One week after the October 1995 visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States, about one million Catholics received a letter from a new organization known as the Catholic Alliance. Using words from the pontiff as an introduction, the letter invited Catholics to join in "a fight with the radical Left for the soul of our great nation."
According to the letter, the avowed enemy is made up of interest groups on the Left, including "militant homosexuals, radical feminists, and Big Government liberals." All of these groups, the letter stated, have "powerful organizations advancing their point of view in government."
The Catholic Alliance claims to be the largest affiliate of the 1.6 million member Christian Coalition. According to its literature, it exists to assure America's 50 million Catholics that their voices will be heard by government; to represent Catholics in local, state, and national governments; and to protest unfair and biased treatment of Catholics by the media.
Although it claims to be Catholic, the Catholic Alliance often goes against church teaching. While it agrees with the U.S. Catholic bishops on the issue of abortion, the Catholic Alliance parts ways with the bishops' stances on many other issues. The alliance does not support an earned income tax credit, supports balanced budget legislation that would slash social spending, proposes harsh immigration policies, and supports capital punishment.
Despite the outreach efforts of the Catholic Alliance, a number of Catholic individuals and organizations have publicly distanced themselves from the alliance. Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia (home of the national headquarters of the Christian Coalition), wrote to all parishes of the danger of allowing the church's agenda to be captured by any outside group and mentioning the Christian Coalition by name. Albany (New York) Bishop Howard Hubbard acknowledged contrary positions taken by the alliance and warned of the danger of distributing its voting materials.
In January, Bishops J. Francis Stafford, Arthur Tafoya, and Richard Hanifen co-authored a letter to all dioceses in Colorado stating in no uncertain terms that the Catholic Alliance does not represent the Catholic Church. The U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) and Pax Christi USA have decried the partisan approach of the alliance.
THE MODUS OPERANDI of the Catholic Alliance is no stranger to our society today. In fact, we see it all too often, especially among politicians. It is a strategy of creating fear in people, of making them feel that their security is so threatened that they must do something to protect themselves.
The Catholic Church, like many churches, is vulnerable to the tactics of the Catholic Alliance. An especially vulnerable group of Catholics is the post-Vatican II generation, which has grown up amidst a church in transition. More than any single group of Catholics, they feel out of touch with a church that often speaks a foreign pre-Vatican II language. We are a church hungry for answers and for someone to shine a clear light to dispel the murkiness of these times.
In this vulnerable environment, Ralph Reed's strategy to market the Catholic Alliance as a "way for Catholics to have a place that they can call home politically" is seductive indeed. Wouldn't we like to have a place where our faith can feel at home with politics?
As Christians, however, we have chosen a faith that calls us not to be comfortable but to be prophetic. Catholics have a rich-albeit little known-body of documents known as Catholic social teaching, which helps to guide us as we enter the political arena. This year the USCC has published Political Responsibility: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life, Protecting the Least Among Us, and Pursuing the Common Good, which summarizes the bishops' positions on a wide variety of election-year issues and calls us to evaluate politics in the light of faith.
This document has created quite a stir in the Catholic world. It has already sold more than 100,000 copies and is being used in parishes around the country. The document lifts up the core of Catholic social teaching-which makes an option for the poor, just as Jesus did.
The emergence of the Catholic Alliance and the Christian Coalition itself requires all of us who call ourselves Christian, yet find ourselves misrepresented by them, to stand up and profess our faith with a boldness and an integrity greater than we've ever done in the past. If we dare to call ourselves Christians, then we must profess the same prophetic faith that turned the political tables during the time of Jesus and led him to the cross.
NANCY SMALL is executive director of Pax Christi USA in Erie, Pennsylvania.