Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Selling Out Catholic Values: Archbishop Charles Chaput and the Republican Captivity of the Church

I recently challenged myself (and others) to pursue three information trails that have opened in this election. The public has a right to know 1) to what extent McCain campaign members pushed the Ashley Todd hoax before her story had been verified; 2) the names of secret donors to Florida Family Action, which is promoting a homophobic ballot initiative in that state; and 3) funding sources for the websites set up in recent weeks by the Colorado Catholic Conference to bring in the vote for Republican candidates in the coming election.

I’ve been pursuing the third question since Sunday. What I find is revelatory—and disgusting. It demonstrates that the institutional Catholic church in Colorado is so incestuously tied to the Republican party that Archbishop Chaput’s claim that he is not endorsing John McCain lacks all credibility. The story I am discovering regarding the connection of the Catholic church in Colorado to the Republican party is a parable of a church that has bargained away its soul.

Through its pastoral leaders—above all, Archbishop Charles Chaput—the Catholic church in Colorado has sold its soul. The pastoral leaders of the Colorado Catholic church have now placed themselves in the unenviable position of having mortgaged the church's future to one political party. As that party rises or falls, so does the Catholic church in Colorado.

This is a place churches should never choose to go. No political party ever deserves the endorsement of a church. The goals of all political parties fall short of the biblical vision of the reign of God. The church’s position vis-à-vis the public square should be one of constant critique of all political platforms, insofar as they do not move towards that normative vision of God's reign. The attempt to establish theocracy through one political party or a single political movement inevitably sells the church out, and places its soul in the hands of politicians and their monied backers—nonied backers who use the church as a shield for their sordid ends, and whom the church permits to buy and sell God.

As readers know, my interest in the Colorado story began with announcements on the Clerical Whisper blog last week of two new websites closely connected to the Colorado Catholic Conference—Formed Catholics in the Public Square and Voto Catolico (http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2008/10/talking-pro-life-or-acting-pro-life.html and http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2008/10/major-religious-and-cultural-shift.html).

An announcement for the Formed Catholics website appears on the Irish Catholic blog (widely read by Catholics around the world) on October 22 (http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2008/10/new-website-offers-intellectual-and.html). This announcement (which was obviously provided to Clerical Whispers by the website's promoters) presents the Formed Catholics website as a treasure trove of “intellectual and spiritual resources for voters.” It quotes Jill Reiff, a researcher for the Solidarity Institute sponsoring the website, as follows: “Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or access to the information necessary for voting responsibly. This website presents the most prominent information in an easy to use manner.”

Easy to use—you betcha! Information, resources: the website and its sponsors claim they are not endorsing any single party, but merely providing Catholics with the facts they need to become informed voters: “The Institute notes on their site that the facts that they present are objective and from reliable sources.”

These claims are reiterated two days later in the Clerical Whispers’ blog’s announcement of the Latino website Voto Catolico, a clone of Formed Catholics
(http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2008/10/website-promotes-hispanic-catholic-vote.html). Citing material provided by Voto Catolico’s sponsors (which are not ever identified on the blog itself, though the blog clearly links to the Colorado Catholic Conference), Clerical Whispers states, “The site does not endorse a particular candidate but rather reminds believers of the higher values that should be considered when casting their vote, such as the defense of life from the moment of conception and marriage as a union between one man and one woman.”

Facts, resources, information, objectivity, no endorsement of a particular candidate or party: here’s what I’ve found as I have pursued information trails about the involvement of the Colorado Catholic Conference in politics. It puts the lie to the claim that these websites are objective presentations of the “facts” to inform Catholic voters. They are, in fact, high-powered (and seemingly well-funded) commercials for the Republican party, designed to give voters the impression that this party has a privileged relationship with and the explicit endorsement of the Catholic church.

In my attempt to uncover answers to my questions about these websites, I’ve discovered I’m not the only blogger pursuing these information trails. In two postings last week to the Denver Westword blog, Michael Roberts reports that Bob Beauprez, previously a Republican representative from Colorado, has been bombarding Colorado voters with robo-calls on behalf of the current Republican candidate for Congress Bob Schaffer and against his Democratic opponent Mark Udall (http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2008/10/bob_beauprez_reemerges_as_a_pr.php and http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2008/10/the_bob_beauprez_robocalls_and.php).

Roberts reports that the robo-calls state that Schaffer stands with Catholic teaching on the “non-negotiable” issues of abortion, gay marriage, human cloning, etc., whereas Udall does not. And, in case those receiving the call are in doubt about this claim, Beauprez then helpfully directs listeners to that brand-new Catholic “resources” website, Formed Catholics in the Public Square—that same “Catholic” website that suddenly appeared last week just as the Beauprez robo-call campaign got underway.

A transcript of part of the Beauprez robo-call provided by Roberts indicates that Beauprez states the following, "I recently learned through the Solidarity Institute at ecatholichub.net that Bob Schaffer is in agreement with Catholic doctrine on all five of these issues, while Mark Udall is opposed to every single one . . . ."

