A growing gap between the political views of Catholics and how their legislators vote on issues important to Catholics has prompted the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) to begin organizing voter registration drives in parishes throughout the commonwealth. The drives, which are supported by the four Catholic bishops of Massachusetts, could take place as early as this spring.
"The reason for this is that, more often than not, our elected officials do not reflect our views and values on the moral issues of the day," Maria Parker, MCC associate director for public policy, explained. "More and more Catholics believe that it is critically important for us to elect people that personify what we believe in."
The MCC voter registration drives are spurred in part by a national initiative from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to encourage Catholics to participate in the political process. However, Parker said that the same-sex marriage debate has illustrated what many see as a deep divide between positions Catholics hold on issues of the day and the way their legislators vote on those issues. There is a need to elect officials who represent the views of Catholics, who comprise a large percentage of Massachusetts’ population, she said.
"We decided that in light of the fact of what we're finding on this marriage issue -- the complete lack of accountability of our legislators on this issue -- that it is time" for voter registration drives and voter education, Parker stated. "The climate is right for this."
There are Catholic members of the Legislature “who are consistently voting against us” on same-sex marriage, said Parker. Those same politicians, she said, often go back to their parishes and say what a good job they are doing.
The voter registration drives are also being organized to encourage Catholics to become involved in the political process and to stay up to date with political issues and where their legislators stand. The same-sex marriage issue “was an eye opener for us to see how many people really were not aware of how their legislators were voting on moral issues of the day that were of concern of Catholics,” Parker said.
With the opportunity to vote also comes a responsibility “to use the vote wisely,” Parker stated.
"Catholics need to understand what kind of power they have to affect the common good in a better way, because we are not better off morally in this country with our elections in the last few years," Parker continued. "That is a sign that from the local level all the way up to Congress -- our legislators are not reflecting the majority values. They are reflecting a lack of values or a different kind of value, a secular value, that is being imposed on the silent majority by special interests."
Although the drives are required to be non-partisan because of the Church’s non-profit status, Parker stated that the non-partisan nature of the drives “does not mean that Catholics do not participate in the political process.”
"In fact, in the Catholic tradition we commend responsible citizenship," she said. "The call to faithful citizenship from USCCB goes so far as to say that participation in the political process is a moral obligation."
Some people have taken their right to vote for granted or believed that the institutions of society would always coincide with the beliefs held by Catholics, said Parker.
"Years ago, we elected people who personified our values and looked out for the common good," she said. "That's not the case anymore. The common good has taken a back seat to special interests."
"Our fight to save marriage has brought home how crucially important our obligation is to participate in government and in political life," she continued.
The effort by the MCC and the bishops is in conjunction with a national push by the USCCB called Faithful Citizenship, aimed at engaging Catholics in the political process. In January, Faithful Citizenship information kits containing homily ideas on political participation, voter education materials and information on conducting non-partisan voter registration drives, were mailed to dioceses throughout the United States.
According to the USCCB, every four years since 1976 their Administrative Committee issues a statement “to communicate the Church’s teaching that every Catholic is called to active and faith-filled citizenship.”
"At this time, some Catholics may feel politically homeless, sensing that no political party and too few candidates share a consistent concern for human life and dignity. However, this is not a time for retreat or discouragement," the USCCB stated. "We need more, not less engagement in political life ... We urge all Catholics to register, vote and become more involved in public life, to protect human life and dignity and to advance the common good."
The details of how the voter registration drives will be rolled out have not been finalized, Parker said. However, she hopes that every parish in Massachusetts will participate. The MCC plans to hold the drives in late spring or early fall.
"We're hoping that this will affect every single parish and every single parishioner," she said. "We're hoping that pastors will take a really long hard look at this initiative and cooperate with it."