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Issue Date:  September 24, 2004

Self-appointed enforcer; election guide fever


Apparently somebody didn’t get the memo. Reader Geoff Garvey of Murrell’s Inlet, S.C., which is in the Charleston diocese, tells me that a eucharistic minister there turned away a communicant who wore a John Kerry for President button to the Communion rail.

Charleston Bishop Robert J. Baker had declared that Catholics in public life, especially elected ones, who didn’t support church teaching on the sanctity of human life “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” That came Aug. 4 in a joint letter from Baker, Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta, Ga., and Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C.

But in a pastoral addendum Baker published in his own see, he clarified his position: “No one else may make a decision regarding whether or not a person should be admitted to holy Communion. That determination is reserved to me personally.”

Garvey said that the parish pastor quickly squelched the self-appointed enforcer. When he discovered the incident he called in all eucharistic ministers and told them this action was beyond their purview.

Garvey and his wife Joan, by the way, founded a local Pax Christi chapter about a year ago. They pray for peace and justice every Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. in St. Michael Church, Garden City, and host educational and witness activities.

To promote the fledging group, Garvey said he visits other area churches and slips notices into hymnals. He also leaves flyers in the magazines of doctors’ offices.

* * *

The question of how Catholics should vote continues to simmer in parishes across America.

As I sat down to write this report, a reader from New Mexico called.

“My daughter-in-law in rural Wisconsin is just beside herself,” the reader told me. “Her pastor in Wisconsin is saying Catholics can’t vote for pro-choice politicians, and my daughter-in-law needs information to combat this narrow view,” she said.

“I know NCR has written about this issue a million times over the years, but what are some recent articles I can send her?” the reader asked.

I recommended that she start with the NCR editorials of April 30, “Politics, piety and the Catholic vote,” and July 2, “Bishops spare us Eucharist politics.” I also pointed her to the “American Catholic” column (June 18) that examined guides to election issues that have appeared in parish pews this campaign season.

Shortly after that, I received an e-mail from Mike Durham, the peace and justice coordinator at St. Benedict Parish, Phoenix. He said that some of the voter guides mentioned in the June 18 column were appearing in his parish.

Durham said he wanted to copy the article and make it available with the guides themselves. Always trying to be of service, NCR gave Durham reprint permission.

But the election guide story doesn’t end there. I have heard from additional groups who are producing more guides for Catholic voters. Just a few:

* * *

A conversation among three 20-something friends on retreat together last spring turned to the presidential election and the acrimonious debate about how Catholics should vote. Concerned about Catholic groups that spoke only of a narrow range of issues, these three friends decided they would do all they could to promote the wide and rich tradition of Catholic social teachings. The Catholic Voting Project was born.

The projects’ founders “are committed Catholics who take interest in how Catholics decide to act politically,” Chris Korzen, a student at Weston School of Theology and spokesman for the Catholic Voting Project, told me.

“A Catholic moral framework does not easily fit the ideologies of right or left, nor the platforms of any party,” Korzen said. “The founders, who are committed to Catholic social teaching, want to see a lively debate about how Catholic social teaching can be applied to civic life.”

They recruited a few more friends and, using the U.S. bishops’ document “Faithful Citizenship: A Guide to Political Responsibility” as a measuring stick, they began researching the presidential candidates to see how they stack up against the bishops’ positions on issues.

Their research is available at In an easy to read table format, they have arranged issues under four topic categories: protecting human life, promoting family values, pursuing social justice and practicing global solidarity

For example, under protecting human life, the group spells out candidates’ positions on not only abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia, but also the global arms trade, use of military force and targeting of civilians during war. Under family values, they look at marriage, just wages and education.

The Web site also has an online survey. After answering questions about your stance on certain topics, you can see how you match up with the bishops, Kerry and Bush.

* * *

Maryknoll -- fathers, brothers, sisters and lay people -- has missioners in 39 countries. During the 1996 election year, its global concerns office produced a reflection on global justice issues, “We All Live in a Global Context,” but this election season the office has produced an election guide, available at

Its focus is not the presidential election itself but issues that all candidates to national office should address. To aid conversations with candidates, the document encourages Catholic groups to host or attend candidate forums.

It addresses three areas: peace and security, which includes U.S. unilateralism, the war on terror, weapons proliferation, and military spending and training; economic justice, including transparency and corporate accountability, debt, trade, and food sovereignty; and ecology, including energy, water and biotechnology.

The guide spells out positions on issues (for example, “No enforceable corporate codes of conduct exist to hold [transnational corporations] accountable for any negative impact of their business practices”) and then offers a question or two that could be asked of a candidate (for example: “Do you support legislation that would require U.S.-based corporations to report publicly on their environmental, human rights and labor rights practices overseas?”)

In selecting issues, the office draws on experiences of Maryknoll missioners in the field, according to Judy Coode, project coordinator.

The guide’s introduction says, “We have seen with our own eyes the human and ecological cost of war and violent conflict. We yearn for a world where the basic right of every person to a life of dignity is honored and … creation is valued and its integrity safeguarded. We have accompanied too many communities where this is not the reality and we have observed too many political leaders without the vision or the courage to make it so.”

* * *

“There is a lot of energy on campus to get students plugged into this election,” Kevin Kostic, the campus ministry coordinator for Catholic Relief Services, told me. He said that last spring, college campus ministers told him their most pressing need was materials to prepare students for the Nov. 2 election.

Only about 36 percent of eligible 18-24 year olds voted in the 2000 election, Kostic said. He expects that number to be higher this year. College students who in past elections would have been disinterested will be voting this year, he believes. “They are feeling the impact of today’s global events,” he said. “They’ve come to the realization that we can’t become numb to the situation in the world.”

To help them in this quest, Catholic Relief Services -- CRS, the U.S. bishops’ development aid and relief arm -- has developed a 12-week program that guides students through weekly activities that help them understand how the Catholic faith requires civic participation. The program does not look at any candidate.

Besides sessions on Catholic social teaching and prayer meetings, which one would expect to find, the Campus Advocate also looks at the history of voting in the United States, how to run a voter registration drive, voter apathy and -- these are college kids after all -- tips for organizing a Nov. 2 election results party. Everything is available for downloading at

“The Campus Advocate materials are meant to help students develop into critical and informed voters for this election and for many more elections down the road,” Kostic said.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail is

National Catholic Reporter, September 24, 2004

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