Roberts asks, “What's the Solidarity Institute? Fascinating, for one thing.” He notes that, when one visits the Formed Catholics page sponsored by Solidarity Institute, the only issues about which it seeks to inform Catholic voters are “the five non-negotiables,” about which Solidarity expects all Catholics to agree: gay marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, abortion, and euthanasia.

As Roberts notes, Formed Catholics rates McCain and Obama on these “non-negotiable” issues, with the following result: “Candidates are awarded red, yellow or green lights depending on their positions, and by this measure, McCain pummels Obama, as Republicans routinely trump Democrats throughout the site.”

Objective, factual information and resources? Hardly. This website and its Latino clone are shameless advertisements for the Republican party. They are Republican campaign promotional materials masquerading as Catholic resources. As I do, Roberts wants to know where the money for these ads is coming from. As he notes,

The “About Us” Page on ecatholichub.net doesn't specifically reference the Archdiocese of Denver or other Catholic church bodies in Colorado. Yet another section of the main site features “Moral Principles for Catholic Voters,” a guide endorsed by Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput, Bishop of Pueblo Arthur Tafoya and Bishop of Colorado Springs Michael Sheridan; the text is included below.

The Solidarity Institute webpage at www.ecatholichub.net/si does link directly to the Colorado Catholic Conference, with a statement that Colorado Catholic Conference is “a state-level, public policy agency operated jointly by the Archdiocese of Denver, the Diocese of Pueblo and the Diocese of Colorado Springs” (www.cocatholicconference.org). Solidarity’s two links to the Colorado Catholic Conference would surely give most visitors to the website the distinct impression that Solidarity—and thus its promotion of Republican candidates—is directly sponsored by the Catholic church in Colorado.

The Archdiocese of Denver is denying any connection to Beauprez’s robo-call campaign, however. According to Jeremy Pelzer, Archbishop Chaput’s spokeswoman Jeanette DeMelo has informed the Denver Post that she had no knowledge of the robo-calls until her office began getting calls about them (www.politickerco.com/jeremypelzer/2631/beauprez-talks-values-issues-robocalls-behalf-schaffer-musgrave).

Pelzer notes that the funding source for Beauprez’s robo-calls is a “new group led by Beauprez called Informed Catholic Citizens.” Visit the website for that group at http://informedcatholics.org, and one finds that . . . it links directly to the website of Solidarity Institute. And thus to Colorado Catholic Conference, through Solidarity Institute. If one clicks on the “Know Your Vote” section of Informed Catholic Citizens’ website, one is brought immediately to the candidate-ranking page of Solidarity Institute’s Formed Catholics in the Public Square website, that is, to the pro-Republican ranking page of SI's website.

Yet nowhere on the Informed Catholic Citizens’ website is there any indication at all of its sponsorship or funding sources, or its ties to Colorado Catholic Republican interest groups. Its “About Us” link simply states that it’s a grassroots organization who [sic] wants to see Catholics and our Church treated fairly . . . .” The website is, in fact, actively misleading in several respects.

For instance, though Jeremy Pelzer reports that Bob Beauprez informed him that Informed Catholic Citizens is the funding source for his robo-calls campaign, the ICC website carries a disclaimer of sorts about this. Under the heading “Potential for Bias,” it has an unsigned statement suggesting that if Beauprez’s intent is simply to inform voters, he deserves support. But, “If this is just one more misuse of the Church structure and resources, I am offended.”

The statement notes that the ICC website itself appears to endorse only Republican candidates, and then suggests that the bishops’ aim in calling voters to be informed is to provide resources, not to endorse candidates. This is an exceedingly strange—an exceptionally mendacious—claim, when the website is directly linked to the Solidarity Institute website, itself linked to the Colorado Catholic Conference website, which explicitly ranks all Republican candidates as more in line with Catholic values than the Democratic candidates.

And then there’s the misleading link immediately below the “Potential for Bias” link on the ICC website, “Opposition to California Proposition 8: Hate in the Name of Love.” This leads to an op-ed piece by Dennis Prager headed by a picture of a smiling same-sex female couple. On the face of it, this piece initially appears to be a call to Catholics to choose love over hate in the assessment of the anti-gay marriage proposition 8 in California.

In fact, it is precisely the opposite. It is an attack on those who see the anti-gay marriage movement as anti-love, and thus all about hate. Prager’s argument stands reality on its head, thus suggesting that the use of the picture of the smiling couple is a kind of “hook” to get voters confused by the dynamics of love, hate, and religious teaching in the gay-marriage debate to explore resources on this website, where they will be set straight.

Noxious materials. Lies perched on lies. And all directly related, in some way, to the Colorado Catholic Conference—that is, to the institutional Catholic church in Colorado, and to its pastoral leaders, chief among them Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver.

