Ever since Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush made his blundering trip to Bob Jones University, a bastion of anti-Catholic bias, Republicans have been falling all over themselves trying to prove their Catholic bona fides. In one of the most visible attempts to regain lost ground on the Catholic front, House Speaker Dennis Hastert reversed an earlier decision 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 Republican sympathizer. One of his first acts was to be the preacher at a Mass sponsored by the Republican National Committee. According to news reports, 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 National Committee of a Catholic Task Force, a group peopled by conservatives and anti-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 these triumphant words: "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."
If you are wondering how, beyond the issue of abortion, Republican Party positions comport with positions articulated by the U.S. Catholic bishops, you are not alone. More than 20 years ago, former Notre Dame University President Theodore Hesburgh noted that those Catholics who made opposition to legal abortion their political priority would find themselves supporting candidates who disagreed with 95% of the church's social justice agenda. The RNC's Catholic Task Force demonstrates that Hesburgh's statement still rings true. Where in the Republican platform, for example, is the commitment to alleviating poverty, to demilitarization, to affirmative action, or to that other human-life issue, ending capital punishment? In fact, Republican Party positions--as laid out in the party platform--are on numerous specific subjects diametrically opposed to Catholic 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 urge special concern for the poor and vulnerable. The GOP calls for time limits on welfare recipients. The bishops urge reform of the health care system "rooted in values that respect human dignity." The GOP calls for greater reliance on medical savings accounts, an untested, free-market tool for health insurance provision. These incongruities are lost in the real business of the Catholic Task Force, which is less about Catholics teachings and more about electing Republicans. It says so right on its website: "The Catholic Task Force is a leadership of dedicated lay Catholic Republicans whose mission is to influence the Catholic vote in favor of Republican candidates in 2000." Task Force Chairman Thomas Melady noted the group is "focusing on the 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 point out that to the extent God speaks politically, she is on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, without regard for political party affiliation. Hardly a description of the Republican, or, for that matter, the Democratic Party, these days.

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