by Gail Quinn
October 27, 2000
About two weeks before the November elections a project called Catholics Speak Out had a full-page ad in the New York Times. The ad was co-sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice group, and the headline blared: "An Open Letter to Candidates for Office From Roman Catholic Voters." What followed would be, I expected, a message from Catholics registered to vote.
Among the signers is someone from the Unitarian Church, a Mennonite pastor, and a bishop from the American Catholic Church. Roman Catholics registered to vote? Most of the names were unknown to me, but there were a number of priests and a lot of nuns who signed on. Then there were the group: Dignity chapters; groups of religious--e.g., Sisters of the Holy Cross, the National Coalition of American Nuns, Sisters of St. Joseph/Buffalo, Women's Ordination Conference, etc. Are groups registered to vote?
A few weeks earlier, the Quixote Center, a Maryland-based group that spearheads Catholics Speak Out, contacted people, asking them to sign onto the ad -- and kick in at least $35 each. There was no mention that the ad was being co-sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), even though the ad's language concerning abortion is right out of CFFC's guide to politically correct soundbites.
The ad says people "need to know what [they, the signers] think" because they agree with the bishops on some matters but not all. They oppose school vouchers for children in school districts that are doing poorly, but want "access to quality public education for all our children" [emphasis added.] They want emergency contraceptives "available to women and men here and in poor countries." I think it more likely that those who signed this statement need basic information: "emergency contraception" is the catch-phrase for drugs given to women after intercourse to make it impossible for the human embryo to nest in the lining of the uterus. I suppose a man could swallow the pills-- but doesn't anybody proof-read any more?
Elections tend to make political junkies just a little crazy. Hype and hyperbole become the order of the day and embarrassingly silly statements like demanding that men have access to "emergency contraception" here and abroad, spew forth. And I suppose people are expected to see an ad like this, grasp the big print and if their interest is piqued read the medium-sized print; reading the small print is not expected--just say "wow, what a lot of people signed this." You are not supposed to notice the ad is a sham. It is not a message from Catholics registered to vote. No doubt such persons are included. But the headline is intentionally deceiving: "An Open Letter to Candidates for Office From Roman Catholic Voters," if its sponsors were candid, should read: an open letter to candidates for office from some dissenting Roman Catholic, Unitarian, Mennonite and American Catholic voters, as well as a number of groups. But then, that's not catchy.
The elections before us at all levels--presidential, state and local--are too important to discuss in meaningless soundbites. Each of us needs to beware of messages intended to deceive, see through attempts to curry favor with one group or another, and vote with consciences formed by the teaching of the Church.
Gail Quinn is Executive Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops.