Catholics for a Free Choice has organized a campaign during the past year to seek a review of the unique status of the Holy See, the seat of the Roman Catholic church, as a Non-member State Permanent Observer at the United Nations. The "See Change" Campaign began with 70 initial endorsers and now that list has grown to over 450 organizations worldwide.In addition, press and nongovernmental organizations from the United Statesto Spain and Bangladesh have covered the campaign and individuals from all over the globe have signed postcards to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Aside from the outpouring of support from people and groups from every continent and the media attention it continues to generate, this campaign really seems to have the Vatican worried.First there were the statements by leading Vatican officials dismissing our efforts. The Holy See's official spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls called the campaign "a clumsy attempt to silence the Catholic church." And ArchbishopRenato Martino, the Vatican's representative at the United Nations, asked defensively: "What privileges are they referring to?" In the U.S. Congress, several Republican members, Senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Bob Smith of New Hampshire and Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, introduced resolutions critical of See Change and lauding the role of theRoman Catholic church at the United Nations. The resolutions come as no surprise since Republican members of Congress are desperate to countercharges of anti-Catholicism. First, Republican candidates for president spoke at Bob Jones University, which holds extreme anti-Catholic views, going so far as to call the Roman Catholic church a "cult." Then Republicans in Congress rejected a Catholic priest who was nominated to be the House chaplain.How much the reaction of the political right-wing here in the United States to See Change is merely an electoral smokescreen can best be illustrated by the actions of the Republican National Committee. For several days, itsmembers tried to make the charge that See Change is all about abortion even though most of the campaign members have no position on abortion. We logged onto their website every morning to see what brilliant new angle the backroom boys at the RNC put forward. Then we noticed that the source within the RNC for much of this See Change condemnation was a group called the Catholic Task Force.That organization's mission statement proclaims God on its side with the triumphant words: "We have studied the political record of all majorpolitical parties and we believe that the Republican Party is closest to theteachings of the Catholic church."Members of the Catholic Task Force include well-known conservatives and antiabortion leaders such as former Vatican Ambassador Thomas PatrickMelady, Mary Cunningham Agee of the Nurturing Network and Women Affirming Life and three Republican members of congress, Bill Archer of Texas, Henry Hyde of Illinois, and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Perhaps it is not surprising that these Republicans would see the positions of the Republican Party as close to the teachings of the Catholic church, but one wonders if they looked beyond the Republican Party's opposition to safe and legal abortion. A simple read of the issues on which the National Conference ofCatholic Bishops in the U.S. has taken a position shows how little consistency there is between Republican Party agenda and the social justicemandates of the Catholic church. On the other "life" issue-capital punishment--no one has a stronger anti-life position than the likelyRepublican presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush. He has presided over more than 100 executions in his two terms as governor.And what Catholic teachings, we wonder, can these Catholic Republicans be referring to as finding fulfillment in the Republican Party platform? Is it a commitment to alleviating poverty, to demilitarization, to affirmative action?More than 20 years ago, former Notre Dame University President Father Theodore Hesburgh noted that when the U.S. Catholic church made opposition to legal abortion its political priority we found ourselves expected tosupport candidates who disagreed with 95 percent of the church's social justice agenda.The Republican Party's Catholic Task Force is proof of this prediction. We cannot help but wonder when the U.S. bishops will repudiate the statement of the task force and point out that God, to the extent that she takes sides inpolitical campaigns, is on the side of the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.The attacks on the See Change campaign are part of an overall strategy of church conservatives in which a genuine religious commitment to justice istransformed into the worst remnant of state religion--whether manifest in the U.N., the U.S. Congress or U.S. presidential politics. The See Change campaign is a healthy antidote to this strategy.
To find out more about the See Change campaign, go to www.seechange.org.
Frances Kissling is president of Catholics for a Free Choice.