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March 2009
Catholic Democrats Response to 
  Governor Sebelius's Nomination for Secretary of HHS and
Senator Brownback's Relationship with the Extreme Right

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
Matthew 7:3

Dear Friends,
This week, Catholic Democrats issued a press release applauding President Obama's nomination of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for Secretary of Health and Human Services.  While it is widely believed that Congress will approve her nomination, there is a groundswell of opposition emerging from the ideological Right that is seeking to derail it with unacceptably divisive and incendiary means.  We are asking you to help us respond after reading this email.

In a related development that was positive but unexpected, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) issued a statement supporting Governor Seblius's nomination.  This surprised many observers because Senator Brownback, who converted to Catholicism in 2002 and helped spearhead the Catholics for McCain effort last year, has been aligned with ultra conservative Republican Catholics whose focus on criminalizing abortion has mobilized them to block Governor Sebelius's nomination.

However, two weeks ago Senator Brownback was at the center of a still unresolved controversy regarding the mailing of a fundraising letter disparaging Catholic members of Congress.  It was sent out under Senator Brownback's name and mailed by the Catholic Advocate, a new organization headed by Deal Hudson, a conservative political strategist who was closely associated with the Bush administration.

The letter claims that seven Democratic legislators are not "real Catholics" because they do not support the Republican push for the criminalization of abortion and instead have advocated effective solutions for reducing the number of abortions in our country.  The letter goes on to state, "Real Catholics need a new voice - not the likes of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi who have campaigned as Catholics while voting to undermine the values we hold most dear."  The letter also puts quotes around the word Catholic to describe five Senators - John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) - while inaccurately claiming that these Senators are sponsoring the Freedom of Choice Act, an expired bill that has not been introduced in this Congressional session.

Beyond its piercing language, the letter is significant for at least two additional reasons: 1) to the best of our knowledge it marks the first time that a national Catholic elected official has publicly questioned the faithfulness or authenticity of a fellow Catholic for political purposes - or has statements attributed to him or her that do this, and; 2) the messages in the letter are a violation of canon law (see Catholic Democrats Canon Law Brief by Professor Nicholas Cafardi that says that every Catholic is guaranteed a right to their good name and a right to privacy in the Church).

Last week Catholic Democrats sent a letter to Senator Brownback's office urging him to publicly disavow the letter.  When it became broadly apparent that his office was obscuring the facts surrounding the use of his name on the letter, we issued a press release calling on him to condemn it.  To date he has not responded.

This week we are witnessing the hard-liners on the far Right, including the individuals responsible for the fundraising letter, focus their attacks on Governor Sebelius.  In fact, the organization behind the fundraising letter has a launched a Web site called "Catholics against Sebelius", which labels Governor Sebelius as being "anti-life."  Ironically Senator Brownback is helping fund this effort against the Governor by not yet publicly denouncing the use of his name, or asking that the funds received from the fundraising letter be returned to the donors - a confusing contradiction of his public support for her nomination.

In a broader sense, the rhetoric used by Governor Sebelius's opponents and in the Brownback letter is a part of a growing trend - the acceptance, if not expectation, of increasingly divisive rhetoric, particularly related to our faith.  This trend must be reversed for the common good of our Church and our country.  Both are in need of healing.  If not confronted now, we can expect this damaging rhetoric to further separate us from finding a way, through our faith, to reconcile the inevitable differences between us.

The election of President Obama last November was a call for all of us, particularly our elected officials, to elevate public discourse to a level of mutual respect that supports the common good - values that are consistent with those we hold as Catholics.

Senator Brownback should be commended for supporting Governor Sebelius's nomination despite the vitriolic attacks by her detractors on the Right.  At the same time, he should also condemn the use of his name on a public letter that not only questions the Catholicism of other members of Congress but that also raises money for an organization to help fund their effort to overturn the Governor's nomination, even as Senator Brownback gives her his support.

We are asking you to do two things to help us stop these attacks on Catholic elected officials for the common good:
1.  Call or e-mail Senator Brownback's office, identify yourself as a Catholic, and politely convey the following messages to him:
  • Thank him for his statement of support of Governor Sebelius; 
  • Call upon Senator Brownback to publicly condemn the statements made in his name.  Please say that his failure to do so will be interpreted as a sign of support for these statements (Qui tacet consentire vidétur - silence is consent!);
  • Call upon Senator Brownback to urge the Catholic Advocate to return the funds it receives from the fundraising letter using the Senator's name.

His phone number is (202) 224-6521 or you can send an email to him by going to (

 2.  Forward this e-mail to a few friends and family members who share our belief that we need to begin the process of healing in our Church and changing the tenor of the political discourse in our country to one that serves the common good.
Please let us know the results of your contact with Senator Brownback's office.
Thank you for your continued support.  We look forward to working with you, to help create a better future for our country and our Church.
Warm regards,
Patrick Whelan
Suzanne Morse
Lisa Schare
Steve Krueger

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