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A NEW CATHOLIC ACTION

8/20/2002 - 12:01 PM PST

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A NEW CATHOLIC ACTION: CATHOLICS AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION

By Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


Transforming the myth of “the Catholic vote” into an informed Catholic electorate poised for action is a great challenge…and opportunity

"There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual' life with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular life', that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture."
Pope John Paul II


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The political air is once again filled with talk about Catholic voters.

The fall election campaigns will soon be fully upon us. The 2004 Presidential campaign, which starts earlier every cycle, has already begun with aspirants already testing the waters in New Hampshire.

I understand.

I have played a small role in raising the issue of mobilizing Catholic citizens to vote in a manner that is consistent with their faith.

I was one of the founders, and served as the first president, of "Catholic Alliance." The last time all this talk filled the early fall air, I moved to Washington, D.C., to implement its mission to "build a Catholic vote to promote the common good." The effort was one of the most difficult experiences of my life-for a lot of reasons.

I have spent a great amount of time, prayer, and energy seeking to mobilize Catholic citizens, no matter what their political affiliation, to recognize the implications of the values informed by their faith on their political participation.

I joined the legion of praise for "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium," the profound statement on political participation and responsibility, released in 1999 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

I regularly write and speak to both the application of Catholic social teaching to faithful citizenship and the extraordinary potential a mobilized Catholic constituency could have on the fall campaign.

Yet, as I read the multiplying editorials on this subject, listen to the pundits, and even hear the paltry efforts of the candidates to appeal to a "Catholic vote," I must, like the little boy in the story of the emperor with no clothes, expose the façade.

There is no Catholic vote!

Oh, the debate will continue as to whether there ever truly was a "Catholic vote." The argument that looks to the past voting blocs of Catholics can probably be attributed more to the demographic realities of the Catholic community in the last part of the last century than to a truly informed and engaged group of faithful Catholic citizens acting in response to the the "social teaching" of the Catholic Church.

The starkness of my claim, that there is no Catholic vote, does not mean that I have given up the struggle, or that the mobilization of informed faithful Catholic citizens cannot be attained. Rather, it is meant to be a wake-up call and a rallying cry.

Those years I spent in D.C., attending (at least initially) the meager efforts of political parties to build so called "Catholic task forces," fighting the opposition of even fellow Catholic citizens to my efforts, speaking, writing, trying to “rally the troops” has only strengthened my convictions. We need a new Catholic action.

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There is a lot that could be said on this subject. However, I will address only four points in this first article.

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First, there is a lack of understanding among Catholics concerning the implications of their faith on their public life and political participation. That will take a huge educational effort—what the Church calls catechesis—to change. That’s right - a civics lesson infused with the implications of “Catholic Social Teaching”, the greatest hidden treasure in the current Catholic experience.

Last night at a Sunday Vigil Mass, we were asked “How many have ever heard of “Catholic Social teaching.” My wife and I and the nun who assists in the parish were the ONLY ONES WHO RAISED THEIR HANDS!

Then we heard a well intended parishioner speak of a program in our diocese flowing out of the “Peace and Justice” Office. Though much was inspiring, I couldn’t help but be a bit suspect. It seemed tinged with the old sixties liberalism motif that has often co-opted discussions of “Catholic social teaching” in the current cultural, political and social climate.

In fact, that has been part of the problem. There has been a propensity to wed the PRINCIPLES found in Catholic social teaching with the APPLICATIONS of a time past. ...

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