WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee has asked Bush-backing Roman Catholics (search) to provide copies of their parish directories to help register Catholics to vote in the November election, a use of personal information not necessarily condoned by dioceses around the country.
In a story posted Thursday on its Web site, the National Catholic Reporter (search) said a GOP official had urged people who attended a Catholic outreach event in January to provide parish directories and membership lists to the political party.
"Access to these directories is critical as it allows us to identify and contact those Catholics who are likely to be supportive of President Bush's compassionate conservative agenda," wrote Martin J. Gillespie (search), director of Catholic Outreach at the RNC. "Please forward any directories you are able to collect to my attention."
The RNC is using the information from parish directories only for its nonpartisan voter registration drive, RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson told The Associated Press on Thursday. Those efforts target members of other faiths as well as people who belong to nonreligious organizations, she said.
Parish directories often contain personal information about church members, including names of family members, home addresses and phone numbers. Iverson said she did not know if the GOP had sought similar directories from other religious organizations or how many Catholic directories it received in response to Gillespie's request.
Susan Gibbs, the spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which oversees 140 parishes in Washington and Maryland, said parish directories publish information only for use among church members and not for use by outside organizations no matter what their purpose.
"Parish directories are for helping parishioners get to know each other better and are strictly for that purpose. They are not intended to be used for any outside commercial purpose, solicitations or anything else," Gibbs said. "Parish directories or priest directories are not given to outside groups even if it's for a good cause."
Catholic parishioners provided that personal information with an expectation of what it would be used for, said Rebecca Summers of the office of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., which has more than 90 parishes.
"I'm not certain under any scenario that we would encourage someone responding to that appeal — for any purpose, whether it would be an environmental cause or any purpose other than what the people volunteered the information for," Summers told the AP.
The Catholic Church has its own nonpartisan voter registration initiatives and candidate forums, Gibbs said.