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By HANNAH MORGAN
BALTIMORE -- A handful of Christians from the Baltimore region stood in the rain to hand a petition of 25,000 signatures to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Tuesday morning, protesting the bishops’ recent political involvement and what they say is a lack of focus on the poor.
The petition reads: "The election results prove that the Catholic faithful don't want any part of your right-wing political crusades. Please reconsider your priorities and refocus your attention on those whom Jesus called 'the least of these.'"
"I believe the majority of Catholics have spoken and they don't agree with the position the Bishops have taken ... They were arrogant to believe they ever controlled our votes," said Richard Martone, 60, from Alexandria, Va.
Martone and about 10 other Christians, along with representatives from the faith-based organizations Catholics United and Faithful America stood in front of the Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore Tuesday morning as bishops from around the country met inside.
James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, handed the signatures, along with the petition, to Rose Gebken, a communications aide at the conference, Gebken said.
The petition was directed to the attention of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who Faithful America said was leading an archdiocese that has been increasingly involved in the recent election, especially in endorsing candidates, according to the organization’s website. The Catholic Church also played a role in campaigning against same-sex marriage referendums in states across the country this election.
The cardinal declined a request for an interview with a Capital News Service reporter, but a spokesman for the cardinal, Don Clemmer, said that Dolan, "welcomed criticism," from his followers.
"The Bishops failed miserably by injecting themselves into Mitt Romney's (presidential campaign). As practicing Catholics, we can't put up with that. We are asking them to put their focus back on Jesus Christ, who said nothing about abortion, contraception or same-sex marriage," said Salt, from Catholics United.
Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, was also upset with the church's actions. Catholics for Choice was not part of the petition, but O'Brien has spoken against the clergy's political involvement in the past.
"When Catholics put the money into the plate on Sunday, they are not expecting it to go into this losing battle," of many of the Republican campaigns against contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, O'Brien said.
The petition collected signatures of Christians from around the country through an online virtual signature form, Salt said. Many of them, like Martone, were frustrated with the recent leadership of the Catholic Church, and the depth they delved into the politics surrounding last Tuesday's election, said Michael Sherrard, from Faithful America.
"It is breaking my heart, seeing the Bishops walking away from the good work of Catholics over centuries for their own political gains,” Martone said.
Martone has worshiped at Saint Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church in Fairfax, Va., he said.