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How the Far Right Roman Catholics and Evangelical Taliban Trapped the President

By Frank Schaeffer | 21 February 2012
Frank Schaeffer


I’m stunned by the fact that the US media doesn’t seem to know that the President Obama v. the US Catholic bishops — AKA “religious freedom” aka “birth control v. women” — affair is the result of a well laid plan by a few Religious Right Extremists that has succeeded in entrapping the President just as these extremists planned.

The bishops have been led to attack the President by Republican operative/Professor/anti-abortion activist Robert George of Princeton University. He has achieved this through his close association with Charles Colson, evangelical far right leader and Watergate felon.

They laid their deliberate trap for the President by writing something called the Manhattan Declaration, an anti-Obama document (that never mentions the president by name) signed by hundreds of evangelical leaders and the Roman Catholic bishops.

Non-Evangelicals with political agendas like Robert George have cashed in on the Evangelicals’ willingness to lend their numbers and influence to one moral crusade after another, or rather I should say, to one political crusade after another masquerading as moral crusades.

Professor of Jurisprudence Robert George and former McCain adviser, is an antiabortion, anti-Obama, anti-gay-rights, and anti-stem-cell-research “profamily” activist, and he has found ways to effectively carry on the loony Reconstructionist/Theonomist (put America “back” on Biblical law aka “natural law) crusade started by some Far right fundamentalists in the 1970s. (I explain who these “Reconstructionists” were in my book Sex, Mom and God.)

George’s brainchild: the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience” was published in 2009 as an anti-Obama manifesto, and many Evangelical leaders signed on. It was written as a direct reaction to the Obama Presidency. It was a trap that launched a fishing expedition to find any issue that might gain traction with which to beat the President in 2012. That could have been gay rights, or stem cell research. It turned out to be contraception.

The “Manhattan Declaration” reads:

“We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life actnor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

In case you’ve never heard of George, he’s been a one-man “brain trust” for the Religious Right and the Far Right of the Republican Party as well as for the ultraconservative wing of the Roman Catholic Church. Here’s how the New York Times introduced him to its readers:

“Robert George] has parlayed a 13th-century Catholic philosophy [the natural law theory] into real political influence. Glenn Beck, the Fox News talker and a big George fan, likes to introduce him as “one of the biggest brains in America,” or, on one broadcast, “Superman of the Earth.” Karl Rove told me he considers George a rising star on the right and a leading voice in persuading President George W. Bush to restrict embryonic stem-cell research.Newt Gingrich called him “an important and growing influence” on the conservative movement, especially on matters like abortion and marriage. “If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy,” the conservative Catholic journal Crisis concluded a few years ago, “its leaders probably meet in George’s kitchen.”

I met George when we were both on a panel discussion entitled “Campaign ‘08: Race, Gender, and Religion” at Princeton University. We butted heads over what he’d been mischaracterizing as presidential candidate Obama’s “proabortion” position.

At the time we met on that (six-person) panel, George was one of McCain’s key advisors and I (a former Republican) was blasting George’s man for having sold out to the Religious Right, which McCain had once called “agents of intolerance.”

Robert George


In introducing myself to the Princeton audience, I mentioned that McCain had written a glowing endorsement for one of my several books on military-civilian relations. I also admitted that I’d actively worked for McCain in the 2000 presidential primaries against W. Bush by appearing—at McCain advisor Mark Salter’s oft-repeated urgent request—on several religious and other conservative talk shows (for instance, on Ollie North’s top-rated talk show) on McCain’s behalf. (In those days McCain was being attacked by the likes of Religious Right leader James Dobson for not being “pro-life” enough.)

George’s trap for the President, the “Manhattan Declaration” was instantly signed by more than 150 American “mainstream” (mostly Evangelical) conservative religious leaders. They joined to “affirm support for traditional marriage” and to advocate civil disobedience against laws contradicting the signers’ religious beliefs about marriage and/or the “life issues.” The drafting committee included Evangelical Far Right leader Charles Colson. In fact in close contact with Operatives like Karl Rove this whole group began to pump their followers up for the battle to come for the 2012 elections.

It is not coincidence that Colson was assigned by these extremists to be the point man for the anti-Obama crusade. He put his name on a piece crafted by the Robert George group when it came to the bogus “Obama is anti-religious” charge.

To ramp the case up Colson teamed up with a Catholic bishop and wrote (or had Goeorge write for them) in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal after the “story” (a trumped up fabricated story at that) about Obama’s “anti-religious” stance broke. Then throwing red meat to the faithful Chuck Colson wrote in an open letter to his fellow believers on Wednesday (Feb. 8). Where he compared the administration birth control mandates to policies enacted in Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.

In the WSJ op-ed Colson and the Catholic bishop blew their cover, they cited their own creation as proff that they had grass roots support when of course (like the Tea Party) they had had their “issue” created top down. they write:

“At this critical moment, Americans of every faith, as guardians of their own freedom, must, in the words of the First Amendment, “petition the government for the redress of grievances.” That’s why over the past two years more than 500,000 people have signed the “Manhattan Declaration” in defense of religious liberty. They believe, as do we, that under no circumstances should people of faith violate their consciences and discard their most cherished religious beliefs in order to comply with a gravely unjust law.”

