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Issue Date:  October 13, 2006

Catholic voter's guide seeks broad view


Catholic voters who want their faith to inform their politics should look beyond “single-issue litmus tests” and embrace the full scope of the church’s social justice teaching on everything from abortion and the death penalty to the environment and economic justice.

That’s the core of the message contained in “Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics,” unveiled Sept. 28 by the newly-formed Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. The Alliance is printing 1 million copies of its guide to be distributed through parishes and Catholic social justice organizations prior to the Nov. 7 elections.

The effort is admittedly a reaction to voting guides published by conservative organizations, most notably the California-based group Catholic Voice. During the 2004 election that group’s widely-distributed brochure -- “A Voting Guide for Serious Catholics” -- focused on five “nonnegotiable” issue: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and gay marriage. “It is a serious sin to deliberately endorse or promote any of these actions, and no candidate who really wants to advance the common good will support any action contrary to the nonnegotiable principles involved in these issues,” says the 2006 version of the Catholic Voice voter’s guide.

The Alliance’s voting guide, by contrast, argues that “we need to understand that our church’s social teachings call us to consider a broad range of important issues -- on everything from poverty to war, human rights, abortion, and the environment.” It continues: “There is no Catholic voting formula, and there is rarely, if ever, a perfect candidate for Catholic voters. Deciding how to vote can be difficult, but it is a task we all must take seriously and prayerfully in order to be faithful citizens.”

The church’s “full social message has been narrowed and eclipsed” by efforts to narrowly define a voter’s obligations, Jesuit Fr. David Hollenbach, a Boston College theologian, told the Alliance news briefing. “This trend is entirely inconsistent with the fullness of the Catholic faith … [and] undermines the Christian responsibility to the common good.” Said Hollenbach: “There is no such thing as a litmus test, because prudence requires us to assess what candidates will accomplish, not just what they say, and this requires an open dialogue about how best to provide for the common good.”

Critics said the Alliance voter guide was a way for Democrats to mute their stance on abortion. “Despite what Catholics in Alliance says, there is a moral hierarchy of issues, and as important as ending poverty is, it does not rival the right of a child to be born,” according to a statement released by William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “The voter guide is a slick attempt to get the abortion albatross off the necks of Catholic Democrats, but it’s a failed effort -- the noose is still there.”

 Not so, according to Alexia Kelley, the Alliance’s executive director. The Alliance voter guide, she said, “provides a practical and principled approach to Catholic citizenship and participation.”

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

Related Web site
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

National Catholic Reporter, October 13, 2006

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