WASHINGTON, August 10, 2004 ( – A political questionnaire issued by the government relations staff of the US Conference of Catholics Bishops and distributed to both major-party presidential candidates has received criticism from prominent Catholics who say most of the questions take the Democratic side of non-binding policy issues such as immigration and gun control. Bill Ryan, spokesman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged that Catholics are not bound by many of the policies promoted in the questionnaire. “No. On issues like that people can take different stances,” he told Culture and Cosmos.  The questionnaire contains 41 questions asking the candidates to answer “support” or “oppose” to statements on issues as divergent as child-safety gun locks and the redistribution of farm subsidies. A copy of the questionnaire obtained by Culture & Cosmos reveals that the topic receiving the most attention is immigration and refugees, which garnered seven queries. Abortion and school choice were each given three questions. Receiving two questions each are capital punishment, gun control, agriculture and rural development, economic help for low income families, housing, federal education programs, and marriage. Fourteen other topics received one question each including health care, decreasing nuclear weapons, cloning, physician assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research.  Patrick F. Fagan, a research fellow on cultural and family issues at the Heritage Foundation, says that many of the questions involve policies over which Catholics may properly disagree, but that this official questionnaire gives the impression that these are the only acceptable Catholic positions. “On immigration, on housing, on welfare, there are many ways to skin these cats”. Fagan says Catholic social teaching provides the principles, but that laymen are permitted a wide berth in choosing between “practical applications.”

What’s more, many of the questions take what are traditionally associated with policy positions of the Democratic Party. Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute, said that many of the questions, such as those calling for more gun control and public funding of health care, are written in such a way as to endorse the Democratic Party approach. He says this gives the appearance of bias and therefore undermines the usefulness of the questionnaire.

Frank Monahan, director of the Office of Government Liaison at the USCCB, told Culture and Cosmos that the questionnaire “reflects the Bishops’ public policy agenda.”  What may be a less confusing and more useful voter guide has been issued by the group Catholic Answers. Their guide leaves out prudential issues, like gun control and the minimum wage, focusing instead on what they call the “five non-negotiable issues” of abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marriage.  See Catholic Answers Voters’ Guide