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 Washington Notebook

September 8, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 32

Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent


"We're not only in the most conservative diocese in the country, but we're also members of the most conservative parish -- and we love that."

Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns,
who attends St. Mary Parish in Lincoln, Nebr.


Battling the 'heretics' at the Republican National Convention; Former Corpus Christi bishop prays for Bush victory

By Joe Feuerherd

Washington Notebook was at the Republican National Convention, Aug. 29-Sept. 2.

NEW YORK -- The delegates and other Bush supporters gathered Sept. 2 for the "Catholic Outreach" rally on the closing day of the Republican National Convention bowed their heads as the retired bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, offered the benediction. "Help them," Bishop Rene Gracida asked God, "to achieve the election of George W. Bush as president of this great nation."

So much for subtlety.

But this was not an understated event. No, after three nights of seeing the "moderate" pro-choice (and Catholic) face of the Republican Party showcased through the speeches of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, these true believers longed for meat and potatoes Republican Catholicism.

And that's what they got.

"Isn't it great to be among Catholics who aren't afraid to be political?" Fr. Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, asked the hundreds of Republican delegates and other Bush supporters gathered in the Times Square hotel ballroom. "And isn't it great to find a few priests who aren't afraid to be political?" Pavone offered the invocation, urging the Almighty to intervene so that "when [Catholic voters] go into the voting booth they do not cease to be your people."

While abortion is the "No. 1" issue, same-sex marriage is a "tremendous motivator for people who have never been involved" in politics, Virginia State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli told the delegates. Cuccinelli, a member of the Republican National Committee's "Catholic Working Group," noted that recent polls show an upswing in antiabortion sentiment among young voters. He offered a partial explanation: "Pro-life people are bearing the children and pro-abortion people are killing them.

"The 'culture of death,' " said Cuccinelli, "is self-limiting."

Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns asked his wife, Stephanie, to join him at the podium. "We're proud to say we're members of the Lincoln diocese" where, said Johanns, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz "leads in a very conservative way and we love it." Further, the Johanns' home parish is St. Mary's in the state capitol of Lincoln. "So we're not only in the most conservative diocese in the country, but we're also members of the most conservative parish - and we love that."

When President Bush was Texas governor, he visited Nebraska, Johanns recalled.

"Mike, do you read the Bible?" Johanns recalled Bush asking. Johanns said he assured his gubernatorial colleague that he did.

"That's the kind of man I want to be president of the United States," Johanns told the delegates.

Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, a recent convert to Catholicism, said Bush's reelection was vital. "I can't think of anything more important to our faith than getting that job done," said Brownback.

New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, the event's master of ceremonies, said Kerry's support of federal funding for abortion, his opposition to the ban on partial birth abortion, his support for international family planning programs, and his embrace of embryonic stem cell research "makes it abundantly clear that he wants to be the abortion president."

Human embryos stored for research purposes can be saved, said Smith. "Sixty babies have been thawed and adopted," said Smith, and more embryos can "be saved and adopted." He continued: "We believe that no child, born or unborn, should be left behind."

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Republican National Committee Catholic Outreach director Martin Gillespie offered the first of several political conversion stories. "The values of my grandfather's Democratic Party have nothing to do with the values of today's Democratic Party," which, said Gillespie, is dominated by pro-choice advocacy groups and "drug legalizers."

"They have told us Catholics that we can take our values and our votes and go somewhere else and we're glad to do it," said Gillespie.

Minnesota Rep. Mark Kennedy cited the Jan. 2003 doctrinal note from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the "Participation of Catholics in Political Life." It is now "impossible" for a Catholic legislator to support abortion-rights, said Kennedy. This is "no longer allowed within the church," he said. On Iraq, said Kennedy, "people of good will can differ."

By the time Gracida rose to offer the benediction, the crowd had thinned. But he still had something to say.

It is "sad to say that there are some bishops who are not strongly pro-life," the youthful looking 81-year-old prelate told the remaining delegates. Many bishops are "timid and afraid."

The "heresy" promoted by pro-choice Catholics is similar to the Arian heresy of the fourth century which, said Gracida, was overcome largely by the faith of the laity. The bishops, he told the delegates "need you to light a fire under them."

Following the event, Gracida told a reporter that there is a distinction between the pro-choice positions advocated by John Kerry and those supported by such convention speakers as Giuliani, Schwarzenegger and New York Gov. George Pataki.

More convention coverage
The Republican National Convention: Sept. 1.
The Democratic National Convention: July 28.
"Schwarzenegger is not 100 percent pro-abortion -- he is to some extent, to a large extent, pro-life," Gracida said of the California governor. "Same way with Giuliani. Therefore, one must be careful not to issue a sweeping condemnation of everyone who has reservations about one or another aspect of human life and to recognize that it is only those like John Kerry who are 100 percent pro-abortion who deserve condemnation."

In fact, Schwarzenegger is generally considered pro-choice, though he favors a ban on "partial birth abortions." Giuliani is a strong supporter of abortion rights and opposed the ban on partial birth abortions (a position that Gracida, when challenged, said that he was not aware of.)

Meanwhile, Gracida was handing out business cards to those who approached him. But they didn't bear his name. Rather, they had the name and contact information of Marc Balestrieri, the Santa Monica-based canon lawyer who recently petitioned the Vatican to have John Kerry declared a heretic.

The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is

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