Catholics are a key demographic in the upcoming election. In fact, they may be the key demographic.
In most every presidential contest since the end of World War II, the candidate who carried the Catholic vote won the election. Over time they have, as a bloc, become more conservative and more Republican in their voting patterns (they were once a major component of the Democrats' presidential coalition) as concerns over settled issues like the morality of abortion overtook in importance concerns about unsettled issues like the best way to secure social justice for the poor and the downtrodden.
Much has been made of the fact that both candidates for vice president—Paul Ryan and Joe Biden—are practicing Catholics, though they come at almost every issue from diametrically opposite positions: As one example, Ryan opposes abortion while Biden supports keeping it legal.
[See political cartoons on the Democratic Party, skewering Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.]
With most of the national polls showing the race to be one or two points either way, the fight over the Catholic vote is heating up. In Cleveland, Ohio, the local chapter of Right to Life has issued a formal letter to Bishop Richard Lennon asking him to suspend the Diocese's "Faithful Citizenship" meetings because of their disregard for pro-life issues.
"As a pro-life woman and a Catholic, I am appalled," Cleveland Right to Life President Molly Smith said in a release. "Our Church is under attack by the most liberal, pro-abortion leadership in history. The Cleveland Catholic Diocese is missing a great teaching and unifying opportunity by responding in this manner."
According to Smith's group, "Faithful Citizenship meetings were organized by the Diocese of Cleveland with the goal of aiding Catholics in preparing themselves to vote this November. The forums, led in part by open Obama-supporter Karen Leith, downplay abortion and religious freedom, issues of irreducible importance to Catholic voters."
[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]
The push back in Ohio is only part of what is going on nationally said Deal Hudson, the president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and an expert on Catholic outreach.
"Lay Catholics who are committed to life, marriage, and religious liberty are not going to allow a repeat of the 2008 campaign, when the bishops' document 'Faithful Citizenship' was cherry-picked and spun into a garland of blessing for Barack Obama," Hudson said. "The purpose of the new introduction to the document, published this past November, was to discourage this type of irresponsible partisanship that ignores the Church's teaching on fundamental social issues."