Catholic Conundrum: What's an Anti-Abortion, Pro-Immigrant Voter to Do?

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Marriage, as defined by various religious institutions (a union between one man and one woman), is one of those teachings.

"We Catholics have an obligation to exercise our faith in all we do," he said into the camera, his voice deliberate and convincing, much like a politician in a campaign ad. "I urge you to vote yes for marriage. Yes on Prop 102. God bless you."

Olmsted emphasizes that abortions are just as unholy as daring to defile the sanctity of marriage.

"It should be emphasized . . . other issues, such as abortion or euthanasia, are always wrong and do not allow for the correct use of prudential judgment to justify them. It would never be proper for Catholics to be on the opposite side of these issues," he writes in Catholic in the Public Square, a 45-page guide for parishioners.

And he also writes that politicians are "cooperating in a grave sin" if they are "actively supporting and furthering the culture of death . . . [voting to] allow for abortions and even promote abortions."

The unwavering views — and political pressure — may explain why a Catholic such as GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan drafted a law that allowed for abortions only in cases of "forcible rape." He co-wrote the bill with Todd Akin, the Republican congressman from Missouri who earlier this summer infamously suggested a woman's body can keep her from getting pregnant during a "legitimate rape."

Such a blending of religion, social issues, and politics culminating in laws that reflect and preserve church doctrine — from any church — is what gave the nation pause in 1960, when Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, won the presidency. Questions arose about whether he would simply do the pope's bidding as president.

"I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me," Kennedy reassured a group of ministers while stumping in Texas.

When Pope Paul VI established the Phoenix diocese in 1969 (geographically, the diocese includes Maricopa, Mohave, Yavapai, and Coconino counties, and the Gila River Indian Reservation in Pinal County), membership numbered about 180,000 Catholics.

Today, about 25 percent of Arizona residents, about 950,000, call themselves Catholic. And the diocese has no problem throwing its weight around.

Olmsted wrote a letter in January to Phoenix-area Catholics blasting portions of "Obamacare," the Affordable Care Act requiring all employers' insurance policies to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

Priests read the letter at Catholic masses across the Valley.

Olmsted urged Catholics to learn more about the "severe assault on religious liberty" and to support legislation that would reverse the mandate.

The church also easily navigated the Arizona Legislature, where Representative Debbie Lesko, a Republican, sponsored a measure that essentially protected churches and religiously affiliated employers from having to include birth control and related services in their insurance plans.

And yet, members are not always in lockstep with the church.

Despite the bishops' consternation over birth control mandates, 82 percent of Catholics believe that birth control is morally acceptable, compared to 90 percent of non-Catholics, according to a Gallup poll conducted in May.

Linell E. Cady, director of Arizona State University's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, says, "Many Catholics are deeply distressed about bishops calling for religious liberty on this issue. As polls show, Catholics use contraception. And they themselves are puzzled over the hierarchy using religious liberty to take away their [personal] religious liberty."

Mitt Romney already may have sealed the Mormon vote in Arizona — which is about 14 percent of the state's electorate — but that easily could be offset here by the massive grass-roots push by community activists like Promise Arizona in Action, Team Awesome, labor unions, and the Democratic Party to register thousands of new Latino voters. The idea is that those voters would favor Obama.

The wild card: Many are Catholic. And that's nothing to sneeze at.

According to the May Gallup poll, Catholics make up nearly one out of every four voters across the United States. As a voting bloc, Catholics also have carried both Republican and Democratic presidents into the White House, including Democrat Jimmy Carter, Republican Ronald Reagan, Republican George H.W. Bush, and Democrat Bill Clinton.

Catholic News Service reported in the 2008 Obama-McCain race that although church members as a whole voted for Obama, McCain received a higher percentage of the Catholic vote in states where bishops instructed members to "vote only for candidates of the party that supports overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo