Excerpted with permission fromthe National Catholic Reporter.

The Republican Party's Catholic Task Force has made a far-reaching claim: that of all political parties, the Republican Party's agenda best reflects Catholic teaching.

Specifically, in a mission statement last revised in January, the task force said, "We have studied the political record of all major political parties and we believe that the Republican Party is closest to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

The party's claims are unusually bold, given that most people who follow national politics would say that since the 1930s, the Democrats have more consistently reflected the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Further, for most of that time, the majority of the Catholic vote has gone to Democratic candidates.

If there were a change in the historic alignment between Catholics and Democrats, it would be a dramatic, surprising shift. And if Catholics believed the recent Republican claims, and voted accordingly, it could have significant electoral results.

With such results in mind, the Republican Party's National Committee chairman announced June 30 that a major outreach to Catholic voters was already underway. The chairman, Jim Nicholson, also announced that he had appointed Brian Tierney of Philadelphia to head the Republican committee's Catholic Task Force. Tierney is a powerful public relations figure with close ties to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia.

"We're shifting into high gear in our efforts to reach Catholic voters," Nicholson announced.

As researchers who have examined the religious factor in the U.S. Congress, we decided to examine the Republican claims. Our extensive analysis, which included consulting many experts on Congressional votes in relation to Catholic teaching, shows clearly that, aside from the Republican Party's anti-abortion stand, and its support for educational vouchers and funds for Catholic schools, the party's claim to best represent Catholic views is greatly exaggerated.

In virtually every other area of concern to Catholic leaders and to Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, support by Democrats in Congress for positions aligned with church teaching far outranks support by Republicans.

These areas include raising the minimum wage, housing assistance, restricting the death penalty, health insurance, increased Medicaid eligibility, patients' bill of rights, cuts in military spending and support for peacekeeping efforts.

Our analysis was based on three sources:

  • A summary of evaluations conducted by Network of roll-call votes by members of both the House and Senate, for the 104th and 105th Congresses. Assessments of how legislation relates to Catholic teaching, as determined by a group of knowledgeable Catholics whom we asked to serve as judges. We compared their assessments to roll-call votes on key issues selected by Michael Barone for his "Almanac of American Politics."

  • An examination of legislation of concern to Catholic bishops--specifically, the bishops' Office of Government Liaison, which is sponsored by the United States Catholic Conference in Washington. The conference serves as the social policy arm of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

  • Network is a voluntary association founded by Catholic women religious in 1971. The organization lobbies Congress on issues it believes to be relevant to building a just society, based on principles set forth in the Gospels and in Catholic social teaching. The organization does not lobby on abortion-related legislation. Each year, the January issue of Network's bimonthly magazine, Network Connection, contains a list of the 10 to 15 legislative issues Network is concerned about, along with the votes cast by each member of Congress on those issues.
  • For the 104th and 105th Congresses, for example, Network selected 15 or 16 pieces of legislation that it considered both important and relevant to church teachings. The results of Network's analysis overwhelmingly repudiate the contention of the Republican Catholic Task Force that the Republican Party's agenda is closer to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The evidence clearly shows that on these issues, Democrats have been closer to Catholic teachings than the Republicans.

    To illustrate, in the 104th Congress, Network opposed tax and spending cuts in HR 1215 because the cuts made the tax system even more regressive by benefiting predominately upper-income individuals and corporations. Further, Network argued that the cuts, paid for by reducing spending for domestic discretionary programs, disproportionately hurt low- and middle-income persons. Democrats opposed the cuts, supporting Network's position, while Republicans supported the cuts.

    Network took a similar position on Senate Bill 1357, opposing a move to cut $43 billion in funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit. The bill, which passed, increased the tax burden on low-income families. Again, Democrats opposed the cuts, which benefited wealthier Americans; Republicans supported them.