Durbin Releases Catholic Scorecard

Posted June 2, 2004 at 6:55pm

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) pushed back Wednesday against Catholics who advocate withholding communion from abortion-rights lawmakers, releasing an analysis that contends Democrats are more likely to align themselves with the church on legislative matters than their Republican counterparts are.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, supported the Catholic Church 60.9 percent of the time — the highest of any Senator — according to the vote analysis, which was conducted by Durbin’s staff. Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), with 33.2 percent, supported the church less frequently than any of the Senate’s 24 Catholic Members, Durbin’s staff concluded.

Durbin acknowledged that Kerry did not vote on all of the issues that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared a position on. But he said he did not expect it to affect the results.

“When you take a closer look at the votes that he missed, you will find an almost equal number of votes he was very likely to vote for as those he was very likely to vote against the Catholic Bishop’s position,” Durbin said. “So, I don’t believe that has skewed the result in any one way or another.”

Kerry’s score is of particular interest because the Massachusetts Senator’s presidential candidacy has prompted some leading Catholics — including a handful of cardinals and bishops — to declare that pro-abortion-rights lawmakers should be denied the Eucharist.

Without specifically citing Kerry, Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston recently advised lawmakers who opposed the church on abortion to participate in communion. And earlier this year, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis singled out Kerry as not being worthy of the Eucharist, given his abortion views.

Durbin — who has faced similar criticism within his own state — analyzed 47 votes or actions of Catholic Senators taken during the 108th Congress, then compared it to the official positions of the church. The vote on the Iraq War resolution, which was held in October 2002, was also included on Durbin’s list.

Durbin concluded that nine of the top 10 supporters of the Catholic Church’s legislative objectives in the 108th Congress were Democrats, and that six Republicans — including Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Sen. Pete Domenici (N.M.) — were the least likely to support the church’s goals.

Durbin, who ranked second on his own list with a 60.5 percent score, said he conducted the analysis to persuade voters that a single issue, such as abortion, should not define Catholic lawmakers.

Privately, some Republicans complained that Durbin’s scorecard gives equal weight to issues that clearly don’t have equal significance to the church. These include media ownership rules promoted by the Federal Communications Commission and asylum privileges for North Koreans.

Publicly, some Catholic Republicans who ranked far down on Durbin’s scorecard reacted coldly to idea that he would rate their voting records based on how those votes fit with the views of the Catholic Church.

“I vote the way I vote because I believe it — it’s part of my conscience,” said Domenici, whose 34.4 percent rating made him the second-lowest of the chamber’s two dozen Catholics.

Domenici said he did not have a personal opinion on the effort by some bishops and cardinals to punish Catholic politicians who stray from the church’s positions. But Domenici added that church officials were correct — “on any basis, theology, philosophy” — to say that the issue of abortion was more important than many of the others of domestic concern.

Domenici called Durbin’s efforts a political act to try to back up the abortion-rights policies that he and other Catholic Democrats take. “I think that this is an effort to rationalize an issue,” he said.

In a symbolic gesture, Durbin pulled a small stone from his pocket when asked to interpret the Republican scores.

“I am not throwing it,” said Durbin, the co-chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “I am not going to be a judge of any of my colleagues in terms of whether they are good Catholics or good people. I think that frankly is a line a lot of us believe should not be crossed.”

Still, there is a sense of frustration among many Democrats who think the church is unfairly siding with Republicans this election season based upon the abortion issue.

The Illinois Democrat said he undertook this project without seeking approval from the Democratic leadership. He added that he sent the results to his 13 Catholic Democratic colleagues two weeks ago as well as to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is chairing a Catholic Bishop task force charged with reviewing the church’s relations with Catholic lawmakers.

In some ways, Durbin’s effort resembles what Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Nick Lampson (D-Tex.) have been working on with more than 70 Catholic House Democrats — trying to focus on the broad array of issues that the church advocates, rather than just on abortion. However, DeLauro and Lampson have opted not to publicize the results of their internal scorecard.

Early last month, 48 Catholic House Democrats sent a letter to McCarrick seeking a meeting before his task force issues any decisions. “I just don’t think that the Eucharist ought to be used as a political weapon,” DeLauro said Wednesday.

The House Democrats say they are still waiting for a meeting with McCarrick.

A spokeswoman for McCarrick said that she couldn’t speak directly to Durbin’s analysis, but added, “Our teachings are clear.”

“We start with abortion and right to life, but we don’t end at that point — we continue throughout,” said Susan Gibbs, the archdiocese spokeswoman. “The primary issue is right to life but it’s not an issue in isolation.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not return a call seeking comment on Durbin’s analysis.

For some Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the results of the survey could be politically troublesome. Daschle is in a tight re-election battle this year in a state that leans conservative, and Durbin concluded that the minority leader sided with the Catholic Church only 48 percent of the time. Daschle has already come under fire from some Catholics in his home state. Last year, Sioux Falls Bishop Robert Carlson instructed Daschle to discontinue describing himself as a Catholic because of his support for abortion rights, according to the Weekly Standard.

Daschle said he supports Durbin’s decision to publicize the results, because it provides “a far more objective and comprehensive analysis of how Democrats stand with regard to many of the positions of the Catholic Church.” But Daschle added that he is prepared to defend his legislative record when called on to do so.

“I am very confident about the correctness of my positions and my ability to defend them under any circumstances,” Daschle said. “I am more than willing to do so.”

Sununu dismissed the survey, adding that, along with fellow low-scorers Domenici and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), he’s in “pretty good company.”