In the world of politics, however, October 2010 may come to be known as “Disrespect Catholics Month.”  The latest sign of this disagreeable observance is an outrageous mailer sent out by the Democratic Farmer Labor party in Minnesota.  The oversized postcard, circulated in a hotly contested U.S. House of Representatives race, essentially defames the Catholic Church.

Pictured on the mailer is the midsection of a man garbed as a Catholic priest.  He is wearing a Roman collar and carries a Bible in his right hand.  On his chest is a clearly legible campaign sticker, which reads, “Ignore the Poor.”  The other side of this crude bit of political dirty trickery charges the Republican candidate in the race with wrongly focusing on the abortion issue while dismissing concern for Americans living in poverty.

The mailer doesn’t make an argument so much as exploit a bigotry.  Because it has no basis in fact – the nation’s Catholic charities operate in the spirit of Mother Teresa, who gave her life in service to the poor but opposed elective abortion as the “greatest poverty” – the mailer has no purpose other than to inflame religious prejudice and confuse voters.

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Sadly, it’s not the only – and certainly not the most subtle – example of election-eve efforts to target and confuse religious voters. 

Over in Ohio a candidate for Congress named Steve Driehaus has filed a complaint against a pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony List, over billboards it erected that questioned Driehaus’s vote for the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care bill.  The billboard decried the vote as having the effect of forcing taxpayers to pay for elective abortions.

Rather than argue his differences over the bill with pro-life groups, and the thousands of voters in his district who care about the issue, Driehaus is abusing an unusual Ohio campaign law in an attempt to silence his critics.  His assault on the First Amendment is being aided by Catholics United, a front group that has organized to defend several Democrats against the accusation that their votes for the health care bill represent a massive expansion of tax-funded abortion.

First of all, the mission of Catholics United is clearly partisan.  It is making its presence felt in battleground House races where the Catholic vote could make the difference.  Because the word “Catholic” is not a brand that can be trademarked, like GE or Pepsi, any group can take this label and claim to speak authoritatively on moral issues.

Catholics United is not remotely, however, an official arm of any Catholic entity.  In fact, it is related to another group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, that has received major funding from the notorious billionaire George Soros, who has also funded Catholics for Choice and efforts to legalize recreational drugs.

Catholic leaders – those who have actual authority to speak on questions of morality and policy – can’t haul the likes of Soros and his brand rustlers into court.  What they can – and must – do is underscore the falsity of the claims of groups like Catholics United.  

The history here is clear.  Just two days after the Democratic Congress passed the health care bill, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (as official as it gets for American Catholics) issued a detailed statement on the new law.  Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, speaking for the Conference, asserted that the bishops continued to oppose the law because “there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion.”

The statement went on to point out that President Obama’s Executive Order, while purporting to resolve the pro-abortion deficiencies in the bill, fell far short.  “We do not understand,” Cardinal George said, “how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.”

Thus, the authentic U.S. Catholic position on this bill has long been plain.  Whatever its other merits, it is absolutely defective and unacceptable because of its massive subsidies for abortion.  Preferring to be apolitical, the Catholic bishops have not used Respect Life Month to restate these concerns.

Catholics United has rushed into this void, intent on confusing faithful Catholics in the pews.  They have rounded up a small band of liberal clergy and laypeople, all to claim the health care bill is “pro-life.”

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It’s high time, as the outrageous Minnesota mailer makes clear, that the nation’s Catholic bishops re-enter the debate and affirm the stand they took last March.  Voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have the right to know the whole truth about these vital issues.  They also have the right to know who it is that is speaking to them. 

Catholics United not only does not speak for the Catholic Church, it is speaking expressly against it.  And it is attempting to silence pro-life groups that are pointing this out. 

If October really is Respect Life Month, the nation’s authentic Catholic leaders have just a few more days to set the record straight.

Frank Cannon is Treasurer of the Susan B. Anthony List and president of the American Principles Project.