It was a neat trick: Write a declaration, get 150 leaders to sign it then use Fox News etc to promote it as “grass roots” then come back and use the fact that it’s been signed off on by the pro-life movement as “proof” that the President is out of step with religious freedom!

If there is one thing all Christians should have learned by now, it’s that we—of all people—should never, ever cast aspersions on anyone else’s sex life. That is especially true for the international pedophile ring otherwise known as the Roman Catholic Church.

When it comes to pointing the finger over sexual “sin,” the worldwide Christian community—from the halls of the Vatican and many a Greek, Russian, or Arab Orthodox bishop’s palace, to an Evangelical “home church” established in somebody’s basement two minutes ago—is in the morally compromised position of a violent habitual rapist criticizing a shoplifter for stealing a candy bar.

We’re talking not about “a few bad apples” but about the whole edifice of religion top to bottom. Having the Catholic bishops hold forth on anything to do with sexual morality is like being lectured by the KKK on race relations. An impartial inquiry into child abuse at Roman Catholic institutions in Ireland found that the top Church leaders knew that sexual abuse was endemic in boys and girls institutions. A nine-year government inquiry investigated a sixty-year period when more than 35,000 children were placed in a network of “reformatories,” “industrial schools,” and “workhouses.” The children suffered physical and/or sexual abuse that more than two thousand witnesses confirmed to the commission.

As the BBC has pointed out in many stories, Church authorities in league with government enablers were placing children in these camps until the 1980s. Physical and emotional abuse was a built-in deliberate feature of these “homes” for young men and women. The inquiry proved that child rape defines Irish Catholicism as surely as the sign of the cross once did. The state-ordered investigation into cover-ups by the Dublin Archdiocese revealed that church officials had shielded scores of priests from criminal investigation over several decades and did not report any crimes to the police until the mid-1990s.

This was much the same behavior as happened in the United States: The Church’s leaders spent much more time protecting their institution than their flock, let alone children. For instance, an acquaintance of mine in the Boston area, Cardinal Bernard Law, with whom I’d worked on various Massachusetts “pro-life” initiatives and fund-raising efforts, left Boston for Rome “in a hurry” after he was being investigated for enabling child-molesting priests to remain in ministry.

I have a photograph of the two of us (back when Law was a mere archbishop), with Law sitting next to me at the head table at a banquet held by Massachusetts Citizens for Life, where we both spoke. Law was a hand-on-your-forearm political operative. He possessed the sort of smoothness that is achieved only after years of deftly “handling” people in a climb to power. Those sorts of political instincts depend on the practitioner being perceived as a “good guy” and had transformed Law into a glad-handing, remember-everyone’s-first-name shell of jovial bonhomie.

After his “fall” Law was whisked off to the Vatican and “reassigned.” Then Pope John Paul kept him on as a cardinal!

To plumb the depths of the tortured “reasoning” behind the Roman Catholic version of the anti-contraceptive crusade of ideologues like George are trying to inject into American politics, consider the writing of Roman Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. She’s a heroine to today’s leading conservative Roman Catholics. She wrote passionately in defense of the papal prohibition of contraception:

“In considering an action, we need always to judge several things about ourselves. First: is the sort of act we contemplate doing something that it’s all right to do? Second: are our further or surrounding intentions all right? Third: is the spirit in which we do it all right? Contraceptive intercourse fails on the first count; and to intend such an act is not to intend a marriage act at all, whether or no we’re married. An act of ordinary intercourse in marriage at an infertile time, though, is a perfectly ordinary act of married intercourse, and it will be bad, if it is bad, only on the second or third counts.If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here—not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example.If you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.It’s this that makes the division between straightforward fornication or adultery and the wickedness of the sins against nature and of contraceptive intercourse. Hence contraceptive intercourse within marriage is a graver offence against chastity than is straightforward fornication or adultery.”

Here is how anti-Obama “prolife” Robert George lauded this insane “argument” in his gushing Anscombe obituary:

“In 1968, when much of the rest of the Catholic intellectual world reacted with shock and anger to Pope Paul VI’s reaffirmation of Catholic teaching regarding the immorality of contraception, the Geach-Anscombe family toasted the announcement with champagne. Her defense of the teaching in the essay “Contraception and Chastity” is an all-too-rare example of rigorous philosophical argumentation on matters of sexual ethics. Catholics who demand the liberalization of their Church’s teachings have yet to come to terms with Anscombe’s arguments.”

The antiabortion Republican shock troops led by the likes of extremists like George and Colson have found their “issue” — so-called Religious liberty, AKA the right to deny women choice and even contraceptives. And if the President tries to do anything about this he’s “anti-religious.”

Enter Gorge clone and disciple Santorum, and voilà! Welcome to the new American theocracy.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book is Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

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