Springfield State Journal Register

June 3, 2004

Which senators are good Catholics?
Durbin offers his analysis of voting records


WASHINGTON - Fighting back against a conservative church hierarchy that has targeted liberal officeholders, Sen. Dick Durbin released on Wednesday a staff analysis of Catholic senators' votes that ranks him and Sen. John Kerry as more closely aligned with Catholic church teachings than many GOP lawmakers.

Democrats Kerry, of Massachusetts, and Durbin, of Illinois, have been prominently mentioned in recent disputes with local priests or bishops who have threatened to deny Communion to any officeholder who supports abortion rights or stem cell research.

Durbin said he conducted the vote analysis to emphasize the wide range of issues - besides abortion - on which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has staked out positions.

The Springfield Democrat said he found that he, Kerry and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., had voted 60 percent of the time in support of positions taken by the bishops in 48 cases from 2003 and the 2002 vote authorizing the war in Iraq. His staff analysis included domestic, international and abortion votes.

Durbin, who has played an active role in Kerry's campaign, said Kerry wasn't aware of the analysis until after it was done.

Durbin said his staff chose votes that most closely reflected the stands taken by bishops in their publication "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility."

But conservative Catholics and Republican senators say Durbin's analysis is misleading because it gives equal weight to all legislative issues.

"They're equating all of these things. Some things are a little more important than others. To lump in minimum wage with partial birth abortion, they're two different things," said Louis Giovino, spokesman for the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights based in New York.

"No distinction is drawn when the document from the Vatican has pointed out that the right to life is one of the fundamental rights. That's why it is given so much attention and that's why people have called for sanctions against politicians because of this fundamental right," Giovino said.

In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., called it "an obvious and deliberate and cynical attempt by Durbin and others to mislead and confuse the public as well as Catholics as to what the position of the church is."

"This is an abuse of his office and something that is really beneath the dignity of someone who is trying to make himself out to be good Catholic. Good Catholics don't lie," said Santorum, a Catholic and a strong abortion opponent who received a 40.8 percent score.

While Kerry's support of abortion rights has been a lightning rod for critics in this presidential election year, Durbin also has found himself personally pulled into the controversy.

The pastor of Durbin's longtime church in Springfield, Blessed Sacrament, said in April that he wouldn't give Communion to Durbin because of his support for abortion rights.

Durbin called it "one of the most painful and difficult experiences in my public life."

He released his analysis of Catholic senators' votes at a news conference in the Capitol.

Asked whether he was suggesting that he's a more devout Catholic than those Republicans who ranked lower than he did, Durbin pulled a stone out of his pocket and set it on the lectern in front of him and said: "I'm not throwing it."

"I'm not going to be judging any of my colleagues in terms of whether they are good Catholics," he said.

Durbin said he had sent his analysis to Illinois bishops and to a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops task force studying what should be done about Catholic politicians who publicly disagree with church teachings.

Conference spokesman Bill Ryan wouldn't comment directly on Durbin's analysis, but said the bishops "try their best to stay out of partisan politics and address the issues."

Durbin said that bishops who threaten to deny Communion to some elected officials "cross the line in terms of what most Catholic Americans find acceptable regarding the relationship between their church and their government."

"We must carefully protect both the constitutional right to religious belief and the separation between church and state," he said.

Durbin suggested that the bishops' statements were partisan, saying he hadn't heard of any bishop or cardinal threatening to deny Communion to a Republican. In April, 48 House Democrats, including Rep. Lane Evans of Rock Island, signed a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressing concern

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., a Catholic and strong abortion opponent, received an overall score of 51.3 percent, giving him the 11th highest score in Durbin's analysis.

Fitzgerald would have no comment, said his spokesman, Dan Curry.