Bishops, state conferences work to educate Catholics before election

WASHINGTON – State Catholic conferences and the bishops they represent in the public policy arena are using diverse methods to educate Catholic voters before the 2010 elections.

Several conferences have published candidate questionnaires and/or interviews on issues of interest to Catholic voters, while others have put out lists of questions that they recommend the voters themselves ask the candidates.

Some bishops and conferences have limited themselves to offering generalized guidance on the principles that should apply to any voting decisions, while at least one conference has warned Catholics to be wary of voter guides that “fail to account for the full teaching of the church and fail to adequately address complex issues.”

In nearly every case, the Catholic leaders urged voters to look at the “Faithful Citizenship” resources prepared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops before the 2008 elections (, including the bishops’ 42-page document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

The warning against voter guides came from the Texas Catholic Conference, which said a national Christian organization, which it did not name, had recently sent a guide to all pastors in the state.

“Unfortunately, this guide and others like it are not appropriate for distribution in our parishes,” said Jennifer Carr-Allmon, associate director of the conference. “The TCC discourages the distribution of voter guides in Catholic parishes and ministries.”

Carr-Allmon said types of “objectionable evaluations” in such guides would include those that rank or rate candidates or parties, those that use plus or minus signs and those that use marked sample ballots.

“Many people ask why the TCC does not distribute our own guide or at least publish a report of the record votes of incumbents,” she said. “The primary reason is that it is not our role to evaluate political candidates or officeholders. It is our role to form consciences on the issues.”

In New York, the state’s bishops said that “it is the rare candidate who will agree with the church on every issue.”

In addition, they said, “It is often difficult to get a good grasp on the positions of incumbent congressional representatives and state legislators, not to mention their challengers.”

The bishops said “not every issue is of equal moral gravity” and, quoting from the “Faithful Citizenship” document, said, “Those who knowingly, willingly and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.”

The New York bishops urged Catholics to ask candidates a series of “important questions” on the right to life, parental rights in education, protecting marriage, immigration reform, access to health care, protection of the poor and religious liberty.

In Florida, the Catholic conference asked candidates for Congress and for governor a series of questions on issues ranging from abortion funding to alternative energy, and marriage protection to teacher loan forgiveness.

Candidates’ responses to the questions – either support or oppose – were then published on the conference’s website.

The Maryland Catholic Conference published a similar candidate survey before the state’s primary election in September, with results appearing in The Catholic Review Sept. 9. All those running for the state General Assembly, Congress or for governor were asked to participate.

Each candidate was asked 13 questions on topics that included embryonic stem-cell research, nuclear reduction, family reunification for immigrants, conscience protection for health care workers and abortion funding.

In Pennsylvania, the two major candidates for governor and two candidates for U.S. Senate – all of whom are Catholic – were asked to respond to a questionnaire and to participate in an interview with Pennsylvania Catholic Conference staff. The survey results and interview transcripts were published on the conference website and in its newsletter “for information only.”

The conference “does not endorse candidates for political office,” the Pennsylvania Catholic voter guide noted.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois polled five candidates for governor about five pieces of pending legislation in the state and publish the results in English, Spanish and Polish.

The Catholic Conference of Ohio said the process of forming one’s conscience before voting “requires constant prayer, understanding of church teaching, and discernment that goes beyond campaign rhetoric and partisan politics.”

“It should also focus on a candidate’s consistency with moral principles, sincerity, integrity and the ability to effect the policies that he or she promotes,” said the Ohio conference, which also offered six brief reflection questions for voters to ask before making a decision.

Another resource provided for Catholic voters in Ohio was a six-page list of two dozen “candidate issues and questions,” ranging from abortion to violence.

The Kansas Catholic Conference prepared a brochure of “election-year questions and answers,” that both addressed the practical – election dates and registration information – and offered more general guidance.

“While most political issues have a moral dimension, there are a select number of issues currently being debated that directly involve matters of intrinsic moral evil: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, assisted suicide and same-sex marriage,” the bishops said. “The unique gravity of these issues … does require that Catholics give them precedence.”

The Missouri Catholic Conference published a lengthy guide that included information on important election dates, excerpts from Catholic teaching, background on Catholic policy positions, a voter’s bill of rights and resources for sponsoring candidate forums or interviews.

“The results of the 2010 elections can have dramatic impact on our nation’s well-being,” said Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri conference, in an introduction to the guide. “Don’t stand on the sidelines. Get involved. Bring the good news of Christ into the ballot box this year.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.