Catholics Grapple With Election Issues

Kristen Foht calls herself an "extremely pro-life" Democrat. Yet the St. Louis Catholic (search) will vote for Sen. John Kerry (search) on Tuesday, risking a rebuke from her archbishop and her friends in the anti-abortion movement.

"There are so many social justice issues, I'm called to vote Democrat," said Foht, a 27-year-old community relations specialist. "This is a decision between you, God and the voting booth. I've prayed and thought a lot about it."

The St. Louis area is largely Roman Catholic, and many Catholic voters are divided over whether they must consider a range of moral and social issues or whether no issue is more important than abortion.

Archbishop Raymond Burke (search), one of the country's most conservative bishops, says no Catholic may vote for a candidate who supports the "intrinsically evil" acts of abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, cloning and same-sex marriage. That view may undercut the Democratic candidacy of Kerry, a pro-choice Catholic. President Bush, a Methodist, and the Republican Party are heavily courting Catholics in Missouri and other battleground states.

A member of the Holy Innocents parish in St. Louis, Dolores Hitch, 74, said she resents Burke telling her how to vote. "The issue is the war," Hitch said, "that terrible invasion and the resulting chaos."

Across town at St. Cronan's, parishioners said Burke's position is too narrow and neglects what the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago called a "seamless garment" or "consistent ethic of life" that advocates not only respect for the unborn and vulnerable, but disarmament, world peace and economic justice.

Jim Segbers, a 46-year-old national sales manager and parent of foster and adopted children, said Burke should address "more pastoral and less political" issues and "leave for us to discern as thinking Catholics our own positions."

For Martin Duggan, the conservative host of a local television talk show, Burke's five intrinsic evils are nonnegotiable. Duggan and a dozen other high-profile St. Louis Catholics have formed the Committee of Faithful Catholics and are asking churchgoers to sign a pledge promising to vote only for candidates who reflect Burke's position.

"I'm totally in agreement," said Norman Guittar, 63, a Holy Innocents parishioner. "Kerry has betrayed us again."

Catholics comprise one-fourth of the electorate nationwide, with larger percentages in battleground states such as New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Maine, Nevada, Florida, Missouri and Ohio.

Four years ago, Democrat Al Gore edged Bush among Catholics, 50 percent to 47 percent, according to exit polls. So far this year, Bush is splitting the vote with Kerry, the first Catholic to run for president since Democrat John Kennedy got 83 percent of the Catholic vote against Republican Richard Nixon in 1960.