From running blurbs in church bulletins to organizing "meet-the-candidates forums" and other voter education events, parishes across the Archdiocese of Hartford have spent months preparing for Election Day.
"We are developing support from a number of parishes who are interested in having a candidates’ forum, or a meet-the-candidates night, where the candidates come in and have questions posed to them, questions that would be important to the Church and the role of the Church in today’s society," said Michael C. Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference (CCPAC), the public policy and advocacy office of the Catholic Bishops in Connecticut.
The forums – some of which had not been held as of press time – were being organized with the support of the pastors of the parishes involved, but carried out and moderated by parishioners, Mr. Culhane said. All state-level congressional and senatorial candidates who represent districts local to hosting parishes were invited to attend each forum.
"The main purpose is to highlight the issues of importance to the Church, issues that the Church has an absolute right to get involved in, issues that have to be discussed in the public forum," Mr. Culhane said.
Father Lawrence Symolon, pastor of Holy Angels Parish, Meriden, said that a forum was planned for Oct. 30 at Holy Angels’ parish center, with participation from the other parishes in Meriden: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Joseph, St. Laurent, St. Mary, St. Rose of Lima and St. Stanislaus.
"The goal is twofold: to allow the Catholics of the area to get to know the candidates and where they stand on the issues," he said, "and at the same time to allow the candidates to hopefully get an idea of where Catholics stand on issues of importance."
Father Robert J. Rousseau, director of pro-life activities for the archdiocesan Pro-Life Ministry in Meriden and pastor of St. Augustine Parish in North Branford, said an Oct. 29 forum would be co-sponsored by St. George Parish in Guilford and St. Margaret Parish in Madison, where it will be held. "I hope people would come and ask questions and listen, to take some interest," Father Rousseau said.
"Perhaps 90 percent of the people have reached a saturation point and don’t want to hear any more. The undecideds are still kind of up in the air, but hopefully people will come and hear what’s going on at the local level, because that really makes a difference," he said.
Father Kevin G. Donovan is pastor of St. Pius X in Wolcott, where an Oct. 17 forum was organized in cooperation with St. Thomas Parish in Southington and St. Thomas Becket Parish in Cheshire.
"It’s very important for all of us who are citizens of our state to inform ourselves about the election process and who is running for public office to represent us for the General Assembly, and to let those people know, the people who are running, that we have certain perspectives as people of faith, that we obviously have interest," he said.
"We want to make our voices heard as people of faith and as citizens who happen to be Catholic, and we want to know what these individuals believe and how they did vote or would vote in light of what our positions are," he added.
Angela Engratt, director of faith formation at St. Pius X, is co-chair of that forum. She said, "I think our expectations are that these people will be voting for someone that has the Catholic Church’s interests in mind."
The Torrington Cluster of Roman Catholic Parishes has been hosting candidates’ forums for more than 10 years, according to Father Christopher M. Tiano, pastor. A candidates’ forum was held Oct. 11 at one of the four parishes, St. Peter.
"Torrington has three House districts and two Senate districts, so we had 10 candidates there this year," he said. "It was a spirited, spirited discussion and a lot of issues came up. It’s a great community service we provide in letting people know their candidates."
The annual forums in Torrington focus on city and state elections, but not on federal elections, Father Tiano said.
Some parishes had informal gatherings, such as St. Joseph in Bristol, where coffee-and-conversation get-togethers took place Oct. 9 and 11 to discuss "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," the guide prepared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
St. Catherine of Siena in West Simsbury and St. Ann in Avon have formed ministries devoted to social issues of concern to Catholics. (See sidebar.)
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell has rarely missed an opportunity all year to focus on the HHS mandate, mentioning it in his Transcript column on page 2 every month since February and frequently while speaking in public.
In addition, parishes continue to run weekly blurbs in bulletins, reminding people that they need to contact the White House and/or other lawmakers about the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requiring religious and other institutions to provide insurance coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
Also, a number of parishes and organizations, such as St. Joseph Parish in Winsted and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, have invited Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, to speak about religious freedom and other issues.
The archdiocese also participated in the most recent 40 Days for Life Campaign, which was scheduled to end Nov. 4, the Sunday before Election Day.
"The idea is to have a focused period of prayer and fasting prior to the election with the hope and faith of electing more pro-life legislators," said Mary Lou Peters, assistant program coordinator for the archdiocesan Pro-Life Ministry. "That’s the foundation for changing the culture. It’s the prayer and fasting – the sacrifice."