Progressive Catholic groups publish “Pope Francis” voter guide

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have published their election-year voter guide—and are putting Pope Francis front and center.

While the IRS revoked the non-profit status of the George Soros-subsidized Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) in October 2013 for failing to file a form 990 for three consecutive years, the organization recently re-emerged with a progressive voter guide for the November presidential elections. For A Revolution of Tenderness: A 2016 Election Pope Francis Voter Guide, CACG collaborated with other progressive groups—including the Soros-supported Faith in Public Life Catholic Program, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Pax Christi International, and others—to produce a voter guide that claims to “show how we apply the teachings of our Church to the problems of our day with a heart of mercy.”

Like the organization’s previous presidential voting guides, the new guide provides encouragement to Catholics wishing to support candidates who promote progressive positions—sometimes at the expense of the non-negotiable teachings of the Church on life and marriage. Claiming that their long list of social ills are “all related,” the 2016 guide, like the 2012 guide before it, stacks the deck in favor of pro-choice politicians who promise to protect the poor, the environment, and LGBT rights—but not the rights on the unborn or of the family.

Abortion is included as one among several threats to the dignity of the human being:

In this new place of mercy, the last are first, the poor are blessed, and enemies are loved. Black lives matter here. LGBTQ lives matter here; and so too do the lives of refugees, the imprisoned, the unborn, and anyone else who suffers dehumanization, exclusion, and injustice…. Today, human dignity and life is degraded by racism, violence, abortion, war, the death penalty, euthanasia, human trafficking, torture, environmental damage, and poverty. 

Still, there is one major difference in the 2016 guide. Rather than calling it a “Catholic” voter guide, this new version is called a “Pope Francis Voter Guide.” In fact, on page one, in an apparent attempt to avert criticism from anyone in the Church hierarchy or the laity, the Pope Francis voter guide celebrates the fact that “…a new community with new rules is established…hierarchies are subverted, concentrated power is decentralized, and prodigal children are welcomed home.” 

Devoting more space and attention to gun control, climate change, and the Black Lives Matter movement than to abortion or religious liberty, the guide prioritizes progressive concerns. Throughout the guide there are questions that Catholics are asked to consider when reading about or listening to candidates. For example, readers of the guide are asked to evaluate candidate willingness to enact policies on controlling gun violence. Although there is one question on “alternatives to abortion and euthanasia” it is asked in the context of: “What alternatives to abortion and euthanasia does each candidate discuss, such as assistance and support to expectant mothers, in particular those who are low income?” Under the topic of the economy, Catholics are asked to consider how each candidate responds to questions about the wealth gap in the US, and how each candidate will ensure that all Americans have access to health care. Under the topic of the environment, Catholics are asked to evaluate whether each of the candidates has policies for addressing climate change—asking them to evaluate what each candidate says about “alternatives to fossil fuels and jobs associated with them.” Under the topic of racial justice, Catholics are asked, “What truth do we discover in Ferguson when we encounter the suffering there, and our own blind spots are removed?” Finally, the Pope Francis voter guide laments the fact that “the issue of religious liberty has often morphed into a partisan wedge.” Criticizing those like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Franciscan University of Steubenville who have filed lawsuits over the Health and Human Services mandate to provide contraception to all employees, the guide complains that “no Catholic institution—or any institution—should use a false notion of religious liberty to discriminate against anyone they employ or serve, particularly the LGBTQ community.”

Do these progressive groups matter anymore?

Because of its precarious financial situation, it is difficult for some Catholics to take Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good seriously anymore. But they should. Catholic World Report has been investigating the organization’s funding sources and duplicitous schemes for nearly a decade (see articles here, here, and here). The collaboration of staff members from CACG with its “sister organization” Catholics United in 2008 was successful in helping to elect President Barack Obama and used the IRS to attempt to silence Catholic activists like William Donohue, head of the Catholic League, who had criticized the organization for its distortion of Catholic teachings. It is possible that Catholics United played a role in triggering the audits of other individuals and pro-life groups—something that has yet to be proven because the IRS has refused to respond to several Freedom of Information Act requests, providing only “partial responses” to inquiries.

Now that CACG has lost its tax-exempt status, it has become more difficult to identify its donors. Still, its progressive political leanings are clear in its leadership. Although the organization claims that its goal 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 continues to be 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.”

Joining Rotondaro in leading the new Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is Benjamin Palumbo, who is described on the CACG website as having had a “long and distinguished career in American politics.” Palumbo served as an assistant to New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes, as 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.

Former CACG board members include: Tom Chabolla, head of the Service Employees International Union, and Gerald Shea and Tiffany Heath, both of the AFL-CIO. Also on the board were 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 served on the CACG board.

Threatening Catholic pastors

The partisan leanings of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good remain strong, and it is clear that the collaboration with staff from a newly re-vitalized Catholics United Education Fund (including longtime Democratic operative, James Salt) will strengthen its commitment to elect progressive politicians.  Salt is currently the executive director of Catholics United Education Fund, a 501 (c) 3 organization. Salt was also described on the CACG website as a board member. A partisan strategist, Salt has been successful in using the IRS to silence those who might threaten his preferred candidates for office. In 2012, in an attempt to help re-elect Barack Obama, Salt, then the executive director of Catholics United, a 501 (c) 4 organization allowed to engage in political activity, sent letters to Florida Catholic priests claiming that his organization was monitoring “illegal political activities in Churches in the State. According to a report by Catholic News Agency, Salt claimed that there were “numerous IRS violations” in Florida parishes—including partisan references during homilies, political endorsements from the pulpit, and distribution of partisan literature in Church parking lots. Catholics United even retained a law firm to “help protect you and your parish community from losing your 501 c (3)  tax-exempt status…We have also recruited a network of local volunteers to monitor parishes and document the nature of all partisan activity taking place there.”

In recent days the IRS finally has acknowledged (after three years of refusing to do so) that it had targeted 426 organizations, most of them conservative Tea Party and pro-life organizations, for special scrutiny. Individuals who believe that they too have been targeted by the IRS continue to be blocked from obtaining documents through Freedom of Information requests. That struggle continues—awaiting a new presidential administration that may be willing to comply with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. 

It is unfortunate that progressive political groups have appropriated Pope Francis’s “Revolution of Tenderness” in this way. Catholics United has long held that the organization’s focus has always been on Catholic teachings on the protection of the poor and vulnerable—yet the organization has never paid attention to protecting the weakest among us by promoting pro-life political candidates for office.

Concerns about poverty and the environment are important, of course. But these issues can never be viewed on the same level as the non-negotiable life issues—the right to life must always be primary. Flannery O’Connor had much to say about the kind of “tenderness” that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United are promoting when she wrote: “In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness. And tenderness leads to the gas chamber.” O’Connor knew that prioritizing being tolerant and “compassionate” over a truly respecting the dignity of the individual—including the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the most vulnerable among us—leads us to a place where we eventually lose even our tenderheartedness.

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About Anne Hendershott 101 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Sophia Books, 2020)