Fr. Battle Anti-Clinton TV Ad

T"he election was lost, but some souls may have been saved-thanks to a controversial 30 second spot advertisement that aired in Baltimore. Catholics were told that they "may not vote for an abortion candidate-may not vote for Clinton." The commercial was viewed here on Channel 2's 6-6:30 pm evening news on two consecutive thursday evenings prior to the election.

Father Battle

The priest who made the pronouncement is Father lawrence Battle, 76, a retired priest in the California diocese of San Bernardino-and his statements are based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, canon 747 of the Code of Canon Law, and Gaudiem et Spes.

Against the musical backdrop of Mozart's Requiem, Fr. Battle made his points. "It is the mission of the Catholic Church to pass moral judgement in matters related to politics whenever the fundamental rights of man require it," he tells viewers. "The Democratic Party and Bill Clinton have brought shame and horror to this nation. They have legalized the savage murder of babies during birth. We are outraged."The word "shame" blinked over the smiling face of Mr. Clinton on the screen.

The advertisement was circulated by the ad hoc U.S. Catholic Coalition, based in Butte, Montana. It was made available in both English and Spanish.

"A two-by-four to the head"

According to Channel 2 Nightside's reporter John Rosson, "the ad sounded a discordant note at the Baltimore Archdiocese." Channel 2's Wednesday (Oct. 23rd) evening news carried a segment on the then upcoming ad, in which they reported statements from the Baltimore archdiocese. Regarding Father Battle himself, the archdiocese told Nightside, "He's got no standing here." Bill Blaul, Cardinal Keeler's spokesman, said that the ad represented "a confrontational approach that is overreaching...a situation where somebody buys air time to cleave open differences in the Catholic Church."

Rosson said the archdiocese called the ad "a two-by-four to the head," explaining that "the Church stands against abortion, of course, but it prefers to educate on the issues and not tell people how to vote."

The Archdiocese speaks

The same tenor was maintained in a telephone interview with Archdiocesan spokesman William Blaul. Although Mr. Blaul said the Archdiocese had no prepared statement on the subject, he articulated its position for this newsletter.

Mr. Blaul noted that the Archdio-cese agreed with Fr. Battle on the abortion issue. "The Church," Blaul said, "is pro-life. Clinton's track record is clear-they're exceedingly pro-abortion." Mr. Blaul cited the Bishops' post card campaign and Capitol prayer vigil as documentation of the Church's pro-life stance, but reiterated that the Archdiocese prefers to "educate on the issues, rather than tell people how to vote."

Asked if, in the Ardiocese's view, a Catholic could morally vote for a pro-abortion candidate, Mr. Blaul said, "that's her decision. We wouldn't agree, if she reached that decision based on the abortion issue." And what if she cast her vote for a pro-abortion candidate based on, for example, his immigration policy? "That's a conscience decision for that particular voter..." Mr. Blaul responded. "I'm not in a position to pass judgement." He added that "a seamless garment voter is a difficult thing to be..." reiterating that there are many issues to be considered in addition to abortion.

The Archdiocese seems stung by Father Battle's failure to consult with it before releasing the ad to the Baltimore market. Mr. Blaul repeated that Father Battle "has no standing" in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, questioned his credentials, and said that "whether he is in league with the Magisterium is a judgement call."

Teaching of the Magisterium

The last Vatican Council reaffirmed the Church's teachings by terming abortion and infanticide "abominable crimes" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2322) calls abortion a "...'criminal' practice gravely contrary to the moral law. The Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life."

What of those who advance abortion by voting for pro-abortion candidates? Vatican pronouncements as early as 1974 forbade Catholics to involve themselves in advancing or vote for abortions (Declaration on Procured Abortion, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). Moreover, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1868), "...we have a responsibility for the sins of others when we cooperate in them: by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or hindering them...[and] by protecting evil-doers."

Newspaper coverage

The Rooster Community Newspapers carried front page stories on the ad and its message to 60,000 northeast Baltimore homes, and the Enterprise used its front page to alert 30,000 readers in south Baltimore. The ad was ignored on the editorial pages of the diocesan newspaper.

