Denver, Colo., Nov 1, 2012 / 03:03 am
The Obama campaign attempted to schedule a rally-like event on a Catholic university campus in the key swing state of Colorado before settling on a dialogue with a co-chair of Catholics for Obama.
"Their original intent was to have more of a rally element to it," said Paul Alexander, director of Regis University's Institute for the Common Good, which hosted the event.
"We just felt we couldn't do a rally, but we felt a healthy dialogue among Catholics was important."
About 45 people attended the Oct. 25 dialogue and small group discussion with Catholics for Obama national co-chair Nicholas P. Cafardi, a law professor and dean emeritus of Duquesne University School of Law.
The event was titled "Catholic Social Teaching: The Intersection of Faith and Politics." Although it was hosted by the Jesuit university's institute, it took place because of outreach from the Obama campaign.
Alexander told CNA Oct 26 that another Catholics for Obama national co-chair by the name of Victoria Kovari, the "main point of contact," had sought out the university and asked if it would be willing to host an event.
Kovari is a former national field director and former interim president of the Democrat-leaning group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
She attended the Denver event along with Broderick Johnson, a senior advisor to the Obama campaign.
At the Thursday evening gathering, Alexander said that the campaign had reached out to schedule the event, but had set no conditions on the talk.
"There was a strict adherence to bring a message that is totally non-political," he said.
Cafardi's remarks examined moral judgment in public life, saying that the Church must leave solutions to political problems to "the informed consciences and prudential judgment of the laity."
He had pointed criticisms of Catholic bishops' actions on political matters.
"Our sacred pastors will tell us the ethical and moral principles that should govern human behavior. They can tell us the values that should be defended," he said. "No bishop, no priest, can tell you how to vote, ever. They don't have that right. That right belongs to you, and your informed conscience.
"They don't even have the right to hint how you're supposed to vote, as a number of them have been doing lately in their non-endorsement endorsements," he said, adding that no one can question the decision of an informed conscience.
Cafardi, who rejects the criminalization of abortion, said the Catholic Church's advocacy for the legal prohibition of abortion as the only way to address life issues ignores the need to use prudential judgment to decide the best way to protect human life.
He defended the Obama administration's controversial mandate which requires most employers of 50 or more employees to provide no co-pay insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.
Cafardi argued that the Obama administration's proposed conscience accommodation, whose details are unclear, is adequate. He also said that the mandate was justified under the same logic as the cost segregation practice which allows the government to fund the non-religious activities of religious employers.
He ridiculed broad exemptions for objecting private employers as the "Taco Bell exemption."
At least one other Catholic college has hosted Catholics for Obama speakers. Last month in Ohio, another politically key state for the presidential elections, the Xavier University College Democrats hosted Johnson, Kovari and other speakers who presented a Catholic case for voting for President Obama.
CNA contacted the Romney campaign to determine whether it has engaged in similar outreach to Catholic colleges and universities but did not receive a response by deadline.
Michael Hernon, a former president of the Republican-leaning group The Catholic Association, told CNA he has not heard of any Catholics for Romney outreach to Catholic colleges and universities.
Hernon, who is also a vice president of advancement at Franciscan University, said that Franciscan University of Steubenville has many faculty and students who support the Romney campaign in a personal capacity, but the university has not had any partisan events on campus.
Among the attendees at Regis University event were Catholics United Colorado State Chairman Anthony DeMattee. The organization expanded into Colorado with its first Denver event on Oct. 22, holding a debate watching party with Catholics United Executive Director James Salt.
Until recently, Catholics United avoided directly contradicting Catholic teaching. On Oct. 18, it denounced Catholic efforts to defend traditional marriage as a "far right-wing" social issue. The group also attacked the Knights of Columbus for giving financial support to the Catholic bishops' marriage defense efforts and to marriage amendment ballot initiatives.
In April, the national organization protested the withdrawal of a Catholic grant to the Pueblo, Colorado-based immigrant aid group Companeros over its membership in a coalition that supports the legal recognition of homosexual relationships.
Alexander acknowledged that political opponents of President Obama would have a "healthy skepticism" towards the Regis University event. The institute had tried to reach out to the Romney campaign, but the "last-minute" nature of the event made that difficult.
"It's the intent of the institute, and really the university, to have a dialogue," he told CNA.
"We need to learn how to encounter the other," he added, citing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council document "Gaudium et Spes."
"That doesn't mean giving up the tenets of the Church or compromising the beliefs of the Church. But it does mean meeting each other as human beings, and the best tool for that is dialogue."
He said people who are skeptical of the Cafardi speech should "come join us and help us design some dialogues."
"We'd love to engage with people to do that," he added.