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WASHINGTON LETTER Oct-1-2004 (1,020 words) Backgrounder and analysis. With photo. xxxn

Are Republican Catholic pols treated differently from Democrats?

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The three Catholic politicians who had prominent speaking slots at the Republican National Convention this year are all supporters of legal abortion.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York Gov. George Pataki and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger all are practicing Catholics who describe themselves as "pro-choice." Each spoke at the GOP convention during televised prime time.

Yet while Catholic Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry's participation in church sacraments is regularly criticized because he supports legal abortion, Republicans with views similar to Kerry's seemed to some observers to receive far less criticism, despite their visible role at the convention.

One critic was the American Life League, which placed an advertisement in a handful of newspapers describing Schwarzenegger, Pataki and two other Republicans as part of the "Deadly Dozen" Catholics who, the ad said, should be refused Communion because of their "unrepentant support for the killing of babies in the womb." Kerry was among eight Democrats pictured in the ad.

Beyond that, criticism of the prominent role the GOP gave the three men was limited to a protest outside the convention that attracted perhaps a dozen people, according to Steven Waldman, editor in chief and co-founder of the online religion magazine Beliefnet.

"You'd think the pro-life Republicans would have been outraged" at the conspicuous roles Schwarzenegger, Pataki and Giuliani played, he said. If they were, they kept their outrage to themselves.

That's probably due to a combination of factors, said Waldman and Matt Streb, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

For one thing, "there are organizations within the Republican Party that are absolutely opposed to abortion," Streb said. "And they make sure to attack Democrats on that."

Indeed, one Web site that purports to explain Kerry's positions on issues of interest to the Catholic Church is filled with criticisms of Kerry on topics ranging from abortion to homeland security. In miniscule type at the bottom of the page is the notation that the page is paid for by the Republican National Committee.

Streb said that because the Democratic Party's leadership supports legal abortion, those Democrats who oppose abortion "certainly aren't going to do the same" and openly attack Republicans for taking a position their own party supports.

Waldman put it more bluntly.

"The Democratic Party is so clearly aligned with pro-choice organizations that Democratic activists will not organize to (criticize) pro-choice Republicans," he said. "Who in the Democratic Party would make it an issue?"

That means there's a "much smaller natural political constituency" of people without a connection to the political parties who have either the financial means or the numbers to make an issue out of Republican Catholics who act in opposition to the church's teachings on abortion, said Waldman.

This contributes to the general impression that "Republican pro-choice Catholics get a pass" when it comes to being held accountable for their political actions in the way Catholic Democrats are, Waldman said.

In addition to the American Life League, one of the most visible critics of Kerry has been the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Between July 6 and Oct. 1, the league issued 13 press releases criticizing Kerry or the Democratic Party on various topics. For the same period -- which included the Democratic and Republican conventions -- the league had no statements about President George W. Bush or about the three Catholic supporters of abortion.

Kristen Day, director of Democrats for Life, said going after Republicans who support abortion is beyond the scope of her organization.

"Our agenda is focused on supporting pro-life Democrats," she said. "We haven't even gotten into discussing pro-choice Republicans."

Streb theorized that individuals who feel strongly enough about opposing abortion to make it their top priority in politics tend to be conservative on other issues and identify more readily with the Republican Party.

"In general, those people are already going to be more irritated with Democrats," Waldman said, and therefore more willing to challenge them over abortion.

On the other hand, anti-abortion Republican activists may rationalize that a Republican who supports abortion is preferable to a Democrat who does, and may be less willing to challenge such politicians, he said.

Waldman also feels that in New York, at least, there's a difference in how publicly the Catholic Church deals with individual politicians.

A New York resident, Waldman said he's never heard Pataki receive the kind of criticism from leaders in the Catholic Church for supporting abortion that he says was regularly leveled at Pataki's predecessor, Catholic Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo.

"By our calculation, on Pataki's watch there have been more than 1,235,000 abortions in New York," he said. Considering the history of public confrontations between Cuomo and New York Cardinal John J. O'Connor, Waldman said he feels it is striking that neither Cardinal O'Connor nor his successor, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, have challenged Pataki the same way that Cuomo was challenged.

Joe Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said that while Cardinal O'Connor's public statements on the subject of politicians and their views on abortion may have coincided with specific statements on the topic by Cuomo or former New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic nominee for vice president who was also criticized for being a Catholic who supported legal abortion, "he (Cardinal O'Connor) expected they would apply to anyone," not just particular politicians.

"What Cardinal O'Connor did and what Cardinal Egan does is to articulate what the teachings of the church are," Zwilling said. Neither would single out politicians by name, he added.

Although Schwarzenegger, Pataki and Giuliani are all said to have aspirations for the presidency -- Schwarzenegger supporters are seeking an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to permit immigrants to run for president -- Waldman sees little chance any of them would get the kind of Republican Party support necessary to be nominated.

If one of them did make a serious run for the White House, Waldman said, "I think then you'd see the pro-life opposition."


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