Kerry’s stance may risk November race

Everyone from political conservatives to archbishops have criticized Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for his stance on abortion.

Kerry's strong pro-choice stance and its incongruity with the teachings of the Catholic Church has some political theorists speculating on whether or not that would lose him the Catholic vote — a significant section of voting Americans. In the past thirty years, every candidate who has won the Catholic vote, roughly one third of the voting population, has won the presidency.

Concerns from the Church came to a head when Kerry — the likely Democratic nominee and potentially the first Catholic president in 44 years — was visiting Saint Louis during the Missouri primaries. Archbishop Raymond Burke, former bishop of La Crosse, was quoted as saying he would deny Eucharist to John Kerry because of his voting record. Burke took a similar stance on politicians in La Crosse when he was still bishop there.

"Burke said he would not give him communion but he would probably give him a blessing," said Jim Orso, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. "That sound bite has been dogging us ever since."

Orso said that after that initial comment, Burke has said nothing about Kerry or voting to the archdiocese. Other members of the Catholic clergy have expressed concern over Kerry as well.

Megan Toal-Rossi, president of Students for Kerry at Marquette, said that many people were misinterpreting Kerry's pro-choice stance.

"A lot of people have claimed that John Kerry is pro-abortion," Toal-Rossi said. "He's not for abortion, he's in support of the constitutional right of a woman to choose."

Toal-Rossi emphasized that Kerry's understanding of the issues was based more on his uncompromising support of women's rights than a support for the practice of abortion. She also said that she thought Kerry's strong support for the needs of the middle and lower class made him a candidate that Catholic voters could easily support.

Toal-Rossi also said that she was rarely approached or questioned by people concerned with Kerry's voting record and his Catholic faith during the primary season.

"The only time I can really remember it coming up was when Cam Kerry (John Kerry's brother) came to campus the Friday before the (Wisconsin) primaries," Toal-Rossi said. "He was in the union and a lot of people were asking him about his faith and how that influenced him."

Daniel Suhr, a freshman and president of Students for Bush, said he believes Bush was an excellent candidate for Catholic voters to support.

"Recent studies have shown that the more you go to Mass, the more likely you are to vote Republican," Suhr said. "Also Bush has done a lot of outreach to Hispanic voters who tend to be Roman Catholic."

However, Bush isn't immune to criticism. In 2000, Bush was criticized in Catholic media outlets for his association with conservative religious groups and leaders who were known for anti-Catholic sentiments, such as Bob Jones.

Belden, Russenullo and Stewart, an independent poling company conducted a survey of Catholic voters in December of 2000, "Winning the Catholic Vote: Attitudes of Catholic Voters on Politics and the Church." Their findings showed Catholic voters put less of a focus on Church teachings than assumed. They found that only one in 10 polled said they felt strongly against abortion enough to vote against a candidate who supported it. The study claimed that the common concerns of the Catholic voter were more focused.

"When Catholic voters think of government and politics most do not look to the Church for guidance," the report said. "To understand the Catholic vote in America, do not look in the Church bulletin, but in the concerns of voters at supermarket lines, PTA meetings, doctors' offices and around the dinner table."

The Rev. Stephen Torraco wrote a document called "A Brief Catechism for Catholic Voters" which discussed what he believed were important stances for Catholic voters to take. He claimed it is a mortal sin to vote for a candidate who supports abortion and that Catholic voters must be "one issue voters."

"You must sacrifice your feelings on all other issues because you know that you cannot participate in any way in an approval of a violent and evil violation of basic human right to life," Torraco said in the document.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out with a number of resources for Catholic voters and politicians called Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility. In a statement from the bishops, they highlighted important issues for Catholic voters to consider: living wage, adequate housing, foreign policy, health care and dignity of life issues. While abortion was addressed in the statement, it was one of many other topics addressed and the statement does not address whether or not it is a mortal sin to vote for pro-choice candidates.

The USCCB specifically addressed the issue of political partisanship in its statement.

"As an institution, we are called to be political but not partisan. The Church cannot be a chaplain for any one party or cheerleader for any candidate," said the USCCB in "Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility."

"Our cause is the protection of the weak and vulnerable and defense of human life and dignity, not a particular party or candidate."