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Support the best candidate, not the Catholic one

Joe Licandro | Wednesday, April 7, 2004

In his April 6 letter to the editor, Tom Coffey argues that American Catholics should support Catholic politicians, particularly the Presidential election campaign of Democratic candidate John Kerry. As if pooling all American Catholics into one single voting bloc were not a stretch in and of itself, Coffey goes on to make the connection that by virtue of Kerry’s nomination and a few potential Catholic running mates, the Democratic party is somehow more in line with the values of Catholic Americans. Such an assertion could not be any further from the truth.Throughout his four terms as senator from Massachusetts, Kerry has proven himself to be one of the strongest abortion rights advocates in the country. In this respect, American Catholics could not elect a more un-Catholic President than Kerry.Just a few weeks ago, Kerry took a break from the campaign trail to fly to Washington to vote against a bill that makes it a separate federal crime to harm a fetus during an assault on the mother. It is difficult to see how anyone could vote against this bill, especially considering the ongoing Scott Peterson murder trial. As it stands now, Peterson can only be tried for murdering his pregnant wife Laci and not the 8-month-old fetus living inside her who was to be named Conner. Despite the tragedy of Laci Peterson’s death, opponents of the bill feared that its passage might later lead to erosions of reproductive rights, particularly partial-birth abortions. Whether or not partial-birth abortions eventually are banned in this country remains to be seen. But regardless of this potential outcome, there is no political, legal or moral justification for Kerry and his 37 fellow Senate democrats who voted against this bill. Thankfully, the Senate, on the heels of overwhelming Republican support, passed this legislation, with President Bush officially signing it into law Friday in front of Laci Peterson’s appreciative family.It is no surprise that the Council of American Catholic Bishops applauded President Bush for signing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as Laci and Conner’s Law. It is also no surprise that the Council has refused to endorse Kerry. And that many of them, as an article in last week’s edition of “Time” suggests, are torn on whether to even offer Kerry communion as he parades around pre-dominantly Catholic cities like Cleveland and Milwaukee, allowing the media to cover his visits to church in his attempts to curry the Catholic vote.In truth, Kerry’s Catholicism or lack of it should not play a role at all in the minds of voters. In another article from last week’s “Time,” the Senator himself went on record in saying, “We have a strict separation of Church and state in this country. I will be a President who happens to be Catholic, not a Catholic President.”To this end, Kerry could not be more correct. For the same reason it is ridiculous to suggest that African-Americans should only vote for African-Americans or that Hispanics should only vote for Hispanics, Catholics, and all other Americans, for that matter, should not elect a candidate just because he or she happens to be a member of their religious faith. Only when a candidate’s faith may be detrimental to his or her ability to lead should it be a reason not to vote for him or her (for example, a Jewish candidate who advocated Israeli encroachment into Palestinian territory, or a Muslim candidate who refused to condemn and fight against Islamic terrorism).Faith is a private matter and should be kept that way in elections. Kerry, ever the walking contradiction, has refused to adhere to the standard which he espouses. While campaigning in November in Florida, the senator attempted to woo Jewish voters by claiming he had a special bond with them on account of a Boston Globe article that discovered the candidate’s paternal grandparents were of Jewish origin but later converted to Catholicism upon immigrating to the United States. In a reference to the atrocities of World War II, Kerry told his audience, “Had leaders seen the world differently when there was cause to see it differently, life might have been different. We understand – and I say we, because I recently learned of my own ties to the Jewish faith, a hundred years ago, which opens a whole new door, a window of connection.”As controversial as these comments were, Kerry stooped to a new low two weeks ago when he made a Biblical reference in a speech at the New Northwest Baptist Church in St. Louis. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but doesn’t have works,” Kerry said, quoting James 2:14. “When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?”If certain Catholics want to vote for Kerry, that is their right. But they should not do so because he attends Catholic Mass. Along these same lines, if Americans of any faith want to vote for Kerry, that is their right. But do so for his policies, not his shameless attempts to exploit religion.

Joe Licandro is a senior political science major. His column usually appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at jlicandr@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.