From ........... National Catholic Reporter

March 8, 1996

pages 2-3

By ROBERT McCLORY Special Report Writer


An antiabortion candidate for U.S. senator from Illinois has spent more than $4,500 for Masses for himself and his family to be said all over the state during the week before the March primary election.

But the Mass blitz met immediate resistance from the [Roman] Catholic Conference of Illinois, which has warned its member dioceses that the Mass, according to canon law, "can never be used ...... to promote the candidacy of anyone seeking public office."

Some priests contended the Mass requests represented a sneaky effort to get the candidate's name in practically every parish bulletin in Illinois at the very moment the primary campaign was reaching its climax. Letters containing $5 checks were sent in early February to some 900 parishes in Illinois, requesting Masses for "the Al Salvi family" between March 12 and March 19, the date of the primary.

Salvi is a 35-year-old Republican from northern Illinois who supports severe restrictions on abortion rights, a balanced budget amendment, term limits, a crackdown on immigration and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Bosnia.

He is a Notre Dame University graduate, two-time state representative and a successful lawyer, reportedly spending $1 million of his own money on his long-shot candidacy.

The checks were from his law office account, but the letters requesting Masses were written by his sister-in-law, Cindy Nusser. She told NCR the idea of a statewide spiritual crusade was hers and insisted her intention was not to get last-minute publicity.

"I came up with the idea after a lot of prayer," said Nusser.

Part of Nusser's request, however, was a form letter to be returned to Nusser, assuring that priests would assign a day and time for the Mass.

Salvi himself declined to return NCR phone calls.

In a Feb. 22 letter to vicars general and other officials from the six dioceses in the state, Jimmy Lago, director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said this kind of request could be construed "as involvement of the church in political activities." To assist puzzled pastors, he offered a sample letter from an anonymous Chicago priest declining the Mass request. The priest said he respected Nusser and Salvi's intentions but added, "I think going about it in this way is a serious error in judgment. ..... It would be easy for people to draw the impression this is a unique campaign tactic."

Several priests told NCR they had returned or torn up the Salvi checks.

One joked, "By the way, they're trying to stretch a buck.

Since Jan. 1, 1993, Mass stipends in Illinois have been $10."

Said Fr. William Kenneally, a Chicago pastor, "I think it's a very clever idea but really below the belt. I wouldn't honor the request because it's just too ambiguous."