Self-described “progressive” Catholic organizations, such as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics United, Catholic Democrats, and Voice of the Faithful, have successfully manipulated long-standing divisions among Catholics. In 2008, President Obama, with the help of misleading propaganda from these groups, won a majority of the Catholic vote.
Now these organizations are playing an important role in his administration. Witness the appointment of Alexia Kelley, the co-founder and director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Kelley has been appointed to direct the federal Health and Human Services Department’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. For almost a decade, Kelley worked for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Campaign for Human Development, a grant-making program that has been criticized for actively working against the Church’s mission, as evident in the program’s support of pro-abortion activities and politicians. During the years that Kelley worked for the Campaign for Human Development, more than seven million dollars were awarded to ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Now under criminal investigation in several states, ACORN’s voter registration work helped to elect President Obama.
Kelley teamed with Catholics United’s leaders, James Salt and Chris Korzen, in the 2008 campaign to neutralize the abortion issue by casting it in pro-Democratic Party terms. Salt and Korzen have plenty of political experience, as well. Salt’s political work has involved overseeing the Kansas Democratic Party’s dubious “faith outreach” efforts, including what he calls “messaging work” for the pro-abortion Kathleen Sebelius and the development of “faith-based messaging resources.”
On its website, Catholics United describes itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.” But in a September 12, 2008 radio interview heard at soundauthors.com, Korzen disclosed that at Catholics United “we do a little bit more edgy work…we can do lobbying and political work unlike your traditional non-profits.”
Prior to helping to found Catholics United, Korzen served as co-founder and director of the Catholic Voting Project in 2004, after working as an organizer with the Service Employees International Union. Korzen is a frequent contributor to the left-wing website The Huffington Post, where he often publishes pieces in support of the Democratic Party.
Far from being non-partisan during the 2008 presidential campaign, most of his published pieces were critical of Republican candidate John McCain. With incendiary titles like “John McCain: Just How Pro-Life?” and “McCain Embraces Pastor Who Calls Catholicism a Cult,” Korzen made no secret of his political leanings.
Like Salt, Korzen has been a strong supporter of Kathleen Sebelius and organized support for her nomination as secretary of Health and Human Services by garnering signatures in an online petition entitled “Catholics for Sebelius.”
Experts in “messaging,” Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have achieved tremendous success in convincing Catholic voters to focus on “social justice” issues like poverty as the way to reduce abortion rates without restricting abortion rights. Refusing to hold politicians like President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius accountable for their votes in favor of partial birth abortion and taxpayer funded abortion here and abroad, and against parental notification requirements, these progressive organizations maintain a consistent message of the “common good,” which they identify with electing Democrats.
Rather than focusing on the “divisive” issues surrounding abortion (like abortion restrictions), Catholics, they say, should elect candidates who would address the “root causes” of abortion. These groups worked to popularize the notion among Catholics that if poverty were alleviated through increased welfare spending and income redistribution, abortion rates would naturally decline without restricting access to abortion.
The Catholics United website reveals that the organization began its advocacy work in the spring of 2004, when “a group of Catholic activists and friends formed the Catholic Voting Project to promote the US Catholic bishops’ 2003 document Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility.” Claiming that “the mission of the Catholic Voting Project was to encourage a public dialogue about faith and politics that went beyond the tired rhetoric of partisan interests by allowing Catholics to learn how their political views matched up to those of the US Catholic bishops and the two major presidential candidates,” the Voting Project was criticized by orthodox Catholics like Karl Keating as a “front” for Senator John Kerry.
After Kerry’s 2004 defeat and loss of the Catholic vote, the members of the Catholic Voting Project decided to improve its message by disbanding and re-incorporating as Catholics United.
On its website, Catholics United describes itself as a 501c(4) non-profit organization—eligible to accept donations. But because it is a 501c(4) entity and thus able to engage in lobbying efforts, donations cannot be claimed against income tax. From a fundraising point of view it is difficult to raise money for a 501c(4) group because individual donors cannot deduct the contributions from their taxable income. But Catholics United is free to spend as much money as they have available to lobby on legislation—doing the “edgy” work that Chris Korzen describes.
In contrast, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good emerged in 2005 as a kind of sister organization to Catholics United. A 501c(3) organization, donors can claim a deduction against personal income tax when they donate money to Catholics in Alliance. But, unlike Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance is restricted in how much political and legislative lobbying activities they may conduct.
Reviewing the 2007 IRS 990 forms for both Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United raises some questions, because Chris Korzen is listed as having received compensation from Catholics in Alliance on the group’s 990 Form—even though the Catholics United website claimed he was the director there during the same time period. Still, Statement 6 of the Catholics in Alliance 990 form submitted to the IRS in 2007 clearly shows that Chris Korzen was compensated with a salary of $84,821 for working 40 hours per week for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. The relationship remains unclear.
What is clear is that in their 2007 IRS 990 form Catholics in Alliance reported a total of $1,119,368 in income from gifts, grants, and contributions, with another $9,819 in income from unrelated business activities, for a total of $1,129,187 in total support. In contrast, Catholics United, filing the EZ form because their income was so low, reported only $38,270.39 in total revenue. James Salt, listed as the organizing director at Catholics United, is the only paid employee with a salary of $9,800 per year. Chris Korzen is listed as the executive director, but according to the 2007 990 form received no salary from Catholics United.
SOROS, AN EARLY DONOR
Despite their inability to engage in extensive lobbying, Catholics in Alliance has been extremely successful in attracting large donors. In fact, Catholics in Alliance has enjoyed the financial support of some of the biggest donors to progressive causes. Never a friend to the Catholic Church, George Soros, one of the earliest donors, contributed $50,000 to Catholics in Alliance in 2005 and another $100,000 in 2006 through his Open Society Institute. Likewise, Smith Bagley, a major Democratic donor and fundraiser, whose wife, Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, is Chairman of the Board of Catholics in Alliance, came close to matching Soros with grants from his family’s Arca Foundation. With a long history of supporting progressive organizations like ACORN, the Gamaliel Foundation, People for the American Way, and Planned Parenthood, Arca contributed $50,000 to Catholics in Alliance in 2007 and another $75,000 in 2008.
It is clear that for the Democrats, this has been money well spent. With funding for conferences, staff, and an elaborate outreach network that includes close ties to a number of progressive Catholic organizations, Catholics in Alliance has enjoyed tremendous success in neutralizing abortion as a campaign issue. They did this by persuading voters that progressive policies would reduce abortions. Supporting a study by Professors Michael Bailey of Georgetown University and Joseph Wright of Notre Dame that claimed that increasing economic assistance to low income families results in substantial reductions in abortion rates, Catholics in Alliance spent months declaring that the data demonstrate that progressive policies on income redistribution—rather than abortion restrictions—reduce abortion.
Unfortunately for voters, while Catholics in Alliance touted the abortion reduction report as a reason that Catholic voters could vote in good conscience for the pro-choice candidate, the study was quietly removed from the Catholics in Alliance website in November 2008 when its faulty methodology and erroneous conclusions were pointed out by several social scientists. Professor Bailey, the first author of the initial study, removed his name from the revised report. Joseph Wright remains as the sole author—and is listed as Chairman of the Board of Catholics United on the Form 990 EZ submitted by the organization in 2007.
Undeterred by the lack of evidence for a relationship between increased welfare payments and abortion reduction, representatives for Catholics in Alliance continue to claim that the best way to reduce abortions is to address the root causes, rather than trying to ban the procedure. This strategy has been effective for them.
In addition to the 2008 presidential victory for the Democrats, Tom Perriello, one of the Democratic founders of Catholics in Alliance, narrowly won a congressional seat in Virginia in 2008 by convincing voters that they needed to address poverty in order to reduce abortions. Enlisting an elaborate community organizing effort that invited religious voters to consider a different kind of “pro-life” candidate, Perriello defeated a pro-life Republican by creating confusion for Virginia’s voters, who may have assumed that he was pro-life because he spoke often of the need to reduce abortions. Yet, in published interviews, Perriello promotes the Democratic abortion-rights platform, maintaining that there should be no restrictions on a woman’s right to choose abortion. James Salt of Catholics United is listed as having donated $2,000 to Perriello for Congress in 2007 and another $3,900 in 2008.
THE “ROOT CAUSE” STRATEGY
The “root cause” strategy used by Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United has been criticized by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who recently described the organization as having “done a disservice to the Church.” The archbishop claims that these groups have “confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.”
The alliance between the progressive Catholic organizations and the Obama administration has been successful in driving a wedge into the Catholic community by promoting pro-abortion policies and actively seeking out representatives of progressive Catholic organizations like Catholics in Alliance to fill important posts.
The new US ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, is another example of the Obama administration’s alliance with liberal Catholics. A member of the Catholics in Alliance Speakers Bureau, Diaz functions as a “theological consultant” for the organization. While Diaz has no published statements on abortion or embryonic stem-cell research, his affiliations, board memberships, and willingness publicly to endorse pro-abortion Democrats like Kathleen Sebelius suggest that he is part of the Church’s contingent that wishes to “move beyond” the “divisive” abortion issue and elect pro-abortion Democrats.
After the controversy emerged within the Catholic community over Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to give this year’s commencement address and receive an honorary degree, Catholics in Alliance published a full-page ad in the South Bend Tribune entitled “Catholic Leaders and Theologians Welcome President Obama to Notre Dame.”
With the publication of the Notre Dame ad, one cannot help but be reminded of the 1984 full-page New York Times ad placed by Frances Kissling’s abortion advocacy organization, Catholics for a Free Choice. Entitled “A Diversity of Opinions Regarding Abortions Exists Among Committed Catholics,” Kissling’s 1984 ad, like the Catholics in Alliance 2009 ad, included signatures from Catholic theologians, priests, nuns, academics, and other high-profile dissenters within the Church. However, times have changed, as Catholics for a Free Choice has been eclipsed by the younger, hipper, and more savvy organizations like Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United, which now use Soros money to profess a pro-life orientation while promoting pro-abortion politicians and policies.
No longer a major player in Democratic politics, Frances Kissling has retired from the now re-named Catholics for Choice, as the organization has become ever more irrelevant. While still heavily financed by pro-abortion organizations poised to benefit by increasing abortion in the Catholic countries of Latin America and Europe, the abortion advocacy organization’s influence in US politics has declined. The group occasionally issues meaningless press releases designed to try to remind Catholics that it is still around, but it is only a matter of time before the organization and its overt pro-abortion philosophy quietly fade away.
When Alexia Kelley was appointed to the Obama administration, the director of Catholics for Choice questioned Kelley’s “pro-life” orientation—but no one in the media paid much attention except a few bloggers and Catholics United. On his website, Chris Korzen claimed that the Catholics for Choice attack on Kelley and the organizations Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United is “intended as cover for Catholics for Choice’s increasing irrelevance, and its inability to offer any real solutions to the challenges of our day…the organization accomplishes little more than creating a hostile and divisive political climate.”
Korzen is correct. Unlike Catholics for Choice, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance have wisely refrained from open support for abortion. By declining to engage authentically in the contentious culture wars surrounding abortion, Catholics in Alliance appears to be taking the moral high ground in their messaging, while at the same time promoting pro-abortion policies and candidates like Kathleen Sebelius for cabinet positions.
It is likely that this strategy will continue, as former Gamaliel Foundation community organizer Victoria Kovara was tapped to replace Alexia Kelley as executive director at Catholics in Alliance. Another Soros-funded progressive organization, Gamaliel has been especially successful in creating local community organizations willing to use confrontational tactics to gain power in progressive causes. During the Kerry-Bush presidential election season, Gamaliel assembled a large number of progressive religious leaders to launch a voter drive against the incumbent Bush administration. Currently Gamaliel has enlisted religious leaders to lobby for health care reform as a theological imperative.
In an interview earlier this year, Chris Korzen claimed that at Catholics United “we follow Church teachings to the letter.” Yet in that same interview, Korzen stated, “I believe that one can pursue policies beyond criminalization of abortion that make that teaching present in the world.”
Bishops cannot possibly dispel such confusion spread by these “Catholic” advocacy organizations without unity amongst themselves. There needs to be at long last a “Bishops United” to match Catholics United.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2009 issue of Catholic World Report.