Conservative, pro-life advocate Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is under fire for statements he allegedly made in a fundraising letter that questioned the genuine Catholic faith of fellow Democratic senators who support an abortion rights legislation.
The undated letter, received by some media outlets late last week, raises doubt on whether six Democratic senators and the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, can be considered real Catholics.
"Real Catholics need a new voice - not the likes of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi who have campaigned as Catholics while voting to undermine the values that we hold most dear," states the letter, which was in an envelop with Brownback's signature, according to National Catholic Reporter.
The letter goes on to criticize several other abortion rights supporters in Congress including Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
These senators, who all sponsor the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), "openly and unabashedly claim to be Catholic - every year at election time" but then "once in office … willfully cast life-destroying votes at every turn," states the letter, which was an appeal to raise money for the Washington-based anti-abortion group Catholic Advocate.
FOCA is a legislation that would abolish every state and federal law regulating abortion.
Brownback's spokesman, Brian Hart, has denied that the fundraising letter was approved by the senator's office. Hart said the senator's chief of staff has "never seen, heard of, or approved it."
But according to Washington-based Faith and Public Life, Brownback's office acknowledged that permission was given by a former staff to be sent under the senator's name, resulting in conflicting reports of Brownback's position on the letter. Also, according to NCR, a Catholic Advocate spokesperson said the letter was "sanctioned by Brownback."
The letter was written on stationery with what appears to be Brownback's official Senate letterhead.
A government watchdog group asked the Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday to investigate.
In the meantime, the senator's office has asked the Catholic organization involved to stop distributing the letter and using the senator's name. Brownback's office also said they are not pleased with the content of the letter.
Despite efforts to contain the incident, the letter has already stirred up emotions in the Senate and the public.
More than 3,000 Americans of faith called on Brownback to set the record straight about his position on the recent fundraising letter sent under his name, according to Faith in Public Life.
Moreover, the signers of the petition – members of Faithful America and Catholics United – insist that funds raised from the letter be returned or donated to charity.
"This is an astonishing breach of the basic norms of civility long honored in the United States Senate," Stephen Schneck, professor of political science and director of The Catholic University of America's Life Cycle Institute, told NCR. "Regardless that FOCA is horrible and - for me - immoral legislation, an affront like this between senators is unfathomable."
Schneck also believes it is counterproductive to question others' faith in advocating the pro-life agenda.
"How can language like this do anything but hurt the pro-life cause," the professor said.
President Barack Obama is a supporter of the Freedom of Choice Act and had vowed during his campaign to make signing FOCA one of the first things he does in office.