Catholic Attack Ads

Article excerpt

The impact of both Catholic and Protestant right-wing leaders was evident in the 1996 presidential election, yet neither Bill Clinton nor Bob Dole seemed willing to discuss abortion, the chief concern of the religious right and an obvious concern of millions of women voters who feared that Dole would try to turn the clock back on Roe v. Wade.

The Catholic bishops, especially the cardinals, went all out to condemn Clinton's veto of a congressional ban on late-term abortions. The archbishop of St. Louis forbade attendance by Catholic students at a Clinton address in his archdiocese. The archbishop of New Orleans declared that Catholics should not vote for Clinton because they would be committing a sin. And many Catholic television ads were run depicting Clinton as evil for wielding the veto against the ban on late-term abortions.

The following is a transcript and description of a 30-second television ad instructing Catholics not to vote for "pro-abortion candidates." The ad begins with a Roman Catholic priest, Father Lawrence Battle, in black clerical garb seated at a table with a crucifix to his right. Holding an open copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he says to viewers: "I am Father Battle. It is the mission of the Catholic church to pass moral judgment in matters related to politics whenever the fundamental rights of man require it." (Note that these words by Battle are taken from paragraphs 2032, 2246, and 2420 of the Catechism, canon 747, "Section 2 of the Code of Canon Law," and from section 76, paragraph 5 of Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.)

The ad continues with a photograph of Bill Clinton with the word "Shame" in large, red, boldface letters flashing on and off diagonally across his face. Next comes a graphic with the words "Democratic Party" at the top of the screen above the party's donkey symbol and two bulleted lines reading "Abortion" and "Partial Birth Infanticide." Father Battle continues in voice-over" "The Democratic Party and Bill Clinton have brought shame and horror to this nation. They have legalized the savage murder of babies during birth. We are outraged." Then Father Battle once again is seen and speaks to the viewers: "Catholics must uphold human rights, avoid sin, and cannot vote for abortion candidates - cannot vote for Clinton." As he finishes saying this, his image is replaced by a repeat of the Clinton photo with the word "Shame" flashing over his face. At the bottom of the screen are the words in small type: "Paid for by the United States Catholic Coalition." During the entire 30-second spot, Mozart's Requiem can be heard softly in the background, with the volume rising toward the ad's end.

It is worth noting that, despite the heavy hand of the Catholic hierarchy (or perhaps because of it), all 12 states with the highest number of Catholic voters - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, Louisiana, and New Mexico - went to Clinton.

On the other hand, the Protestant right, including Southern Baptists, delivered for Dole in Colorado and in all southern states except Louisiana and Florida. There were, of course, other factors that played a part, including controversy over such issues as racism and tobacco; for example, 73 percent of the Hispanic vote went to Clinton, largely because of Republican attitudes toward immigrants.

In short, right-wing Protestant groups generally prevailed in states with more reactionary social attitudes, whereas progressive Catholics concerned about poverty, human rights, peace, women's rights, and birth control ignored the attempts of the right-wing Catholic leadership to throw the election to Dole.

The attack ad mentioned above was available in both English and Spanish, for both radio and television, and was sponsored by a group probably organized solely for the election campaign (thus protecting the official church leadership from any tax violations), as the United States Catholic Coalition is not listed in the comprehensive directory of Catholic right-wing organizations published by Catholics for a Free Choice. …