Who's-a-Catholic Flap Hits Congress: Catholic Democrats Say Republicans Seek Partisan Gain

Article excerpt

The who's-less-or-more-Catholic-than-the-pope controversy, until recently focused on John Kerry, ricocheted around Washington last week and finally came to rest on the south side of the Capitol building.

It began when The Hill, a twice-weekly publication that acts as Congress' community newspaper, reported that a group of Catholic House Democrats were planning to unveil a "scorecard" demonstrating that they--and not antiabortion Republicans--were the true keepers of the Catholic flame on Capitol Hill The idea, said The Hill, was to show that Democrats in the House vote with the church on most economic issues and on social policy questions such as immigration.

The discussion went downhill from there.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Nick Lampson, D-Texas, leaders of the Catholic "fellowship," explained that the story was somewhat overblown. DeLauro told NCR that the group's discussions began "several months ago" as an exploratory effort where a "small group of us really were trying to talk through some things [and] open a dialogue with the church both in our communities and at the national level."

The half-dozen members of the group represent diverse views on abortion, said the pro-choice DeLauro, but all are concerned that "we are not having a full and open conversation about the whole range of social teachings "that the church has been a leader on."

The effort was not designed to garner short-term political gain, said DeLauro. Instead, she said, the group was exploring how their religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds intersect with their public responsibilities.

In a joint statement released April 20, DeLauro and Lampson said any "research" the group was conducting was done "for our own edification," and was not meant to be a public document.

That clarification, however, came after House Republican campaign operatives pounced on the Catholic legislators.

The National Republican Congressional Committee charged that Lampson is "trying to redefine Catholicism to hide his record."

Lampson, said the Republicans, "routinely votes against the teachings of the Catholic church." Those teachings, said the Republicans, in what might be news to many Catholics, include support for tax cuts (some of which Lampson opposed) and funding for "community-based abstinence education programs."

In addition to his pro-choice abortion record, the committee Lampson is "promoting a same-sex lifestyle" through his votes on such issues as allowing gay couples in Washington to adopt children and his support for legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual preference in federal agencies. Further, his opposition to legislation to permit "the public display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings" demonstrates the four-term Democrat's Insensitivity to "religious liberties," charged the Republicans.

"When Catholic leaders lambaste lawmakers who ignore their own Catholicism, Nick Lampson is the exact type of lawmaker they have in mind," said Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti. Lampson, said Forti, "has about as good a Catholic voting record as John Kerry."

In their statement, DeLauro and Lampson said the Catholic lawmakers "have been meeting informally to discuss how our faith guides our legislative priorities and our political agenda. …