Whither the Catholic Catholic voters?

Former Boston mayor Raymond Flynn doesn't see a lot of Republicans at the 9 o'clock Sunday Mass at St. Vincent's Catholic Church.

This is a South Boston parish, the kind of place where Irish parishioners cherish photos of old-timers -- like Flynn's dockworker dad -- marching on feast days with Cardinal Richard Cushing and a young John F. Kennedy. These are hardcore, working-class, union-card Catholics.

"These people have never voted Republican in their lives," said Flynn, who also served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican in the Clinton years. "But now they feel like homeless Democrats in their own party. They're pro-life and pro-family and pro-marriage and pro-justice and pro-poor and they have no idea who to vote for anymore. They're homeless."

Nevertheless, Flynn said it's too easy to tie this scene to the "pew gap" that has made headlines in this election year. It's true that surveys say the safest way to predict how voters will vote is to chart their worship habits. Voters who worship more than once a week go Republican -- 2-1 or more. A Time poll said the "not religious" crowd backs Sen. John Kerry over President Bush, 69 percent to 22 percent.

Some strategists see this as "good Catholics" who back Bush versus "bad Catholics" who back Kerry. They want to divide America's 64 million Catholic voters into two political flocks.

"There's no way you can do that," said Flynn. "I know there are politically conservative Catholics out there and they're Republicans because that's what they believe. I also know there are liberal Catholics and they're still comfortable voting Democrat. But what about all of us who are just Catholic Catholics? ...

"In the media, the fact that we're pro-life makes us conservative Republicans. Right?"

Nevertheless, journalists are not the only insiders who think that way. Leaders of the Democrats for Life organization are reeling over platform language adopted quietly at the recent Democratic National Convention.

The 2000 platform said Democrats stand "behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade." However, it also said the "Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party."

The 2004 platform replaces this conscience clause with a statement that Democrats "stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine" abortion rights.

Democrats for Life director Kristen Day asked: "So what are they saying, that because we want to protect the rights of the unborn our own party says we're automatically Republicans?