Thursday, November 02, 2006

USCCB: No Guides from Outside

Here's the latest from the Religion News Service wire.... With five days out 'til Election '06, the story from RNS writer Dan Burke might help clarify a thing or two:
Voter guides produced by outside groups can present political and legal trouble and should not be distributed by Catholic parishes, U.S. bishops warn.

With the Nov. 7 midterm elections fast approaching, Catholics and other Christians have passed out millions of voter guides purporting to demonstrate the correct approach to candidates and issues.

The guides, which often resemble scorecards that rate candidates on various social and political issues, may be ``influenced by a partisan agenda'' and could cause ``legal entanglements'' for Catholic parishes, Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore wrote in a private letter to fellow bishops.

Although bishops may determine their own policies in their dioceses, the prohibition was sent from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and unanimously approved by the bishops' Pro-Life Committee, which Keeler heads. Religion News Service obtained a copy of the Oct. 5 letter.

``The Pro-Life Committee discussed this issue at length, and concluded that the wisest course in these situations _ from the standpoint of maintaining the integrity of our teaching, as well as that of avoiding legal entanglements _ is to urge parishes not to distribute voter educational materials that are not authorized and distributed by the diocese, the state Catholic conference or this Conference,'' Keeler wrote....

Groups producing voter education materials in 2006 have included Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, the National Coalition of American Nuns, Catholics United for the Common Good, Catholic Answers Action, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Priests for Life and the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK.

A handful of non-Catholic groups from across the theological and political spectrum have produced voting guides this year as well....

Because Catholic churches are nonprofit entities, they may not endorse or otherwise publicly support political candidates without risking their tax exemptions. They are also limited in the extent to which they can lobby on a particular issue.

But not all groups that produce voter guides are careful about the nonprofit rules. James Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., said one Christian group asked for help distributing guides in churches. He grew alarmed when he saw that the guide encouraged pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit.

``That's not cool in the church. The Catholic Church does not endorse candidates,'' Goodness said. He said he could not recall the name of the Christian group.

Jimmy Akin, who claimed his San Diego-based group, Catholic Answers Action, will produce between 1 million and 6 million voter guides this year, said that he had not seen Keeler's letter and could not comment.

His group's ``Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics'' proclaims ``five non-negotiable issues'' -- abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and homosexual marriage -- that are ``intrinsically evil'' and must be opposed. The group encourages Catholics to hand its guide out after Mass, try to place it in church bulletins and offer it in parish literature racks.

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has produced about 1 million copies of its voter guide, ``Voting for the Common Good,'' according to executive director Alexia Kelley. Instead of a ``simple `litmus test' of a few selected issues,'' the alliance's guide seeks to present a Catholic approach to a broader range of issues, including poverty, war and the environment.

Kelley said Keeler's letter was ``a victory for Catholics eager to hear the fullness of church teaching.''

``We were concerned that accurate church teaching had been eclipsed in the past by more partisan guides, so we welcome this,'' Kelley said.
And there you have it.