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[whitespace] Dan Lungren Dan Lungren wants everyone to think he's the most devout Catholic on the ballot. Good thing for him the pope can't vote.

By Eric Johnson

WILLIAM J. LEVADA, head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, looks on pokerfaced while his old friend Dan Lungren charms 200 of the wealthiest Republicans in Northern California in the ballroom of San Francisco's Argent Hotel. After a prime rib dinner supplied by Intel and several other corporate supporters, washed down with wines provided by Robert Mondavi and Cline, this small, somewhat ordinary-looking group will donate $1.3 million to Lungren's campaign. Combined with a $2 million boost from last night's fundraiser (which featured an appearance by Nancy Reagan), these folks' generosity will catapult the attorney general dead even with opponent Gray Davis in the political statistic that matters most: the number of dollars in the war chest.

In his checkbook outreach to his guests, Lungren stands behind the podium and reveals all three dimensions of his political personality: the passionate crime-fighter, the anti-government tax-cutter, and--his ace in the hole--the devout Catholic.

His competition in the race, Davis, who is also a Catholic (albeit one whose faith had lapsed for most of his adult life until he returned to the Church three years ago), has so far left his religion out of the public conversation. But not Lungren. Tonight he will all but wrap himself in priest's vestments, as he has throughout the campaign.

"The archbishop and I come from the same town, we grew up in the same parish, and we went to the same high school," Lungren says of Levada. He points out that the school, St. Anthony's in Long Beach, has produced no fewer than five bishops.

"I feel lucky to have gone to St. Anthony's--it was a school that was dedicated to teaching us values," he says, stepping back from the podium for the applause line to take effect.

Before shifting gears to the night's real subjects--realpolitik and money--Lungren digresses into a story about Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. With religious fervor, he ramps up to a discussion of crime, one-upping his opponent on the death penalty. He articulates the importance of the upcoming race, hitting buzzwords like "enthusiasm," "commitment" and "electrifying." He then moves in for the kill.

"I will bring the tax rate down in California to make this state more business-friendly, and therefore more job-friendly and more family-friendly--putting more money in your pockets," he says. And with that, he receives the biggest ovation of the night.

ON MAY 1, 1891, POPE LEO XII issued a papal encyclical--a statement of the church's official position--which laid the intellectual groundwork for modern Catholic social thought. The letter made a case for the church's participation in political questions by addressing the rise of industrial capitalism and the socialist opposition which it spawned. The pope labeled this the "New Thing." It remains today an official document of the church, known by its Latin name: Rerum Novarum.

Seven years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II issued another encyclical. He explained that the previous Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo had taken a stand in favor of private property and against socialism, but that the majority of the text had been given over to recognizing the human rights of workers, based on teachings in the New Testament.

In John Paul's centennial document, he described a new "New Thing" to be addressed. He details the faults of Soviet-style socialism--a system he and his church helped overthrow in Poland--while reaffirming human rights under contemporary economic and political conditions. Pointing out that poor people were "the most beloved by Jesus," his 12-page letter is filled with specifics: addressing workers' rights to fair wages and union representation, as well as governments' responsibilities to intervene in assuring those rights, and asserting that nations must ensure that all their citizens are provided with the basic necessities of life.

SINCE THE Rerum Novarum the Catholic Church has offered its members guidance on virtually every aspect of social and political thought. Nevertheless, Catholic leaders are rarely asked to weigh in on any political question except one: abortion.

On Sept. 20, both candidates attended an archdiocese-sponsored forum in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, during which they were asked to address four public policy questions stemming from Catholic doctrine. On three of the four issues--subsidized childcare, alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders and a living wage--Davis' positions were judged to adhere more closely to Catholic thought. On the fourth--late-term abortions--Lungren's position received the sponsors' blessing.

Jeff Bonino-Birtsch, director of the peace and justice committee of the archdiocese and organizer of the forum, says his fellow parishioners chose the four issues because they reflect "a consistent life ethic."

The parishioners who worked on the forum were dismayed the following morning when they picked up the Los Angeles Times to see the headline "Candidates Clash on Abortion," with no mention in the article of the three other issues.

BARRY STENGER, who teaches Catholic social theory at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, says he is continually disappointed that the relationship between Catholic faith and politics is generally ignored.

"You can't even say the words 'religion' and 'politics' in the same sentence without being taken for a member of the Moral Majority," he says, "and frankly, I've come to resent that."

"The Christian Right says, 'We ought to be concerned about unborn babies because Jesus said so,' and they quote chapter and verse. But that isn't the Catholic approach.

"We view the world from a larger philosophical or moral perspective. We concern ourselves with questions about what it is that God calls human beings out to be, and our teachings present a vision of life with a moral dimension."

Stenger heads up SCU's Markkula Center for Ethics, which, because of its nonprofit status, does not take official positions in partisan races. He says that he personally supports Gray Davis in this race, not Lungren, as do many Catholics, but that because of the candidate's pro-choice position, many aren't talking about it.

"The abortion question has become a litmus test for Catholic clergy and for Catholics in general," Stenger says. "And because of his pro-life position, it's heresy to even hint that you might be critical of Lungren."

Stenger points to the concept known as the "seamless garment," which was put forward by the Council of American Bishops. The idea is that the Catholic Church's pro-life position stems from an overall respect for life, which must also reveal itself in opposition to the death penalty, as well as concern for the poor.

"How can Lungren get up and talk about his great Catholic values and then make so much political hay out of the death penalty?" Stenger asks. "Look at all of these commercials, where he goes on and on about how he's more for the death penalty than Gray Davis."

Stenger expresses disappointment that both candidates favor the death penalty, but says he generally finds Davis' views more in alignment with Catholic thought, an opinion echoed by members of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

STENGER, HOWEVER, says he is ultimately frustrated about his choices. Perhaps it's to be expected that as an academic, in particular an ethics professor at a Catholic university, he craves deep political change, and while he will vote for Davis, he wishes for more.

"I would like to see the next governor look at fundamental questions about where the state is headed," he says. "Do we really want to continue to build a society where it's taken for granted that every household requires two wage earners? Is that good for the family? What is the Silicon Valley 70-hour work week doing to our families?

"We need to put work in its proper relationship, one that considers our limited resources and preserves California in its natural beauty. We need to think about developing an new economic model, a sustainable model. And I believe Catholic teachings can help us find that."

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From the October 22-28, 1998 issue of Metro.

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