Catholic Right Still Tied to Big-Money Republicans

By Betty Clermont | 16 January 2015
Daily Kos

(Photo: Ted S. Warren / AP)

The last time anyone counted, “about one-in-five religious advocacy organizations in Washington D.C. have a Roman Catholic perspective,” the biggest spender being the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at $26.67 million. Unfortunately, the report didn’t list the organizations it considered to have a “Roman Catholic perspective.” Because they’re not based in Washington D.C., the 195 dioceses, Catholic Foundations and the state level Catholic Conferences who lobby on behalf of the local bishops, and the approximately 40,000 other organizations controlled by the bishops throughout the U.S., were not included. Unlike Evangelicals, all the above speak with a unified voice on anti-equality for women and gays. Additionally, no other religion has a global financial network capable of accepting and moving “dark money” thanks to exemptions in requirements to file financial statements and to pay taxes.

Based in Connecticut and not Washington D.C., the Knights of Columbus “have invested millions” in anti-women and anti-gay causes.

The Knights have contributed so much to the bishops’ political agenda that “nearly 90 archbishops and bishops – including 11 cardinals” showed up at their last annual meeting, including the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has had three private meetings with Pope Francis and the pontiff met with the Knights’ board of directors shortly after his election.

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson with Pope Francis. (Photo: AP Photo / L’Osservatore Romano)

There are many organizations which don’t declare themselves “Catholic” but are allied with the USCCB agenda. They include right-wing think tanks such as the Acton Institute and the Ethics & Public Policy Center (EPPC). The Acton Institute is primarily funded by groups like ExxonMobil, the Scaife foundations and the Koch brothers. Its president, Fr. Robert A. Sirico has met with Pope Francis as has George Weigel, head of the EPPC.

The Becket Fund is “one of the Religious Right legal groups that has pushed to expand the definition of ‘religious liberty’ to allow corporations and individuals as well as religious institutions to opt out of laws they say violate their religious beliefs.” It was founded by Notre Dame graduate, Kevin J. “Seamus” Hasson, who was granted honorary doctorates from the bishops’ own Catholic University of America and Domino Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan’s Ave Maria University. Hasson named his organization for St. Thomas a Becket.

The Thomas More Society was founded by another Notre Dame alumnus, Thomas Brejcha, and also named for a saint. Three of the four board members and the majority of attorneys have Catholic backgrounds. “We’re litigating for pro-lifers and people of faith who face crises of conscience, filing friend-of-the-court briefs in support of other significant court cases, and building a pro-life, pro-family infrastructure by providing organizational and legal support for 31 other non-profits,” according to its website.

Speaking of legal groups, while not “Catholic,” the Federalist Society, which “built the intellectual foundations for an extreme conservative legal movement” boasts Catholic jurists Bork, Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts as members.

Legatus is “an organization of ‘top-tier’ Catholic executives. Launched by Tom Monaghan in 1987, Legatus ‘offers a unique support network of like-minded Catholics who influence the world marketplace.’” At the group’s 2010 summit meeting, Legatus gave George W. Bush a “pro-life” award. Also in attendance were Chicago Cardinal Francis George, Newt and Callista Gingrich, and Thomas Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2012, Bush returned as speaker. “Legates will also hear from Cardinal Raymond Burke, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League; Dr. Carolyn Woo, the new president of Catholic Relief Services; and J. David Karam, president of Wendy’s International, Inc.” Their January 29-31, 2015, summit will feature speeches by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan; Fr. Robert Sirico, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty; Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana; Bret Baier, Chief Political Anchor for Fox News and Peter & Marilyn Coors, Denver Chapter members.

Legatus sponsored a meeting at the Napa Institute. “Other ‘Platinum’ sponsors are the Pontifical North American College, FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), Ignatius Press [proving that “Jesuit” doesn’t necessarily infer progressive or liberal intellectualism], the National Organization for Marriage and the Papal Foundation.”

Membership to the Papal Foundation “starts with the pledge to give $1 million over the course of no more than ten years with a minimum donation of $100,000 per year.” They contribute to building and maintaining the Church’s infrastructure around the world. Leaders met with the pope.

“In partnership with The Catholic University of America’s new School of Business and Economics, [funded by the Koch brothers] the Napa Institute hosted an invitation-only gathering themed ‘Liberty and Solidarity: A Conference on Catholic Social Doctrine and the Economy’ on the university’s campus in Washington.”

“In September 2013, the institute convened a complimentary symposium at the University of Notre Dame, “Religious Freedom Under Obamacare: Can and Should For-Profit Businesses Claim Conscientious Objector Status?” Speakers included Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis. [who said Paul Ryan’s plan “to care for the poor is probably the finest current example” of Catholic social teaching], and William McGurn, a chief speechwriter for Pres. George W. Bush.”

The Napa Institute has partnered with the right-wing Catholic Eternal Word Television Network, “an international Catholic media force. Its 24/7 programming reaches more than 230 million households in ‘more than 140 countries and territories,’ reports its website. In 2011, EWTN purchased the National Catholic Register newspaper. The month before the Napa assembly, ETWN announced acquisition of both the Catholic News Agency and the Spanish-language news service ACI Prensa, the world’s largest Spanish-language Catholic news organization…. EWTN’s chief executive officer, Michael Warsaw, and Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, Calif., chose the July Napa gathering to jointly announce that EWTN had begun construction of a West Coast facility….” EWTN “‘also operates multiple radio services including a network of hundreds of AM and FM stations, a SiriusXM satellite radio channel, an iHeart radio channel and a global shortwave radio service,’ it states in news releases.”

Catholic theologian and blogger, William Lindsey, did a masterful job of showing how all these groups are interrelated:

Dylan Scott notes that major players in the movement to push anti-gay “religious liberty” legislation are the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), and Focus on the Family…. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted, ADF has a strong, consistent record of “sharp anti-gay bigotry” and is increasingly committed, along with other similar groups in the U.S., to exporting the anti-gay animus of religious-right groups in the U.S. to other countries around the globe. Its senior legal counsel…is Piero Tozzi, a former senior fellow of Austin Ruse’s Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute….

Weigel’s EPPC took part in the Senate’s DOMA hearings in 2011 to demand that the Defense of Marriage Act be retained. EPPC has also filed an amicus brief against the contraception provision of the Affordable Care Act as a violation of religious freedom. The brief argues that private corporations should be viewed as persons when they object to the contraception provision on grounds of conscience….

The American Religious Freedom Program is allied with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, one of the legal groups spearheading the attacks on the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration. The Becket Fund is defending many of the Catholic groups that have filed suit against the Obama administration to oppose ACA, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, Ave Maria University, EWTN, and Belmont Abbey College….

From its inception, EPPC has been closely associated with powerful American Catholic neoconservatives including Father Richard John Neuhaus, Mary Ann Glendon [the only American layperson given a permanent position in the Vatican by Pope Francis], and Rick Santorum. Glendon, who was among the group of “Constitutional scholars” who recently pressured Governor Brewer not to veto the Arizona anti-gay bill, is on the advisory board of EPPC’s American Religious Freedom Program, as is the infamously anti-gay archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone….

And what’s the agenda of these thickly connected groups that have such exceptionally strong ties to major players that are a part of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’s “religious liberty” crusade against the Obama administration?….

It’s not in the least accidental that the Arizona Catholic bishops supported the anti-gay legislation passed by the Republican-controlled legislature of their state recently. That legislation has all over it the fingerprints of leading Catholic players in the phony “religious liberty” war against the Obama administration – including the USCCB. In the name of defending religious liberty, the U.S. Catholic bishops and other right-wing Catholics are seeking to extend to private corporations the unprecedented “right” to discriminate against targeted minority groups on grounds of “conscience.” They and their allies have asserted this “right” in amicus briefs to the Supreme Court attacking the Affordable Care Act.

And they are defending and will continue to defend a similar “right” on the part of private employers to discriminate against LGBT citizens, because they have linked opposition to the human rights of those citizens to opposition to contraception and abortion….

Patricia Miller wrote in Salon: “While the Green family who filed the Hobby Lobby suit objecting to the mandate are evangelical Christians, the road to Hobby Lobby wasn’t paved by the Christian Right. It was U.S. Catholic bishops, more specifically the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, that largely engineered Hobby Lobby to block the legitimization of contraception as a standard health insurance benefit.”

To strengthen his connections to U.S. Evangelicals, Pope Francis has met in private with:

  • Steve Green, billionaire owner of Hobby Lobby, on March 31, 2014, during which they discussed “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection.” The pope even “asked how the (Hobby Lobby Supreme Court) case was progressing.”
  • On June 5, 2014, with Doug Coe, head the Family, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and former U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne who served under Bush 43 amid unprecedented scandal. The Family is “the oldest and most politically influential Christian conservative organization in Washington.” Lee is Ted Cruz’s right-hand man.
  • A delegation of evangelical leaders for almost three hours followed by a private luncheon on June 24, 2014. Attendees included Rev. Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance and other WEA officials. The WEA recently terminated the membership of the Oasis Ministry after founder Steve Chaulk’s decision to support gay marriage and faithful same-sex relationships.
  • Tunnicliffe and a delegation of the WEA met again with Pope Francis on Nov. 6, 2014, “to talk about areas of potential collaboration…. [T]he WEA delegation is meeting with other Catholic representatives to discuss topics such as religious liberty, peace building, family, and Islam.” Tunnicliffe said, “[L]et us see this time as a new stage in relations between evangelicals and Roman Catholics.”

