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Tom Zirpoli: Church should return to the basics

During the presidential election several prominent Catholic bishops openly promoted the Republican candidate for president. Indeed, the U.S. Catholic Church made no secret of its support for Mitt Romney for president.

Even with threats of eternal damnation, however, Catholics voted for Barack Obama at about the same proportion as non-Catholics, 51 percent to 48 percent. Moreover, Latino Catholics favored Obama by 76 percent to 23 percent for Romney.

I found it interesting that the Church recently hired Fox News reporter Greg Burke as a media consultant to improve its public image. Given the Church's sex scandals, its continued discrimination against women and its recent alignment with the Republican Party on social issues, its image has taken a beating.

I would suggest, however, that instead of looking at how their message is communicated, they might want to evaluate their message. San Francisco Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, for example, recently called same-sex marriage, which was approved by voters in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota, "a plot by the Evil One." Young voters have gay friends and view this level of intolerance as intolerable. No wonder that one out of three voters under the age of 30 does not associate themselves with organized religion, and over 60 percent of all young voters supported Obama.

Instead of moving cardinals and bishops to cushy jobs in Rome after covering up decades of sexual abuse, perhaps a better strategy for the Church might be to terminate their employment and calling the police. You don't need a media advisor to more effectively communicate a clear no-tolerance strategy for child abuse.

The Church's partnership with the GOP in court proceedings to stop Obama from ensuring that women have the choice of birth control on their health insurance plans has politicized the Church's message. And going to Fox News to find their media advisor reinforces the perception of a marriage between the Church and the Republican Party.

It is, of course, the Church's prerogative to be against birth control. But when it tries to remove a woman's choice by removing birth control from health insurance plans, the Church has stepped over a line within a democratic society. Most women, including Catholic women, have used or use birth control. Since the Church has been unable to get Catholic women to stop using birth control, it appears that it is trying to have their friends in the Republican Party remove birth control from insurance plans. Thus, for women of all faiths, birth control will no longer be a decision of faith or choice, but no choice at all.

The image of a group of old men telling women that they will no longer have the choice of birth control on their insurance plans is an image that no media advisor could possibly repair for the Church or the GOP.

Some cardinals and bishops told their congregations that it was a sin to vote for Obama. For them, apparently, voting for the political party that supports the death penalty, as well as taking money from the poor so the rich can receive another tax cut is the path to eternal life.

Burke has stated that his job will be to "try to make sure everyone remains on message." If this is his strategy, then he has already failed his Church. Discussion and disagreement are important for the growth and health of any organization, religious or political.

If you are spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, do you really need a media advisor? Perhaps the Church may want to get back to basics - Christ's message of love and forgiveness - and get out of politics. When you are busy feeding the poor and caring for your neighbor, even if she uses birth control, you probably don't need a media advisor to protect your public image.

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