According to the Catholic News Service, however, there was some confusion when "an advertisement about the commercial...appeared in the Oct. 30 Catholic Review, the Baltimore archdiocesan newspaper. Associate publisher Daniel Medinger told CNS the appearance of the ad was "a mistake." It should not have run. That's not the kind of advertising we want in our paper.'

Medinger said the Review refuses all political advertising, but that the ad about the commercial was accepted by an employee who knew the paper routinely takes other ads from Defend Life.

Medinger said he never saw the ad prior to publication because ads are not in place on the page proofs he checks. A new advertising policy was established to avoid further problems, he said."

Censorship and lies

Channels 11 and 13 refused the paid ad-as did a station in Washington, D.C. According to Defend Life founder Jack Ames, Channel 13 gave two reasons: "the ad might be offensive to the Catholic community," and "how do we know that Fr. Battle is really a Catholic priest?" Defend Life conducted a fund-raising drive to continue airing the ad locally. As a result, the spot was shown approximately 150 times on local cable systems in Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties. the organization has yet to recoup media expenditures (see enclosure).

Nationwide efforts

The controversial spot alsa ran continuously on ABC affiliate KESQ-TV, in California. Catholics Concerned, a Baltimore-based Catholic lay advocacy organization affiliated with the USCC, worked to air the ad in other markets-particularly in areas with large Hispanic populations. Don Treshman, national coordinator for the group, said that the English version was directed toward cities with "large Catholic blocks of voters who may not be aware of the Church teachings concerning voting for pro-abortion candidates." Treshman emphasized that "the ad does not represent, or seek to represent, the tax-exempt Catholic Church. It does, however, faithfully present the teachings of the Catholic Church as propounded in Canon Law and the Catechism."

Treshman seemed surprised by archdiocesan claims that they were ignorant of the ad's debut; he maintains that he had faxed a transcript of the ad, a press release and a broadcast editorial about it to the Chancery offices.

Many other individuals or groups also ran with the Fr. Battle ad, airing it in hundreds of cites throughout the country-contrary to the views of the establishment media. The Washington Times was the only major newspaper to carry the story of the ad campaign. The attitude toward the story by the media "elite" was best summed up by a reporter for USA Today, who said "The political department decided not to run the story because the od only appeared in one or two cities." The ad actually ran in most states and major cities everywhere.

The spot aired continuously in Baton Rouge and New Orleans for a week and a half prior to the statement issued by Archbishop Hannan, who, reacting to calls from so many people, reiterated the points made by Fr. Battle.

Baltimore's Catholics Concerned helped get the 30-second spot in a number of cities nationally. Perhaps their most successful campaign was in San Antonio, Texas. As Don Treshman relates, "We contracted with a major Hispanic station to run the Spanish version in two afternoon slots, and during the evening and night news broadcasts. We then sent a press release to all of the other stations in San Antonio-except the one airing the ad -and hyped it up.

The evening before the ad campaign was to break, two other stations ran the story as a news item and aired the complete English version we provided them as part of the story. The next morning another station did the same thing. By the time the manager of the Hispanic station arrived at work his staff was already deluged with calls and threots from irate Democrats. He decided to breok our contract and not run the ods. After negotioting with him over the finer points of contract law, he ogreed to run teasers about the ad all afternoon, then run the story, and the full ad, as the lead on both the evening ond night news programs... and refund our money." Thus the Fr. Battle ad ran in San Antonio in over $5,000. worth of time slots on four stations ot no cost to the pro-lifers.

The legalities

Action by the Federal Elections commission would not surprise the pro-life activists distributing the video. The Pierce Creek Church in New York ran prints ads before the 1992 election, informing readers that voting for Clinton was sinful-and the IRS revoked their tax-free status. Their countersuit, still pending in federal district court, alleges "selective prosecution," since other congregations have not faced similar action

Al Rhomberg, of the U.S. Catholic Coalition, pointed out that the video was prepared according to the National Right to Life Committee legal guidelines, which state that a church may not engage in political advocacy, but a pastor, in his individual capacity may.

Defend Life Newsletter, Dec 96

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