Bishops Stress Need to
Vote Pro-Life to Catholic Voters

The death of actor Christopher Reeve, a prominent advocate of human cloning and embryonic-destructive stem cell research, could be politically beneficial for Democrat presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry. But there are also signs that Catholic voters are increasingly turned off by Kerry’s long litany of anti-life positions making it a possibility that Kerry would be hurt by trying to capitalize on the stem cell issue.

Reeve, best known as the actor who portrayed Superman in the late 1970s and 1980s, became paralyzed in 1995 after falling off a horse. Confined to a wheelchair, Reeves become one of the nation’s most outspoken proponents of cloning for scientific research and embryo-destructive stem cell research. In last Friday’s presidential debate, Kerry cited Reeve while explaining his support of embryo- destructive stem cell research.

“Chris Reeve is a friend of mine.  Chris Reeve exercises every single day to keep those muscles alive for the day when he believes he can walk again – and I want him to walk again.”

Learning of the actor’s death Kerry told reporters that Reeve had left a long message on Kerry’s cell phone, “to thank me for talking about the possibilities of a cure.” The inevitable tributes and sympathetic press that follows the death of a celebrity will likely be interpreted as a boost to the Kerry campaign.

At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that Kerry’s positions on issues like abortion and stem cell research are having a negative effect among Catholic voters. A front page story from today’s New York Times addressed the growing number of Catholic bishops who are making the case that support for pro-abortion candidates is sinful because the fundamental nature of protecting life in Church teaching. The 1,700-word story noted that three bishops have “recently declared that the obligation to oppose abortion outweighs any other issue.” The bishops are Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis; Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs; and Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark.

Just as important as the shift in tone on the part of many are indicators that lay Catholics are responding to the bishops. The Times story cites a Pew Research poll from this month that reports 42 percent of white Catholics favoring George Bush, 29 percent supporting Kerry and 27 percent as undecided. A Zogby poll conducted in September revealed that Bush enjoyed significantly greater support among Catholics than he did among the general population in the battleground states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. President Bush lost the Catholic vote four years ago to Al Gore 49-47 percent. Sources close to the Bush campaign are predicting a significantly higher count for Bush come November.

In an interview with the Catholic News Service, Zogby senior political writer Fritz Wenzel attributed the growing support of Catholics for Bush partly to the controversy that erupted this summer over whether or not Kerry ought to receive Communion. Wenzel said that even though a majority of Catholics said they did not approve of those bishops who threatened to deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians, the media attention given to the issue advanced the pro-life cause. “Denying Communion is a whole different issue than abortion, but it made people aware of (the candidates’) positions,” Wenzel said. “It’s like a potato chip that’s the conveyor for the salt.” Another source speculated to Culture & Cosmos that “even those Catholics who are lukewarm on the Church’s abortion teaching, are nonetheless a little queasy about having a Frances Kissling Catholic in the White House.”