Reaching across denominations to bolster its membership at the onset of the 1996 presidential campaign, the predominantly Protestant Christian Coalition inaugurated a Catholic auxiliary Saturday with a series of speeches that played down theological differences in favor of a political unity for American Christians on core issues like abortion and family values.
On a morning of blustering snow in this New England stronghold of Irish and Italian Catholics, more than 400 people gathered at a downtown hotel for the opening meeting of the Catholic Alliance, the new arm of Christian Coalition, the conservative political group founded by the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.
An estimated 16 percent, or 250,000, of the 1.7 million Christian Coalition members nationwide, are believed to be Catholics.
Coalition leaders, saying they wanted to increase that number to 25 percent, announced their plans to start the Catholic Alliance during the visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States this fall.
The crowd at the Park Plaza hotel Saturday listened as speaker after speaker condemned abortion and pornography, advocated the rights of parents and the faithful, and promoted cooperation on political issues that unite Christians.
The speakers included the Coalition’s executive director, Ralph Reed Jr., and Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.
Reed called the new group “the most significant flowering of ecumenical cooperation” since the divisions of Reformation in the 16th century.
He added: “We must focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. We have got to unite together to turn America to moral greatness again.”
And though unity was perhaps the most common theme Saturday, the Catholic Church itself has not endorsed the new group.
And U.S. bishops, though not criticizing the Catholic Alliance, have warned that Roman Catholic beliefs do not fit neatly into the agenda of the right or the left in U.S. politics.
Invoking Boston’s history as the birthplace of the American Revolution, Reed lashed out at the federal bureaucracy and predicted a moral revolution led by evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics.