The Catholic Con Regroups

Gearing up for 2016, left-leaning Catholic political organizations prepare to make the case for the Democratic platform.

Promising yet again to “move beyond partisan and ideological divisions,” the George Soros-supported Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) has refined its successful strategies of the past in its attempts to convince Catholic voters that the pro-choice Democratic nominees for public office in 2016 will do more to reduce the number of abortions than pro-life Republicans will. The group’s main argument supporting this claim is that Democrats will reduce poverty—a major factor in the choice to abort an unborn child. 

It is a strategy that has worked well for the organization in recent years, convincing many Catholics that Barack Obama was the “real” pro-life presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012. Attracting funding from progressive pro-abortion funding sources in the past, it is likely that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good—not to be confused with the similarly named Catholics for the Common Good—will continue to draw upon familiar sources. Those sources include Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the Tides Foundation, and the progressive Wallace Global Fund.

Since CACG’s founding by Alexia Kelley—who served as the Democratic National Committee’s religious outreach director during John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, and later as President Obama’s Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for the Department of Health and Human Services—the organization has welcomed funding from sources opposed to Catholic teachings on life issues. The Open Society Foundations has long funded abortion through major grants to Planned Parenthood, as well as providing significant funding to the pro-assisted suicide organization Compassion and Choices (formerly known as the Hemlock Society). With assets of about $110 million, the Wallace Global Fund is a major funder of abortion initiatives and of population-control efforts. Its portfolio of grants includes the Sexuality Information and Education Initiative, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health/Global Doctors for Choice, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Guttmacher Institute—and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Helping CACG elect Democrats will ensure that access to abortion will continue to expand—something that the Wallace Global Fund values highly.

Revocation of tax-exempt status for CACG

Whether these funding streams to CACG will continue is uncertain. On October 21, 2013, the IRS posted notice of a revocation of the organization’s tax-exempt status for “failing to file a 990 series return for three consecutive years.” While not having tax-exempt status might make it difficult for CACG to attract donors, this development also hands the group a real advantage: CACG will now be able legally to hide its funding sources, rather than simply failing to report them as it has done for the past three years. 

The CACG 2014-1015 Strategic Plan projected a budget of $200,000 in 2014, and the group is soliciting donations on its website “with a goal of an additional $100,000 in philanthropic dollars from benefactors and foundations.” The CACG Strategic Plan is an ambitious one that promises to “communicate the fullness of the Catholic social tradition throughout the public square” by “increasing our presence significantly in the media, particularly on television, where we will make our broadcast debut by Easter Sunday 2015.” CACG also plans to “recruit and train fifteen Catholic intellectuals and newsmakers to speak for our organization in various media capacities.” CACG has revamped its logo, and launched a new website and social media network. In 2015 CACG plans to “increase the organization’s intellectual network to ensure that CACG has relationships with the thirty best Catholic public policy scholars in the country,” and “will increase the quality and number of writers for the CACG Common Good Forum.” CACG also plans to make Millennial, their new outreach to young Catholics, “one of the most important and most read journals of Catholic thought.”

All of this is expensive—especially the new inroads to television. There are several opportunities on the organization’s website to donate to CACG, despite the organization’s lack of tax-exempt status. In early December the organization added a notice to its donor page that “donations to Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good are not tax deductible,” but it is not clear whether donors would have known about the organization’s loss of tax-exempt status prior to that addition.

Partisan leadership at CACG continues

While CACG claims on its website that the goal of the organization is to “move beyond partisan and ideological divisions,” the leadership of CACG reflects the leadership of the Democratic Party and its allies in organized labor. CACG’s board chairman is Alfred Rotondaro, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, and a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, with articles that are supportive of Democratic politicians and policies and critical of the Church and her teachings. In an article titled “The World Needs a New Vatican Council,” Rotondaro criticizes the bishops’ opposition to the Affordable Care Act because of what he interprets as the bishops’ misplaced concerns about public funding for abortion. He also insists the Catholic Church has no right to bar women from ordination. “I have never seen,” he opines, “any rational reason why a woman could not be a priest.” Rotondaro concludes his article with the suggestion that homosexual behavior should be celebrated, writing, “Gay sex comes from God.” 

In a second, even more partisan article, “Abortion and the Republican Party,” published in 2011, Rotondaro claims, “Republicans have never really wanted to eliminate abortion. It doesn’t fit their political goals.” Additional articles Rotandaro published on the Huffington Post include “The Republican Lie Machine,” “Catholic Bishops Support Republicans,” “Catholic Bishops Trying to Find Relevance in Health Insurance Debate,” and “The Church and the Fed: Too Big to Fail.”

According to an earlier version of the CACG “Leadership” webpage (accessed on December 2, 2014 and edited days later to remove the names of all but two board members), Rotondaro is joined on the CACG board by several union leaders, including Tom Chabolla, head of the Service Employees International Union, and Gerald Shea and Tiffany Heath, both of the AFL-CIO. Also on the board are several academics who supported Barack Obama for president, including Lisa Sowle Cahill of Boston College and Mary Jo Bane of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, among others. Paul Begala, formerly of the Clinton administration and now at Georgetown University, also serves on the CACG board, as does Benjamin Palumbo, who is described on the CACG website as having had a “long and distinguished career in American politics.” That is, of course, Democratic Party politics—as Palumbo served as an assistant to New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes, chief of staff for US Senator Harrison Williams, and as campaign manager for Lloyd Bentsen’s presidential bid. Palumbo also served as the staff director of the House Democratic Caucus and as a board member of the National Democratic Club.

One of the CACG board members, Betty Anne Donelly, is a representative from FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), a nonprofit member association that “works to strengthen and promote Catholic philanthropy.” FADICA is a network of major philanthropists supporting Catholic-sponsored programs and institutions. Its mission is “to enable its members to be informed, involved, and effective in addressing Church needs by their philanthropy.” Interestingly, FADICA is now headed by CACG founder Alexia Kelley.  While FADICA is “not a foundation itself, nor a clearinghouse for the grant-seeking public” it does however “provide materials which are intended to assist the fundraiser with timely development research.” FADICA could possibly facilitate funding for CACG, but it’s not clear if that is the case. It would seem that CACG needs non-profit status as a 501c3 organization to draw significant funding, but there may be ways around that requirement.    

Reaching out to millennials

In an attempt to attract young Catholics, CACG is now sponsoring Millennial—an online journal that was ostensibly created to “highlight the voices of a wide range of young Catholics.” Headed by Christopher Jolly Hale, a senior fellow at CACG and a former writer at the Soros-supported organization Faith in Public Life, Millennial appears to be an attempt to capture the young Catholic vote for the Democratic Party. The fact that Hale once worked at Faith in Public Life is revealing; CACG has enjoyed a kind of “sister” relationship with Faith in Public Life, much like the relationship CACG enjoyed with the group Catholics United, by which CACG paid the salary of Catholics United director Chris Korzen. Currently, there are CACG employees, such as Hale, who have worked at Faith in Public Life in the past, and former CACG employees, such as John Gehring, who now work at the highly-politicized Faith in Public Life.

Founded by progressive Evangelical Protestant activist and author Jim Wallis, Faith in Public Life teamed up with Sojourners, Wallis’ social justice organization, and PICO National Network, the USCCB-funded community organizing initiative in 2008, to create a “toolkit” on the health-care reform debate. That toolkit, which was used in churches throughout the country, reassured Catholic parishioners that conscience protections would remain in place and that public funding for abortion would not be part of health-care reform—even though no such assurance was offered in any of the versions of the Affordable Care Act.

Now Hale is heading the Millennial initiative at CACG. Claiming to be “the new faithful in a new century,” Millennial writers pledge to “articulate an authentic vision of the common good.” Unfortunately, it seems that the Millennial vision of the common good does not include tradition-minded millennial Catholics. In an article titled “The Latin Mass Is Not the Key to the New Evangelization,” Millennial contributor William Bornhoft criticizes those he calls the “TLM Millennials,” who are “obsessed with tradition” and “at odds with the teachings of the Church.” Suggesting that the TLM Millennials “lack a proper education on the theological reasons for liturgical reform,” Bornhoft concludes that “the same poor catechesis that leads Catholics to misunderstand and oppose the Church’s teaching on hot button cultural issues also lead [sic] Catholics to oppose the reforms of the past half century.”

In an article titled “The Bishops: Right on Immigration, Wrong on Immigration Reform,” contributing writer Matt Mazewski writes, “Left-leaning Catholics are used to being disappointed,” and then includes a long list of those who have disappointed them, including, most prominently, the US bishops and conservatives: “disappointed by the Republican Party for its apparent indifference to the economic travails of the working class…disappointed by conservatives within the Church who insist that Catholics are morally obligated to vote against pro-choice politicians…disappointed by the Bishops who so often demonstrate their political tone-deafness and frustrating knack for contributing to at least some of the trends driving intolerance of the Church in modern society.” 

CACG knows how important to the future of the Democratic Party it is to capture the millennial Catholic vote. Vinnie Rotondaro, son of CACG board leader Alfred Rotondaro, has been leading that charge for a few years now. But, in doing so, he has taken some openly partisan shots at Church leaders. In a Huffington Post article published prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act titled, “The Catholic Church: A Crisis of Trust,” the younger Rotondaro argued that “the Catholic Church is collapsing into a state of moral bankruptcy” because of its lack of support for President Obama’s health-care initiative.  Claiming that the bishops “hang on to paper-thin fears that the health-care bill would fund abortion,” Rotondaro charges, “They fought its passage tooth-and-nail and gambled with the security of millions of Americans who live—and die—with little or no health care.” 

Vinnie Rotondaro is now promoting CACG and Millennial through his work as a national correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. In an article published during the Synod on the Family in October, “Millennials Want a Messy, Earnest Discussion about Family,” he interviewed Millennial’s Christopher Hale, who stated: “What we need to see more than anything is a church that is willing to listen and a church that’s willing to engage. The church needs to realize that a large number of millennial Catholics did not grow up in a household with a mom and a dad. We are growing up in different times and we still need a church to minister to us. What once was alternative is now normal.”

Hale, in a short telephone conversation with the author earlier this month, acknowledged the loss of IRS tax-exempt status for CACG. He was, however, reluctant to disclose funding sources for his new Millennial venture. Still, Hale promised “big announcements” from CACG after January 1,2015. The CACG Strategic Plan promises an ambitious agenda—with three major “advocacy objectives” for 2015 that mirror the advocacy objectives of the Democratic Party platform:

1.      “comprehensive and just immigration reform”

2.      poverty reduction through “real solutions that address structural poverty”

3.      reducing gun violence through advocating for the return of the assault weapon ban.  

Protections for the unborn and those at the end of life are conveniently missing from the advocacy objectives of CACG. Unless CACG acknowledges that the Democratic Party’s policies contribute to the greatest expansion in access to abortion here and abroad, faithful millennial Catholics—those we at Franciscan University call the pro-life generation—may be harder to convince than they think.

Related on CWR:

“The Catholic Con Continues” (Aug. 15, 2012)


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About Anne Hendershott 88 Articles
Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Church (Encounter Books).