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Catholic World News News Feature

US bishops' lawyers reject voter guide August 26, 2004

In the wake of controversy surrounding a presidential candidate questionnaire produced by the lay staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, many Catholics have embraced an alternative voting guide issued by a Catholic apologetics organization. Though the USCCB has discouraged use of this new guide, it has been circulated by at least one major archdiocese and thousands of parishes, according to the publisher.

"Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics" is a 10-page booklet produced by Catholic Answers, a lay apostolate based in San Diego whose primary mission is defending Catholic teaching. Citing papal and Vatican documents, "Voter's Guide" identifies five issues it calls "non-negotiable": abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual "marriage." Supporting any of these issues, according to the guide, would disqualify a candidate as a viable option for a faithful Catholic.

Frank Norris, Catholic Answers' director of development, said that the guide has been very successful, citing more than a million in distribution. Norris estimates that by election day in November Catholic Answers will have distributed somewhere between 2 million to 5 million copies. Norris said the guide is being distributed by the St. Louis Archdiocese and that two more dioceses are considering distributing it. He went on to say that more than one thousand individuals have requested copies of the guide. He added that the booklet may soon receive an imprimatur from the bishop of San Diego. Even so, the booklet has faced resistance and even disapproval from the legal staff of the USCCB.

A parishioner in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis asked archdiocesan officials if he could distribute the "Voter's Guide" on church property. The archdiocese sought guidance from the USCCB, according to William Fallon, the archdiocese's chancellor, and was told they preferred that only the USCCB guide, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility," be distributed. "Faithful Citizenship," a document issued by the lay staff of the USCCB, has been criticized even within the Church for placing the paramount issue of abortion on a level playing field with other lesser issues like promoting "social justice" and "global solidarity." Bob Laird, director of the Family Life Office of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, said, "It equates abortion with debt relief. They are not equal." Critics charge that the document has had the effect of minimizing the importance of abortion in Catholic social teaching. The USCCB is also set to release its staff-produced presidential questionnaire which has faced similar charges.

Interpreting Internal Revenue Service guidelines for non-profit organizations is at the heart of the voter guide question. IRS rules insist that non-profits may not engage in active campaigning for specific candidates or political parties. Though USCCB lawyers declined repeated requests for comment, an online memo makes it clear they believe in a very strict reading of the IRS code. "Political Activity Guidelines for Catholic Organizations," a document of the USCCB's Office of the General Counsel, stresses that guides and questionnaires must cover a "wide variety of issues selected solely on the basis of their importance to the electorate as a whole." It remains to be seen whether the IRS will go after the narrow voter guide of Catholic Answers though Catholic Answers believes it is well within the law.

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