Worcester priests huddle on role in election
Kathleen A. Shaw - T&G STAFF
Friday, September 10, 2004
WORCESTER- Bishop Robert J. McManus last night called together
priests of the Diocese of Worcester for a private meeting
with former Vatican Ambassador Raymond L. Flynn on how priests
can play a role in the November election while staying within
The bishop in a Sept. 1 letter to the priests said the church
does not "involve itself in partisan politics. However,
that does not mean that members of the Catholic Church should
not take seriously their moral obligation to vote for elected
officials who support legislation and public policy that uphold
fundamental moral teachings of the Church."
The American bishops have said it is helpful for pastors
to learn about the church's position on political responsibility
"and the legal limits we need to observe," the bishop
Bishop McManus told the priests that a voter registration
drive will be conducted in the diocese "in the next several
weeks." The purpose of the gathering was to "help
you to be equipped and informed about the moral dimension
of public policy" as well as find out about the voter
Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman, said the meeting
was closed to the public and press "so that the priests
will feel comfortable talking and asking questions."
The meeting was held at St. Paul's Cathedral.
Bishop McManus said Mr. Flynn can present his "unique
perspective" on political and moral responsibility.
Mr. Flynn, a former Boston mayor who served as Vatican ambassador
at the behest of President Clinton, a Democrat, endorsed Republican
George W. Bush for president in the 2000 election. He has
made no endorsement in the 2004 election.
He now heads Catholic Citizenship, a Boston-based organization
that has received approval from the Massachusetts Catholic
Conference, the public policy and lobbying arm of the Massachusetts
Catholic Citizenship, according to its Web site, has goals
that include getting Catholics to back a federal bill called
the House of Worship Free Speech Protection Act that would
allow churches to endorse political candidates. Churches have
been free to hold voter registration drives and to hand out
"voter guides" showing how candidates measure up
on issues considered important by the religious communities,
but endorsements of candidates would jeopardize a church's
"Ideally, we seek to get to the point where all candidates
are pro-life, pro-family and promote policies to alleviate
the suffering of our poorest citizens," said Larry Cirignano,
executive director of Catholic Citizenship.
Plans are to identify what he called one "public policy
advocate" in each parish. This person would "establish
a network of informed and politically active Catholic citizens
in each and every parish throughout the nation," he said.
"Politicians respond best to their local constituents
- the people who vote for or against them. Utilizing the Internet,
the Catholic Citizenship network will be able to interact
more effectively with our public officials. Thus, when vital
issues arise, our network will be prepared to provide an immediate
response to legislators - on the state or national level -
and thereby more effectively strengthen the Catholic influence
in the political process," he said.
The role of Catholics in the 2004 election is being taken
seriously by both major political parties, and some believe
the so-called "Catholic vote" will be important,
especially if the race between U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry and
George W. Bush is a close one.
Defining the "Catholic vote" may not be easy. David
Yamane, professor at Notre Dame University, South Bend, Ind.,
addressed the issue last fall at a seminar at the Leonard
E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life
at Trinity College, Hartford. Catholic voters cross the political
"The best description of the Catholic church in America
is: "Here comes everyone,'" he said.
The 65 million American Catholics constitute a quarter of
the population. An August Gallup poll shows Catholic voters
gave an overall edge to Kerry. However, that can be broken
down into those Catholics who attend Mass weekly and those
who do not.
In the 2000 election, half of Catholic voters voted for Mr.
Bush while the other half voted for Mr. Gore. However, Gallup
maintains that Catholics who attend weekly Mass prefer Mr.
Bush and those who attend Mass less regularly prefer Mr. Kerry.
The Catholics who seldom or never go to church give Mr. Kerry
Although Mr. Kerry is a lifelong Catholic, he has run afoul
of the Catholic hierarchy for his votes in the U.S. Senate
in favor of abortion rights. Several bishops across the country
have issued statements in recent months saying that he should
not receive Communion. The Catholic church condemns abortion.
The church position was softened this week, however, when
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith said Catholics could vote for a candidate who
has voted for abortion rights if he or she has voted in accordance
with church teachings on a number of other issues.
Kathleen A. Shaw can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.