Ever since Republican presidential candidate George W.Bush made his blundering trip to Bob Jones University, a bastion ofanti-Catholic bias, Republicans have been falling all over themselvestrying to prove their Catholic bona fides.In one of the most visible attempts to regain lost ground on theCatholic front, House Speaker Dennis Hastert reversed an earlierdecision to appoint a Protestant minister as the new House chaplain and,for the first time in history, named a Catholic priest for the job.The new chaplain, the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, seems to be a Republicansympathizer. One of his first acts was to be the preacher at a Masssponsored by the Republican National Committee. According to newsreports, the subject of his sermon was abolishing the tax code by 2004,a Republican-sponsored effort.Perhaps less well known is another campaign in the Republicans'Catholic crusade, the re-establishment within the Republican NationalCommittee of a Catholic Task Force, a group peopled by conservatives andanti-abortion leaders such as former Secretary of State Alexander Haig;Mary Cunningham Agee of the Nurturing Network and Women Affirming Life;and Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas; Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.; and Sen.Rick Santorum, R-Pa.The group's mission statement claims God is on its side with thesetriumphant words: "We have studied the political record of all majorpolitical parties and we believe that the Republican Party is closest tothe teachings of the Catholic Church."If you are wondering how, beyond the issue of abortion, RepublicanParty positions comport with positions articulated by the U.S. Catholicbishops, you are not alone. More than 20 years ago, former Notre DameUniversity President Theodore Hesburgh noted that those Catholics whomade opposition to legal abortion their political priority would findthemselves supporting candidates who disagreed with 95% of thechurch's social justice agenda.The RNC's Catholic Task Force demonstrates that Hesburgh's statementstill rings true.Where in the Republican platform, for example, is the commitment toalleviating poverty, to demilitarization, to affirmative action, or tothat other human-life issue, ending capital punishment?
In fact, Republican Party positions--as laid out in the partyplatform--are on numerous specific subjects diametrically opposed toCatholic positions as laid out by the bishops.The bishops, for example, urge a "more generous immigration policy."The GOP calls for tougher anti-immigration policies. The bishops urgespecial concern for the poor and vulnerable. The GOP calls for timelimits on welfare recipients. The bishops urge reform of the health caresystem "rooted in values that respect human dignity." The GOP calls forgreater reliance on medical savings accounts, an untested, free-markettool for health insurance provision.These incongruities are lost in the real business of the CatholicTask Force, which is less about Catholics teachings and more aboutelecting Republicans. It says so right on its website: "The CatholicTask Force is a leadership of dedicated lay Catholic Republicans whosemission is to influence the Catholic vote in favor of Republicancandidates in 2000."Task Force Chairman Thomas Melady noted the group is "focusing onthe 26 key states where a swing Catholic vote can make a difference."
We can hope the U.S. bishops will repudiate the task force and pointout that to the extent God speaks politically, she is on the side of thepoor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, without regard for politicalparty affiliation. Hardly a description of the Republican, or, for thatmatter, the Democratic Party, these days.