Common good gets boost from Catholic gathering

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The concept of the common good, an idea that winds through time from Plato to Aquinas, to the U.S. Founding Fathers and, on the way, through a number of popes, got a boost in Philadelphia July 11-13 when a crowd of more than 800, mostly Catholics, showed up to affirm a political platform based on the idea.

The Convention for the Common Good was a project of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a group that describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization formed to promote awareness of Catholic social teaching, and Network, a national Catholic social justice organization, and co-hosted by some 16 other Catholic groups, religious orders and institutions.

“What we’re trying to do is expand the debate about what faith can be in the political arena,” said John Gehring, senior writer for Catholics in Alliance. “The religious right has had a monopoly on the debate for too long. We’re seeing a change now not just in the Catholic world but among evangelicals.”

The alliance has worked to expand the notion of pro-life, said Gehring, so that in addition to “protecting innocent life in the womb,” it is also about “caring for the poor, about the silent genocide of poverty” and about opposing the death penalty and war.

Through the course of the weekend, participants discussed five areas of a platform that was affirmed on the final day of the gathering and that will be advanced to the two major parties for consideration.

(A more expansive story on the convention and the development of Catholic political groups during the past four years will appear in the Aug 8 edition of NCR.)

In an opening speech to the convention, theologian M. Shawn Copeland of Boston College appeared to pull the conversation from the theoretical to the here and now. The common good, she said, “is human achievement: It is us right here, right now making ourselves who we are and who we might become, first and foremost, as authentic human persons, as people of faith, as citizens of the United States.”

Those attending the convention signed cards the final day pledging to take action in a variety of ways to spread the word. A Web site,, urges interested parties to send the platform and a link to the Catholic Alliance’s main Web site to friends in an “8 in 08” program. The site also contains online training in dealing with the media, writing letters to the editor and a page of news updates.

The convention, at the Sheraton City Center in Philadelphia, opened with the launch of the book, A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division.

Written by Alexia Kelley, principal founder of Catholics in Alliance, and Chris Korzen, co-founder and executive director of Catholics United, the book is a compendium of Catholic social thought, its history and development, and how it applies to a range of social and political issues that were often overshadowed in the recent past by the culture wars.

Kelley previously worked at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Korzen, who holds a master’s in theology from Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., directed the Catholic Voting Project in 2004 and 2005.

If the intent of the Philadelphia gathering was nonpartisan, the crowd wasn’t. A largely progressive Catholic audience spent the day listening to speakers addressing the various categories of the platform and raising questions from each area for speakers at the end of the day.

The speakers, John Podesta and former U.S. Rep. Charles Dougherty, evidenced the greatest contrast during a panel discussion moderated by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. Podesta, president and chief executive officer of American Progress, was chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton for more than three years. Dougherty, a Republican, served two terms in Congress in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

To read the Common Good Platform click on this link: Common Good Platform

Tom Roberts is NCR news director. His e-mail address is

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