Baroque-era trumpets echoed through the vastness of Orange's Holy Family Cathedral on Oct. 18, signaling the beginning of the Red Mass, the annual Catholic Church celebration of the legal profession. A procession then began up the center aisle toward the altar: a man carrying a banner depicting St. Thomas More followed by a dozen robe-wearing Orange County judges, visiting bishops and, finally, Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown, resplendent in a mauve miter, leaning on a golden staff.
After Mass, attendees retired to a banquet hall to wine and dine and be introduced to polite applause. Then, according to a judge who was present, everyone was “quite startled” when the evening's emcee introduced Alexandria Coronado as a special guest.
Coronado serves on the Orange County Board of Education, and is the Republican candidate for the 47th Congressional District, basing her campaign against incumbent Loretta Sanchez mostly on an anti-abortion, anti-Communist, pro-War on Terror platform. Coronado is neither a lawyer nor a judge, nor does she have anything to do with the legal system, but that didn't stop Orange County's Holy See from inviting her to mingle with some very wealthy and powerful Catholics at the banquet.
When you consider that access to those Catholics could mean contact with the likes of millionaire developers William Lyon and Timothy Busch, or such power brokers as District Attorney Tony Rackaukus, OC Republican Party chairman Scott Baugh or his predecessor, Tom Fuentes, you realize what an advantage it could be for an unknown candidate like Coronado. Especially when she's running against the very well-known Sanchez, who, though Catholic, was not invited to the reception, no doubt because the diocese has picked up the cue from its former communications director Fuentes and virulently criticized Sanchez over the years for not being a “real” Catholic.
“It seemed wrong to announce Coronado as a political candidate [after the Red Mass],” said the judge, who requested anonymity. “If the church wanted to inject politics, why weren't there any other candidates invited? And what was the reason for her presence there in the first place?”
It's just one of many moves undertaken by church officials this year, from homilies to newspaper articles to pamphlets, to get the faithful to vote against candidates who support abortion rights, gay marriage and stem-cell research—and for the Republican platform.
Priests such as Father Timothy Freyer at Anaheim's St. Boniface have delivered Sunday homilies over the past months informing congregations that good Catholics must choose candidates who “respect life”—election-year code for Republicans. It was just last July, according to parishioners at St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa, that Father Vincent Gilmore—who has since moved to Busch's JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano—blasted Democrat John Kerry by name, remarking that he found it offensive that the Catholic presidential candidate “would take communion when [he doesn't] take an anti-abortion position.”
Interestingly, the diocese's political priorities are not in communion with its theological superiors. A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,the voter guide put out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), states that Catholic voters should take to the ballot box such radical positions as “option[s] for the poor and vulnerable, dignity of work and the rights of workers, and solidarity.”
Nonetheless, the current issue of Orange County Catholic, the diocese's official newspaper, contains an essay by Bishop Brown recommending that his flock focus on abortion—long a controversy used by Republicans to attract religious voters—as the primary issue for the Nov. 2 election. On the following page is an article that begins, “A Catholic would be cooperating in evil by voting for a candidate simply because of the candidate's support for legal abortion or euthanasia, said moral theologians contacted by [the news agency] Catholic News Service.” (There is no mention of the Vatican-opposed death penalty, of course.)
The diocese's biggest push, though, has been to distribute the Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics. The pamphlet, published by the conservative El Cajon-based organization Catholic Answers, lists five “non-negotiable” issues—abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, human cloning, and gay marriage—that “true” Catholics can never support. Although the guide claims to be apolitical, the Voter's Guide also advises Catholics to largely shun Catholic candidates since “many self-described Catholic candidates reject basic Catholic moral teaching”—a direct stab at such Catholic officeholders as Kerry, Sanchez and Assemblyman Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove). The Voter's Guide for Serious Catholicsis available at most county parishes—heavily Latino churches, such as St. Anne's in Santa Ana, even keep Spanish copies of it.
While the conservative nature of the Orange diocese puts it in line with the traditionalist positions of Pope John Paul II, consider this: the Oct. 15 edition of the National Catholic Reporter stated that a majority of Vatican officials support Kerry's candidacy, although such a position “is not an endorsement of John Kerry, who is even less known in Rome than to many Americans, so much as opposition to Bush, above all for the war in Iraq and the rest of his foreign policy.”