Catholic World News News Feature

Why dioceses ban the Voter's Guide October 31, 2004

In at least three dioceses around the country, the Catholic Answers Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics has fallen victim to bureaucratic fears and possible conflicts of interest.

The guide has been publicly banned in three dioceses: LaCrosse, Wisconsin, San Bernardino, California, and St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota. The official reason given is that it would jeopardize the dioceses’ tax-exempt status. But in at least two of those dioceses, there are questions about the objectivity of the diocesan attorneys.

[Editor's note: Please see this follow-up story for an update from Wisconsin, where, after the posting of this CWN exclusive, the La Crosse diocesan attorney recused himself from future involvement in such cases.]

In the Diocese of San Bernardino, Wilfred Lemann of the law firm Fullerton, Lemann, Schaefer & Dominick, has counseled against the Guide’s distribution. In the Diocese of La Crosse, diocesan attorney James Birnbaum of Marcou, Birnbaum, Seymour & Colgan has done the same thing. Both Lemann and Birnbaum, according to public records, have given significant amounts of money to pro-abortion politicians.

In 1999, Lemann donated $900 to Congressman Joe Baca’s campaign in a special election. In the 2000 regular election, he contributed another $1,250 to Baca. Since getting to Congress, Baca, a Democrat, has voted against making it a crime to harm a fetus in the commission of another crime and against the human cloning ban, among other things.

Also in 2000, Lemann contributed $500 to Senator Diane Feinstein’s campaign. And this year, he contributed $500 to former US Secretary of the Treasury Rosario Marin’s campaign against Senator Barbara Boxer. While Marin is a Republican, she is also pro-abortion.

Lemann could not be reached for comment. Father Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, told that the diocese was unaware of Lemann’s contributions. He had no further comments.

The San Bernardino diocesan official who actually issued an October 6 memo banning the distribution of Catholic Answers' Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics has donated $500 to an anti-Bush political action committee, according to records released by the Federal Election Commission. Jeanette Arnquist, director of the office of social concerns for the nation's 11th-largest diocese (with 1,000,000 Catholics), donated $500 to MoveOn PAC on August 4. The political action committee seeks the defeat of President Bush and the election of Senator John Kerry. In helping website visitors to evaluate candidates, MoveOn PAC offers links to six external sites, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Planned Parenthood Political Action Fund.

The story is similar for Birnbaum, the attorney in La Crosse. In the 2000, 2002, and 2004 campaigns, he gave $2,000 each year to Congressman Ron Kind, a pro-abortion Democrat. Kind voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban and has consistently voted against all other pro-life bills. He has a 100 percent voting record from NARAL.

Birnbaum has also contributed to several other Wisconsin pro-abortion political figures, most of whom have received endorsements from NARAL and Planned Parenthood. These include US Senator Russell Feingold, Governor James Doyle, Chief Justice Shirley Armstrong, and state Rep. Jennifer Schilling of La Crosse (who is Catholic).

Birnbaum did not return calls seeking comment. Officials from the Diocese of La Crosse also declined to comment. The diocese has been without a bishop since January, when then-Bishop Raymond Burke was sent to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Birnbaum has been the diocesan attorney for many years, long before Bishop Burke was assigned there in 1995. Sources close to the situation told CWNews that Archbishop Burke was unaware of Birnbaum’s political contributions.

What makes this case particularly difficult is the fact that Archbishop Burke has been the most outspoken of the American bishops on the issue of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. While serving in La Cross he issued a notification that these politicians were not to receive Communion until they had publicly recanted their position. CWNews was told that state Rep. Schilling was a possible undisclosed recipient of an admonitory letter from Bishop Burke before he was sent to St. Louis"

Birnbaum was also a lead attorney for a group that wanted to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from a public park in La Crosse. He is a member of and lector at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman.

A search of public records for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis’ law firm, Meier, Kennedy & Quinn, did not turn up any contributions to any political candidate since 2000. The reasons for that archdiocese banning the Catholic Answers Guide have more to do with ecclesiastical politics than with secular politics.

Dennis McGrath, the archdiocesan spokesman, said they “felt that document was too one-sided.” “You can only read the document and come to one conclusion,” he said, citing concerns over the archdiocese’s tax status.

However, a full-page ad in the October 25 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press carried the Voters’ Guide. There are some parishes that are distributing the guide despite the archdiocesean ban.