten
Island, N.Y., says priests with his group are
going from church to church in swing states
like Florida, giving fellow priests sample
homilies for each Sunday in November, inserts
for church bulletins and voter guides.
Father Pavone spoke by telephone from Aberdeen,
S.D., where he said he was meeting with dozens
of priests and nuns to teach them how to organize
transportation to take parishioners to the
polls. Addressing abortion, he said he told
audiences, "One can't hold public office
and say it's O.K. to kill some of the public."
In past elections, the main voter guide distributed
in many Catholic churches was a questionnaire
from the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops that listed candidates' stands on dozens
of issues. This year, conservative Catholic
groups sought to derail the questionnaire,
because it appeared to give equal weight to
each issue. When neither the Bush nor Kerry
campaigns responded to the questions by the
deadline, the bishops' conference abandoned
the effort, a spokesman, Msgr. Francis Maniscalco,
Many parishes are having free-for-alls over what
materials to use in helping Catholics think
through their choices. Many bishops are using
a document the bishops developed last year,
"Faithful Citizenship." It tells
Catholic voters to consider a range of issues
and vote their consciences. Other parishes
are instead using a guide from a conservative
Web site, Catholic Answers, at www.catholic
.com. The guide says it is a sin to vote for
a candidate who supports any one of five "non-negotiable
issues," abortion, euthanasia, embryonic
stem cell research, human cloning and homosexual
Archbishop Chaput says he has had no contact
with either campaign or political party. He
says his sole contact with the White House
has been his appointment to the United States
Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The prelate acknowledged that his communications
director, Sergio Gutierrez, had worked in the
Bush administration, but Archbishop Chaput
said he had known Mr. Gutierrez long before
It was only logical for the Republicans to view
the church as a "natural ally" on
cultural issues, the archbishop said. He said
that would end if a Republican candidate supported
"We are not with the Republican Party,"
he said. "They are with us."
Mr. Kerry's Catholicism is a special issue for
the church, Archbishop Chaput said. To remain
silent while a President Kerry supported stem
cell research would seem cowardly, he said.
The Rev. Andrew Kemberling, pastor of St. Thomas
More Church near here, said he agreed with
the archbishop, but he acknowledged that parishioners
sometimes accused him of telling them how to
vote. He said his reply was: "We are not
telling them how to vote. We are telling them
how to take Communion in good conscience."
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