Kerry advisers tell hopeful to ‘keep cool’ on religion

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Sen. John Kerry’s advisers are telling the presidential candidate to steer clear of talking about religion after running afoul of several Catholic bishops and after the campaign’s new director of religious outreach was criticized this week for espousing left-wing causes.

The Rev. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest who served in Congress during the 1970s, says he has advised the campaign to clamp down on religious rhetoric and “keep cool on the Communion thing” after four Catholic bishops either barred Mr. Kerry by name from taking Communion in their dioceses or said pro-choice Catholics should be denied the sacrament.

“The mood now is to shut up about it,” said Father Drinan, who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center. He said the Communion debate “is a nonissue” in the Kerry campaign and simply a tool of the Republican Party.

Mr. Kerry’s detractors “are dying for him to say something. But he won’t take them on,” the priest said, adding that he was part of a “kitchen Cabinet” to advise the Kerry campaign on religious matters.

Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign also has sidelined its new religion adviser, closing journalists’ access to Mara Vanderslice and ignoring her advice on how to appeal effectively to religious voters.

“Every time something with religious language got sent up the flagpole, it got sent back down, stripped of religious language,” a Kerry campaign source said of Miss Vanderslice’s ideas on overcoming Mr. Kerry’s secular image.

The campaign source also said former Clinton aides Paul Begala, John Podesta and Mike McCurry have tutored campaign operatives on more aggressively using religion to appeal to voters.

“Why the campaign is not listening to any of them, I don’t know,” the source said. “Conservatives are about 20 years ahead of us on this stuff.”

The campaign began to marginalize Miss Vanderslice when the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights mounted a public campaign against her, saying she spoke at a rally co-sponsored by the homosexual group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (Act-Up) and should be “working for Fidel Castro.”

Even though she was giving interviews to USA Today earlier this month, Miss Vanderslice would not be talking to the press, said campaign spokeswoman Allison Dobson.

“It is extremely unfortunate and regretful that John Kerry’s political opponents would attack a person of faith in this way,” Ms. Dobson said.

Miss Vanderslice, 29, grew up Unitarian in Boulder, Colo., then attended Earlham College, a Quaker institution in Richmond, Ind.

She joined a college socialist group, majored in peace and global studies, and graduated in 1997. After interning for a year at Sojourners, a liberal evangelical magazine in the District, she joined the Jubilee USA Network, a D.C.-based group that campaigns for Third World debt relief.

What Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, found especially problematic was Miss Vanderslice’s presence at a violent December 2000 rally in Seattle against the International Monetary Fund and a similar protest in September 2002 in the District against the IMF and the World Bank.

In articles on the protests, the Boston Globe identified her as an organizer and the Denver Post quoted her plans to take part in civil disobedience in order to shut down the IMF meeting in the District.

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