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Issue Date:  September 17, 2004

From the Editor’s Desk

Invoking the Almighty

While everything was going according to script at the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden earlier this month, there were groups whose interests wound up in the margins, edited out of the script for the big show. Washington correspondent Joe Feuerherd caught up with one of them -- the Republicans’ Catholic Outreach group, which had to take its concerns to a smaller venue at a Times Square hotel ballroom. Feuerherd’s account includes a bishop who spoke about the modern equivalent of the Arian heresy, who found a way to excuse former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Pataki from the strictest condemnations for pro-choice politicians, and who, in the benediction, prayed for the reelection of George W. Bush.

The use of religious imagery -- and even space -- for partisan speech was not, however, limited to Republicans. Witness the fiery anti-Bush rhetoric delivered by former President Bill Clinton Aug. 29 at New York’s famous Riverside Church. From one end of the island to the other, God was invoked. My hunch is the Almighty is registered independent and doesn’t always root for Notre Dame.

I am fascinated, as this political season rolls along, by the contortions some undergo in order to disguise partisanship under the mantle of pro-life concerns.

It is mystifying to me that the man who holds the record for the number of executions overseen by a governor in a year; whose international policy has cost the lives of more than a thousand U.S. military and uncounted thousands of Iraqi civilians and soldiers; and who continues to justify a preemptive war roundly and repeatedly condemned by Pope John Paul II, should be touted as a pro-life candidate.

I can understand the attraction to those who hold abortion as the only measure of a candidate’s worth, but I would expect some squeamishness, a bit of a qualification here or there, some inkling of doubt, in labeling President Bush “pro-life.”

It simply is language that makes no sense.

Nor, I suspect, will he have to pay very much in real terms for the lip service he gives those life issues on the campaign trail. Not if the big show in New York was any indication of what is to come.

The sad thing in all of this is that once again Catholics will have been caught up in campaign rhetoric, abandoning everything else to see their antiabortion candidate elected, only to get very little, if anything, for the effort. We’ve been handed the same script for more than a quarter of a century.

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You’ll notice a new name on our masthead this week, staff writer Jeff Guntzel. Guntzel, 29, reported for NCR from Iraq in May 2003 and recently did a cover story on forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow. He will be working out of New York, where his wife, Laurel Severns (they were married July 31), is enrolled in the master of divinity program at Union Theological Seminary.

Guntzel worked with Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago group that opposed the sanctions in Iraq from 1998 to 2003 and led seven fact-finding and humanitarian delegations to Iraq during that time. Guntzel, who grew up in suburban Minneapolis and spent four years as a drummer in a punk rock band, is enrolled in the DePaul University School for New Learning.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 17, 2004

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