Pope Francis called for a conference Nov. 17-19, 2014.

Hate group leader Tony Perkins (of the Family Research Council) will be there. American Religious Right leaders including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, pastor Rick Warren, Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput, and Latter-Day Saints official Henry Eyring will be joining opponents of LGBT equality from around the world at an interfaith conference on the “complementarity of man and woman in marriage” hosted by the Vatican. The conference follows a synod at which Catholic bishops considered, but ultimately rejected, proposals to soften the Church’s stances on homosexuality.

The pope gave the opening address stating that children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.

Afterwards, Warren recorded a video for the Catholic News Service calling for a closer alliance with the Catholic Church. He “has called on non-Catholic Christians to join with Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in pursuit of their common goals.”

Attendee Alan Spears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom who supported criminalizing homosexuality, said Pope Francis’ planned U.S. visit comes “at a time when the debate on marriage is so fierce [and] could be the opportunity those fighting for traditional marriage have been waiting for.”

Last but not least, Opus Dei’s (a secret society of multinational plutocrats seeking hegemony under cover of the Catholic Church) Prof. Robert George, referred to by the New York Times as the “greatest thinker of the Christian right,” and chairman emeritus of the anti-gay NOM (National Organization for Marriage) board, was also in attendance. (See here for citations on the above)

Opus Dei HQ, 34th Street at Lexington Avenue, NYC.

Pope Francis has made no similar outreach to American mainline Protestant denominations. Other than Pres. Obama, no U.S. Democrat or progressive has been invited to meet the pope in private.

Members of the USCCB elected Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville as their president in November 2014. Kurtz had previously focused on anti-gay education and advocacy. But like the pope, “The ongoing work of the U.S. bishops…will take a slightly different tone in upcoming years, said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. He told the bishops the committee…planned to focus more on teaching and expanding networks with Catholic lay groups and interfaith and ecumenical partners. He said the committee would provide a ‘clearinghouse function’ providing resources as religious liberty issues arise. The archbishop noted that new committee members would include ‘fewer lawyers’ and more experts in the communications field to help get the bishops’ message across…. ‘Stay tuned for details,’ he told the bishops, adding that the campaign also will be linked to works of charity and service to people in need.”

If anyone wants to know what direction the U.S. Catholic bishops are taking, they’ve only to keep an eye on the éminence grise of 21st century American Church, Archbishop Charles Chaput. John and Carol Saeman were Chaput’s largest donors when he headed the Denver Archdiocese and John is the founding president of the Denver Legatus Chapter. The following are quotes from their article in the Washington Post.

Pope Francis’s words [re charity] have also led us to support a group outside the church: the nonprofit community associated with Charles and David Koch, including Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce…. The nonprofits associated with the Kochs, which bear the common mission of advancing free enterprise and free societies, reflect our shared conviction that limited government is most conducive to lifting people out of poverty. The two of us, along with hundreds of other philanthropists and businesspeople, support their efforts….

Pope Francis has rightly declared that “where there is no work, there is no dignity.” In light of these words, the U.S. welfare system can actually deny dignity while claiming to grant it. Some government assistance programs can be more lucrative than work. This unfairly – but understandably – incentivizes some to stay out of the job market, abusing the social safety net designed to help those who truly need help. In so doing, it traps people in the poverty they’re trying to escape….

Washington’s centralization of power saps the vitality of the wider economy. Washington’s insatiable growth annually siphons trillions of dollars from the economy – some of which philanthropists like us could give to local charities and businesses could use to create the jobs the poor desperately need….

This centralization – which misconstrues the principle of solidarity by conflating big government with the common good – also leads to the corrupt capitalism that Pope Francis has condemned. For us, promoting limited government alongside the Kochs is an important part of heeding Pope Francis’s call to love and serve the poor.

So here’s what the next two years, at least through the 2016 elections, are going to sound like for in-the-know leaders of the Catholic right – including the pope on his visit to U.S. – and the leaders of Establishment Republicans: works of charity, concern for the poor, but not by increasing the size of the government.

As Daily Kos journalist, Laura Clawson, wrote: “GOP 2016 hopefuls talk big about poverty and the middle class, but they’re all talk.”

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).

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