A panel discussion at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference and Strategy Briefing discussed Catholic action in defense of life and marriage ahead of the 2012 presidential election. Speakers urged Catholics to take leadership on these issues and to participate in the political process.

“Many Catholics are frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of intensity in Catholic leaders about the issue of abortion and same-sex marriage,” panelist Deal Hudson, president of Catholic Advocate, told attendees. “Some faithful Catholics become confused about the priority they give to life and marriage when they see so much energy being spent on other issues like immigration and universal health care.”

This “lack of leadership” on issues of life and marriage causes Catholics to join political groups that have no Catholic affiliation. However, this creates a vacuum in the Church which benefits a truncated idea of social justice “that has distanced itself from the protection of the most vulnerable among us, the unborn,” Hudson said.

The Faith & Freedom Coalition event took place June 3-4 in Washington, D.C.

Other members of the event’s Catholic panel included Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List; grassroots activist Larry Cirignano; and Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage. Catholic Advocate, an organization dedicated to faithful Catholic participation in the political process, sponsored the panel.

Matt Smith, Catholic Advocate vice-president, hosted the discussion. He framed the hour-long discussion around the importance of Catholics as a swing vote whose loyalty to socially conservative presidential candidates has been repeatedly demonstrated, Hudson told CNA.

Smith stressed the responsibility of the Catholic laity to engage the political process, especially in registering and educating Catholic voters and mounting get-out-the-vote efforts.

Smith was a coalition builder for President George W. Bush, while Hudson led the Bush campaign’s Catholic outreach in 2000 and 2004 and served as an advisor for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.

The panel was the only discussion of the Catholic vote in a conference addressed by all Republican presidential hopefuls, except for Newt Gingrich. It was “extremely well-attended” by predominantly evangelical conference participants, Hudson said.

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The Faith & Freedom Coalition, founded by Christian Coalition founder and evangelical leader Ralph Reed, intends to organize “people of faith” for effective civic action and lobbying as well as to protest discrimination against religious believers.

The coalition declares its respect for the sanctity and dignity of life, family and marriage. It advocates education reform and help for the poor while taking Republican-leaning positions favoring limited government, lower taxes and free markets. The group also backs strong foreign policy and support for Israel.