Catholic voter guide released
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Catholic voter guide released

Date: October 30, 2006
By: Lucie Wolken
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A week before the November elections, a national Catholic organization released a voters' guide for voters across the country.

The guide was issued Monday by Catholics United for the Common Good, a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan organization. The guide lists general issues followed by the stance of the Bishops Conference followed by the respective positions of Talent and McCaskill on issues ranging from abortion and capital punishment to climate change and social justice.  Included on the site is a voting guide quiz to indicate where a voter's views align with the two candidates.

Missouri's Catholic Conference has lobbied strongly in the state legislature for a ban on stem cell research and restrictions on abortion.  It also has opposed the death penalty.  The St. Louis area archbishop, the Rev. Raymond Burke, has warned that public officials supporting abortion rights risked ex-communication.

According to Finsel, however, Catholics United is concerned only with making sure Catholic voters have accurate information. 

The information included on the website was compiled by a small staff that stationed outside of Boston.  Chris Korzen, Executive Director of Catholics United, called the organization "a group of concerned Catholics."  They release voting guides for all states concerned with the mid-term election, not just Missouri.  The guide does not endorse candidates, only reports their positions on selected issues.

"[We] want to make sure that the message of our church is included in the public debate about religion and politics," Korzen said.  "In order to understand why our organization needs to exist you really need to put this in the context of what we have seen in the past couple of years when folks have really tried to use the teachings of a number of different faiths to push through political agendas that in some cases are not consonant with the teachings of those churches."

Catholics United for the Common Good has been working on the project for the past couple of months researching available public research such as official candidates websites, questionnaires, and newspaper articles, according to Christy Finsel, board member of the organization.  It was created in August 2004 in response to the presidential race between Kerry and Bush. 

Finsel said her organization wanted to look at issues beyond those raised in the campaigns.

"Issues of war, poverty, and caring for those most vulnerable are pro-life issues."  said Christy Finsel, board member of Catholics United.  "If we are really talking about respecting our life it means that we want to be talking about a number of issues when we go to the polls and when we are informing our conscience."

Issues Finsel says are of essence include adequate health care, living wages, educational opportunities, affordable housing and a clean environment  as well as issues of war, peace and poverty.

"They are all issues that are very much central to what it means to be a person of faith and a person who is voting with an informed conscience," Finsel said.   

The Bishops Conference, an organization of all the Catholic bishops in the United States,  recognized 51 issues they thought were important to voters when casting their vote.  Faithful Citizenship, a comprehensive guide to Catholic voters, includes issues not as widely publicized as stem-cell research and abortion rights.  While the Bishops conference does publicize the church's teachings concerning certain issues, they are careful to stay away from endorsement of any kind, according to Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the Bishops Conference.

"Our armistice is always promoting policies not politicians, principles not people," Walsh said. 

Korzen and Catholics United follow the same principle.

"We are not angeling for any one candidates, we are not even saying that Catholics should vote for any one candidate," Korzen said.  "What we are saying is that they should inform their conscience on all the issues important in Catholic social teaching and not base their vote on any one of those issues but a more informed calculus that's aimed toward promoting the common good -- the central message of Catholic teachings."   

The Bishops Conference is responsible for compiling church documents, establishing official positions, and in general managing the church as an institution in the United States, according to Korzen. They have a staff in Washington. 

While the website sponsored by Catholics United includes the official stance of the Bishops Conference, the Conference does not officially endorse the website or the organization.  Despite their lack of endorsement, Walsh says that the organization is pleased that the Catholic message is promoted.

"We certainly want church teachings, bishops documents to be promoted thoroughly and hopefully in context," Walsh said. 

"There have been third party organizations who have sought to use the Catholic vote or Catholic teaching in order to strong arm Catholics into voting for specific candidates," Korzen said.  "We also believe that is wrong."  

The voter's guide is available at http://mo.votingcatholic.org/