So a priest, a lawmaker and more than 100 Catholics walked into Our Lady of Fatima church one night two weeks ago. That's not the beginning of a joke. Instead, it describes a serious outreach effort by Catholics for a Common Good, a faith-based group that seeks to bring more Catholics into the politically progressive fold.
In anticipation of the November elections, the speakers, including state Rep. Steven Tobocman (D-Detroit) who's more at home in a synagogue than a cathedral discussed the religious implications of such topics as affirmative action and health care. The group uses biblical scripture and church philosophy to help members frame political issues.
"We think it is extremely important to bring the moral dimension of some of the issues forward," Jim Sheehan, chair of the group's steering committee, tells News Hits. He says such topics as workers' rights, poverty laws and affirmative action are getting short shrift from the Catholic hierarchy. "These things aren't being talked about enough in the wider church," he says.
The group, started in 2003, has about 65 paying members, Sheehan says, though more than that show up for its meetings. Despite the emphasis some church members place on abortion and gay rights, he adds, Catholics need to also consider the moral facets of environmental, labor and civil rights issues. Economic policy gets special scrutiny.
"State and federal tax cuts are a big reason for both the state and federal financial crises," read literature handed out at the meeting. "Instead of asking what kind of government we want and how it should be financed, the debate focuses on reducing services and providing virtually obscene tax cuts for the most wealthy."
The Rev. Tom Hinsberg, director of the Detroit Area Peace with Justice Network, cajoled the crowd to broaden their perspective when casting ballots.
"A final judgment of a society is based on whether it promoted the common good," he told them. "Not just for its own country, but for the entire world."
In the 2004 presidential election, 56 percent of Catholics voted for Republican candidates, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Democracy Corps. That's a 15 percent increase from Bill Clinton's last electoral hurrah in 1996.
"I think a lot of Catholics were fooled by two highly emotional issues, abortion and gay rights," says Donna Glowacki, who came from Orion Township with her husband to attend the meeting. "But the Catholic Church has always been strong on social justice in the past."
Jasmine Bautista, a Florida State University student working as a volunteer in Detroit, wasn't so impressed.
"I thought the meeting was informative," she says, "but I think it was tainted by political leanings mixed with Catholic social teaching."
Hinsberg countered that politics run through much of Church teachings.
"The themes of Catholic social teaching ... teach the principle of the common good," he says. "It teaches us the basic equality of every human being. It teaches that the right of private property is not an absolute right. It teaches the condemnation of both laissez-faire capitalism and totalitarian communism."
Tobocman opened the evening by emphasizing the importance of cooperation between suburbanites and Detroit residents. "We need groups like Catholics for the Common Good," he said. "This Jew is behind them 100 percent."
Catholics for the Common Good can be reached at 248-980-5504 or on the Web at catholicsforcommongood.org.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or e-mail us at NewsHits@metrotimes.com