National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  January 23, 2004

Your Catholic Voice breaks from Christian right, seeks to remove stereotypes

There’s a sense of regret, of time wasted, in Keith Fournier’s voice. For nearly two decades he has been an integral part of unsuccessful efforts to take Catholic social teaching into the U.S. political debate.

Now, with Your Catholic Voice, a “grassroots political and policy organization” that “offers Catholics the vehicle to be actively involved in shaping their government,” Fournier believes he’s found a vehicle that will energize those who unapologetically seek to promote “a framework for building an authentically just society.”

In the mid-1990s, Fournier led the Christian Coalition’s Catholic Alliance, an effort to unite evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants with Catholic conservatives. Several U.S. bishops, fearful that American Catholics would confuse the bishops’ positions with that of the alliance, publicly distanced themselves from the group. Other critics spoke more forcefully, calling the Catholic Alliance an attempt by the Rev. Pat Robertson’s conservative Christian Coalition to co-opt Catholic teaching.

Today, in addition to his duties as a permanent deacon of the Richmond, Va., diocese and practicing lawyer, 49-year-old Fournier heads the foundation that supports Your Catholic Voice. The difference between the current effort and previous attempts is clear, said Fournier.

“We’ve seen failure after failure from a lot of well-intended people” who confused their conservative political ideology with Christianity, Fournier told NCR. Your Catholic Voice, in contrast to its forerunners, “is not about liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican,” said Fournier. Catholic is the noun. We’re looking to break those stereotypes because we don’t think they help. They’re shrill and they’re narrow and they don’t work.” Raymond Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and former mayor of Boston, is president of Your Catholic Voice.

In a recent essay -- “Requiem for the Religious Right” -- Fournier offered this example: “I remember one day when I took exception to a conservative icon’s claim that the Second Amendment [protecting the right to bear arms] secured what he called the ‘first freedom.’ I insisted that the first freedom was not owning a gun but rather religious freedom and that the first right was the right to life. … You would have thought I had blasphemed. He apparently felt that the right to own a gun was on the same level as the right to life. I further upset him when I said that good Christians could come down on either side of the gun issue, but never on the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death.”

It is the group’s fourth pillar -- “solidarity with the poor and needy” -- that most concretely separates Your Catholic Voice’s efforts from those of its forerunners. Fournier specifically cited Matthew 25, outlining a Christian’s obligation to visit the sick and imprisoned and feed the hungry. “I for one am tired of ‘conservative movements’ who have lost a part of the Gospel,” said Fournier.

Which is not to say that Your Catholic Voice will be mistaken for a liberal movement anytime soon. The group’s first significant effort is an electronic petition urging lawmakers to oppose same-sex marriage. And Fournier recently praised LaCrosse, Wis., Bishop Raymond Burke for denying Communion to pro-choice legislators in his diocese. Burke is soon to be installed as archbishop of St. Louis. ( See related story.)

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, January 23, 2004

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