Catholics Organize to Elect Barack Obama

Deal W. Hudson
April 2, 2008

► Note: This column has been corrected, 7:30pm, Thursday, April 3, 2008. See letter following this column.

Lately, there’s been much talk about the endorsements for Sen. Barack Obama made by two Catholic leaders: Republican pro-life jurist Doug Kmiec and Democratic pro-life Senator Bob Casey Jr.of Pennsylvania.

But these endorsements are just the tip of the iceberg. A well-organized effort is advancing behind the scenes to create a coalition of Catholics – dissatisfied with the Iraq War, angry toward George W. Bush, and pushing “social justice” issues – to win the Catholic vote in November 2008.

To know who the players are in the Catholic push for Obama, one has only to look at a brochure for “The Convention for the Common Good” to be held in Philadelphia during July 11-13. Organizers have already invited both presidential candidates to speak to what they estimate to be 600 attendees.

The brains behind the convention are Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and NETWORK, a national Catholic social-justice lobby. Sponsors include a who’s who of progressive Catholic organizations: Pax Christi, USA; Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns; Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities; Catholic United; Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice; and the University of San Francisco, Lane Center for Catholic Social Thought. (Also listed as a sponsor is the AFL-CIO.)

The goal of the convention is “to move politics beyond selfishness and division to the common good.” The convention will propose and ratify a “Platform for the Common Good” and ask the candidates, presumably Senators Obama and McCain, to sign it. The final morning of the three-day meeting, they will discuss how to “mobilize for action for Election 2008.”

The convention Web site invites attendees to “come help build a platform that addresses many of the pressing social justice issues of the day – health care, poverty, economic justice, immigration, global warming, and promoting a culture of life.”

Look for Catholics in Alliance with the Common Good to take a leading role in gathering Catholic support for Obama. Led by co-founder Alexia Kelley, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, CACG has been steadily gaining visibility since its founding in 2004. Kelley worked for nearly ten years at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the USCCB. Like her, the other seven staff members are impressively credentialed for their tasks.

It’s clear that Catholics in Alliance with the Common Good maintains close ties to the Democratic Party and the USCCB, where Kelley and one other staffer used to work.

The other organizer of the July convention is NETWORK, a Catholic organization founded in 1971 by 47 sisters to lobby Congress and “strive to close the gap between rich and poor and to dismantle policies rooted in racism, greed, and violence.” NETWORK claims to represent 100,000 people and declares some of its issue priorities to be economic equity, global peace and security, reordering budget priorities, and Hurricane Katrina recovery.

NETWORK does not lobby Congress on the non-negotiable life issues, however. It is listed on the “Roman Catholics for Obama” Web site as giving Senator Obama a 100 percent rating “based on the organization’s assessment of 12 votes according to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver might be surprised to find that he is quoted extensively on the home page of the “Roman Catholics for Obama” Web site. It states, “We acknowledge that Senator Obama’s position on abortion is in conflict with the vision of the Church,” and then offers the following quotation from a letter by the archbishop:

So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is: ‘I can’t, and I won’t.’ But I do know some serious Catholics – people whom I admire – who may. I think their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And most important: They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up; they keep lobbying their party and their representatives to change their pro-abortion views and protect the unborn. Catholics can vote for pro-choice candidates if they vote for them despite – not because of – their pro-choice views.

“Roman Catholics for Obama” interprets Archbishop Chaput’s statement as giving them ecclesial permission to vote for a pro-abortion candidate. But they are obviously ignoring the most salient part of the state where the archbishop says, “They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up.” Chaput’s words hardly describe NETWORK advocates and, thus far, what Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is promoting. The same goes for the other sponsor organizations of the convention to be held in July.

As the presidential campaign hits its stride, the debate between Catholics will be a reprise of 2000 and 2004 – namely, whether Catholics will vote for a pro-abortion extremist who is unwilling to defend traditional marriage. The one mitigating factor of 2008 will be the ability of pro-Obama Catholics to set anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment churning among Catholic voters looking for a reason to return to the Democratic Party of their forebears.

Deal W. Hudson is the director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster, March 2008).

Following the posting of my column, I received the following letter from John Gehring pointing out an error in my piece. I have corrected it, and apologize for my mistake.

Dear Mr. Hudson,

I am writing to ask for a correction regarding your column today, “Catholics Organize to Elect Barack Obama.” In the column, you say that Alexia Kelley “raised some eyebrows by taking the job of religion outreach director at the Democratic National Committee during the Kerry campaign while still leading CACG. This is inaccurate. CACG was not even founded until after the presidential elections. In fact, Ms. Kelley was working for an environmental nonprofit organization, not as the religious outreach director, before she became executive director of CACG.

We appreciate you correcting this inaccuracy as soon as possible on your website.

Sincerely,

John Gehring
Senior Writer
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

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