'Homeless' Catholics, defying partisan labels, meet in Washington

The annual Woodstock for Catholic social justice geeks, the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, opened this morning with a keynote address from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Director of the Office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development John Carr. The meeting convenes representatives from a gamut of Catholic institutions such as Catholic Relief Services, the USCCB, Catholic Charities USA, and more in a conference part workshop and part lobbying opportunity.

Carr launched the full gathering on February 25 with a sometimes sardonic take on political life in America, armed with his usual mixture of wit, insight, and one-liner retreads that managed to keep this crowd of long time admirers entertained.

As a new presidential election cycle gets well under way, Carr admitted to once again feeling “homeless” as a contemporary Catholic grappling with America’s two party reality. “We are neither Democratic nor Republican; we don’t fit on a bumper sticker.”

Demanding that U.S. political leaders, “focus more on the pursuit of the common good than the demands of lobbyists,” Carr said, “The poor are still missing in a good deal of [political] discussion.”

While abortion rights persists as the litmus test of authenticity for the Democratic Party and the Republican Party’s candidate talks of war without end and glibly threatens to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” Carr told his audience, peace and justice advocates from dioceses and parishes around the country, that neither party reflects all the church’s positions. Catholics are nevertheless morally called to involve themselves actively in the nation’s political life, remembering that “we need to be engaged, not used.”

“We all know politically correct Christians and the religious right that is more right than it is religious.”

As in election's past, both parties will aggressively seek to persuade Catholics across to their side of the aisle. “The Catholic vote is important, but it’s not monolithic.” Forty percent, according to Carr, are dependable Democrats, and another 40 percent are dependable Republicans. “That other 20 percent is what’s being fought over and that 20 percent can determine the election.”

Reminding his audience that the church stands for both the unborn and the undocumented, the uninsured and the condemned, school vouchers and free market fixes that work toward the common good, Carr said that the message these Catholic advocates take to Washington this week was bound to be outside of mainstream political categorization. He also reminded them that their vote in the upcoming election was not held hostage to one or two issues, but should reflect the outcome of a thought and prayerful examination of conscience. “We don’t need a Catholic Pat Robertson or Jesse Jackson telling people how to vote.”

What politically engaged Catholics from both parties need to do is to ask their candidates some tough questions: “Will the unborn be protected? Will the poor be lifted up? Will our children be able to compete in the future?” These are issues that transcend party affiliations, Carr said.

“If we present what the church preaches, no one can accuse us of being partisan or shilling for either party.”—Kevin Clarke

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