Sen. John McCain reached out to Catholic voters yesterday in Philadelphia at a gathering of Catholic lay leaders and clergy. The meeting, held at the venerable Union League on South Broad St., is one in an ongoing series being held nationwide by McCain and his Catholic surrogates -- Sen. Sam Brownback, Gov. Frank Keating, and former Vatican ambassador Jim Nicholson.
Before his remarks, McCain met privately with Rev. Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life. Father Pavone's organization promotes voter education and registration throughout the nation, and his pro-life advocacy has been crucial in bringing the non-negotiable life issues to the attention of Catholic voters.
In his prayer before McCain spoke, Father Pavone prayed that the "Lord would let all Christians know they are still His sons and daughters when they are in the voting booth."
The first issue addressed by McCain was abortion. He said that the "noblest words ever written" were "the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." McCain believes that those words "apply to the unborn." He reminded the Philadelphia Catholics of his pro-life voting record, adding that he would "maintain that commitment" if elected president.
McCain talked about the "stark contrast" between himself and Sen. Barack Obama on the life issue -- the evidence being Obama's vote against the ban on partial-birth abortion and his opposition, as a state senator, to legal protection for babies born during an abortion procedure.
Introducing McCain was former ambassador Jim Nicholson, who described the need for outreach to Catholic voters as "self-evident." In Pennsylvania, 30 percent of the voters are Catholic, he said, and argued that "McCain would attract Catholic voters because his beliefs line up squarely with them on issue like protecting unborn life, defending marriage between a man and a woman, and the all-important appointment of judges."
Nicholson told the group that McCain was qualified for the presidency based upon his years of experience and his judgment in times of challenge and adversity. "His opponent is young, untested, inexperienced, green, and liberal -- not a bad man, but unqualified." 
In addition to protection for the unborn, McCain emphasized the pressing need to protect America from Islamic extremism, "a transcendent challenge to everything we hold dear." He said that the heart of this battle is being fought in Iraq, but it is also playing out on the Internet, where well-educated young people are being recruited to terrorist organizations.
McCain also brought up the subject of defending marriage, saying that some in the room may differ with his view that this decision should be taken up first in the states. "But," he added, "if some federal judge rules that all the states must recognize the [gay] marriages in Massachusetts, I would be in favor of pursuing a Constitutional amendment."
During the question-and-answer session, McCain talked about a wide range of issues, from energy and tax policy to the political unrest in South America. When someone asked him for a demonstration of his "famous Irish temper," McCain tore into "pork-barrel" spending and earmarks -- a long list that would have been funny, if it weren't such a waste of taxpayer money.
When asked about the possibility of universal healthcare, McCain rejected the idea completely. "The government can't run the healthcare systems it already has; take a look at the Bureau of Indian Affairs." He argued that government-run health systems around the world have been "colossal failures," and inevitably become two-tiered systems, "one for the rich and one for the poor."
The answer to the need for more healthcare coverage, he said, was giving people more choice, not "mandating" those choices. If elected, McCain said he would propose a $5,000 tax credit for those who must pay for their own health insurance. This insurance should be made affordable while those who are "uninsurable" will be covered by government-assisted programs of high-risk pools among insurance companies.
On the controversial question of immigration policy, McCain said that border security must come first. True immigration reform, he elaborated, will only happen when the American people are confident that the borders have been brought under control. The 12 million illegal immigrants, McCain insisted, are "God's children" and should be treated with compassion.  This country "does not have 12 million pairs of handcuffs to arrest all these people -- that's not the kind of country we are."
The final question to McCain was about his choice of a vice-president. Though he said he was not close to making a decision, he did explain that his running mate should share "my values, principles, and priorities." This decision will likely be the most important (and perhaps most difficult) one McCain will make during his campaign.
McCain was well-received by the Catholics gathered in Philadelphia. The campaign is planning many more of these events in the months leading up to the Republican National Convention, September 1-4 in Minneapolis.

Printed with permission from Inside Catholic.