Issue Date: October 29, 2004
Candidates not welcome in Maine Catholic churches
By DENNIS CODAY
A state lawmaker, scheduled to address a womens guild meeting Oct. 5 at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, Augusta, Maine, was uninvited by direction of the Portland diocese.
Even though State Rep. Arthur L. Lerman, a one-term Democrat, was scheduled to talk about prescription drug programs for the elderly, diocesan officials said he could not speak at a parish function because he is in a reelection campaign.
Diocesan officials were tipped off to Lermans appearance by his Republican challenger, Michael Hein, who wanted them to know that Lerman supports abortion rights.
However, diocesan officials told NCR that Lermans electioneering and not his platform disqualified him from speaking to St. Marys Guild.
There is a policy in the diocese that people running for office are not to be invited to speak at functions during the political season, the dioceses co-chancellor, Sr. Rita-Mae Bissonnette, told NCR.
The policy is that no one -- whether they are pro-life or pro-choice or whatever their position -- no one is allowed to speak [at church-sponsored events] during the political season, said the sister of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
The day before Lerman was to speak, Hein called Bissonnette and told her of the engagement and Lermans support of abortion. The Kennebec Journal of Augusta reported that a diocesan spokeswoman quoted Hein as asking Bissonnette, This is a problem, isnt it, for the bishop?
Hein is running as a pro-life candidate, according the local newspaper.
Bissonnette consulted with Bishop Richard Malones staff -- the bishop himself was unavailable at that time -- and then she called the pastor of St. Marys church to advise him to cancel the talk. The pastor called the guild leader who called Lerman.
Lerman told NCR, Neither Mrs. [Claire] Poulin, who innocently invited me, nor I, who was just responding to a request for constituent information, were aware of any church policies that might come into play at all. Lerman has been addressing seniors groups about prescription drug programs since January. His meeting with St. Marys Guild had been scheduled since May.
Marc Mutty, the director of public policy at the diocese, told NCR that the diocese does not have a specific written policy that would bar a pro-choice politician from church facilities.
The ban on candidates speaking at church functions during campaign season, however, has been enforced as long as Mutty can remember, he said, and he has been with the diocese for 25 years. He also said it has never been written policy. Its more of a recommendation or strong advice he offers to parishes, he said.
These kinds of decisions are left up the parish ultimately, Mutty said. Im sure it is ignored and quite frankly thats OK. It is within the pastors purview but we strongly advise not to do it.
He said the diocese has had bad experiences with sponsoring candidate forums and facing questions of balance. Under the best of circumstances and with the best of intentions things can go awry, he said. Weve urged people to avail themselves of forums outside the parish setting.
Mutty said he has been particularly cautious this campaign season. In this particular political season I have been communicating very regularly with the parishes and strongly advising them to be very careful about how they pursue these sorts of things. There has been so much activity in the parishes, there has been so much activity from supporters from both parties trying to infiltrate the parishes that I just found it important to be very careful about how they proceeded, he said.
Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Catholic Reporter, October 29, 2004
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