Catholics are a key demographic in the upcoming election. In fact, they may be the key demographic.
In most every presidential contest since the end of World War II, the candidate who carried the Catholic vote won the election. Over time they have, as a bloc, become more conservative and more Republican in their voting patterns (they were once a major component of the Democrats' presidential coalition) as concerns over settled issues like the morality of abortion overtook in importance concerns about unsettled issues like the best way to secure social justice for the poor and the downtrodden.
Much has been made of the fact that both candidates for vice president—Paul Ryan and Joe Biden—are practicing Catholics, though they come at almost every issue from diametrically opposite positions: As one example, Ryan opposes abortion while Biden supports keeping it legal.
With most of the national polls showing the race to be one or two points either way, the fight over the Catholic vote is heating up. In Cleveland, Ohio, the local chapter of Right to Life has issued a formal letter to Bishop Richard Lennon asking him to suspend the Diocese's "Faithful Citizenship" meetings because of their disregard for pro-life issues.
"As a pro-life woman and a Catholic, I am appalled," Cleveland Right to Life President Molly Smith said in a release. "Our Church is under attack by the most liberal, pro-abortion leadership in history. The Cleveland Catholic Diocese is missing a great teaching and unifying opportunity by responding in this manner."
According to Smith's group, "Faithful Citizenship meetings were organized by the Diocese of Cleveland with the goal of aiding Catholics in preparing themselves to vote this November. The forums, led in part by open Obama-supporter Karen Leith, downplay abortion and religious freedom, issues of irreducible importance to Catholic voters."
The push back in Ohio is only part of what is going on nationally said Deal Hudson, the president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and an expert on Catholic outreach.
"Lay Catholics who are committed to life, marriage, and religious liberty are not going to allow a repeat of the 2008 campaign, when the bishops' document 'Faithful Citizenship' was cherry-picked and spun into a garland of blessing for Barack Obama," Hudson said. "The purpose of the new introduction to the document, published this past November, was to discourage this type of irresponsible partisanship that ignores the Church's teaching on fundamental social issues."
Here is what the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' wrote:
Although it has at times been misused to present an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics, this statement remains a faithful and challenging call to discipleship in the world of politics. It does not offer a voter's guide, scorecard of issues, or direction on how to vote. It applies Catholic moral principles to a range of important issues and warns against misguided appeals to 'conscience' to ignore fundamental moral claims, to reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters, or to justify choices simply to advance partisan, ideological, or personal interests.
"It's the last line from the paragraph above that most directly warns those who twisted the meaning of the bishops' 2007 document," Hudson said. The "Faithful Citizenship" document "outlines and makes important distinctions among moral issues acknowledging that some involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified and that others require action to pursue justice and promote the common good," rather than simply providing a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration.
"What Ohio Right to Life has done is precisely what the U.S. bishops have called upon all Catholics to do—be vigilant in defense of the faith and its fundamental moral teachings," Hudson said. But that's only part of the story.
On Wednesday Hudson also revealed that a group calling itself Catholics for Obama had been making push poll phone calls in support of the president's re-election bid. Among the questions being asked, he said, was "How can you support a 'Mormon' who does not believe in Jesus Christ?"
The phone banker making the call, which in this case went to a woman Hudson identifies as "the head of a pro-life committee at a parish I know" reportedly also asserted that "President Obama did not support abortion" and that Planned Parenthood "helps children get healthcare and prenatal care and does not promote abortion." In fact, the group is one of the nation's largest abortion providers.
[Editor's note: In response to this blog post, an Obama campaign spokesperson issued the following statement: "As a campaign, we have made it unequivocally clear that a candidate’s religion is out of bounds. The activity that is being attributed to the Obama Campaign and our Catholics For Obama program is categorically false. When we talk to voters about what’s at stake, we talk about Mitt Romney promising to repeal healthcare, slash education, and his support of an economic policy that pays for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires with tax increases on the middle class."]
All this amounts to a whispering campaign that is both dishonest about the president's record on abortion and deviously attempts to divide the Catholic electorate on the issue of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's religion—something the Obama campaign has repeatedly promised it would not do. With the election getting closer, the comments and attacks are getting nastier. Some people, apparently, will do anything to hold on to power.