The mess only stinks higher as one delves more carefully into the deep-pocket ties of Chaput to well-heeled Republican Catholic donors in and outside Colorado.

Though Solidarity Institute does not appear to have the official backing of the Colorado Catholic Conference, its website links to the latter entity, as I have stated. In fact, one of two links to the Colorado Catholic Conference on the website of Solidarity Institute advertises the Colorado Catholic Conference as “Other SI Work.”

As I’ve noted, the Colorado Catholic Conference is explicitly sponsored by the three Catholic dioceses of Colorado. As I indicated previously, its mission statement describes the organization as a public policy agency operated by the Denver archdiocese and the dioceses of Pueblo and Colorado Springs. Its “About Us” Statement declares that the Colorado Catholic Conference “interacts with the state legislature, U S Congress and elected officials at all levels in numerous ways.”

Given the mission and self-description of Colorado Catholic Conference, it’s interesting, indeed, that the Solidarity Institute website would characterize CCC—that is, an official arm of the Catholic church in Colorado—as part of the “other work” of Solidarity Institute. Solidarity Institute, whose “Catholic” voters’ guide shows McCain pummeling Obama on “non-negotiable” issues and Republicans routinely trumping Democrats throughout the site, as Jeremy Pelzer notes . . . .

It’s interesting that one cannot easily find a history of Solidarity Institute—a history of its founders, sponsors, members, past and present boards of trustees—online. The Solidarity Institute website itself has a vague “About Us” statement simply identifying the organization as a “Catholic effort” to promote pro-life political positions. The contact page has a phone number and email contact form, but no mailing address.

Financial donations are, of course, welcome, and the website actively solicits them—for instance, for the upkeep of the Denver Catholic cathedral. But nowhere on the website is a statement about current or past members of Solidarity Institute, its sponsoring or affiliated organizations, its board of trustees, its funding sources, its history, etc.

Solidarity Institute was in existence as early as 2002, per the Denver Catholic Register, the newspaper of the archdiocese of Denver. A 20 March 2002 article in the Register notes that its then executive director was Peter Droege, who had formerly edited the Catholic Register (www.archden.org/dcr/archive/20020320/2002032011ln.htm).

At the same time that he was heading Solidarity Institute, Droege was media representative for Medallion Enterprises, a Denver-based investment corporation that the Boulder Weekly described in 2002 as “a philanthropic pro-voucher organization founded by multi-millionaire cable magnate John Saeman” (http://archive.boulderweekly.com/111402/newsspin.html and ww.medallionllc.com). "Pro-voucher" refers to a movement sponsored by the U.S. Catholic bishops to have the government provide tax incentives to parents who send their children to Catholic schools.

Medallion’s chair John V. Saeman is a big-money player in Colorado (and nationwide) Republican politics, as well as an avid supporter of the Denver archdiocese. In 2006, he donated $10,000 to the Colorado Republican Campaign Committee and $25,000 to the Republican National Campaign Committee

In the same year, Saeman donated as well to the campaign of Bob Beauprez. He also gave repeated donations to the campaigns of embattled Pennsylvania Catholic Republican senator Rick Santorum and of embattled Virginia Republican senator George Allen, both of whom were defeated. Both men have drawn fire for remarks widely considered homophobic or racist: Santorum has implied that acceptance of homosexuality will lead to acceptance of bestiality (www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2003-04-23-santorum-excerpt_x.htm), and Allen once referred to an Indian-American photographer in his opponent’s campaign as a “macaca,” a racist term for people of color (www.forward.com/articles/alleged-slur-casts-spotlight-on-senator%E2%80%99s-jewis).

In this election cycle, John Saeman has given $50,000 to the Republican National Campaign Committee, $25,000 to the Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee, as well as repeated donations to the campaigns of Bob Schaffer and Marilyn Musgrave (www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/john-saeman.asp?cycle=08). Once again, in this election period, records show him giving to embattled prominent out-of-state Republican candidates such as Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Saeman and his wife Carol have thick ties to Archbishop Chaput of Denver. In 2005, Chaput finagled from the Vatican a distinguished award for the couple: they were named Knight and Dame Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great (www.archden.org/dcr//news.php?e=114&s=4&a=2617). John Saeman has chaired the board of the Denver archdiocese’s Catholic Foundation (www.archden.org/dcr//news.php?e=51&s=4&a=1143).

As his contributions to Republican politicians outside Colorado suggest, Saeman’s influence as a right-wing Catholic Republican operative go well beyond the boundaries of the state. For instance, in 1999 he collaborated with Domino’s Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan and David "No Gays in My Papers" Weyrich, CEO of Martin Media, to found Catholic Family Radio (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9507E1DB1039F936A2575BC0A96F958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all). As commentator David Scott notes, this organization –which has strong ties to the right-wing Catholic EWTN affiliate—was founded to “gain a hearing for conservative Catholic political ideas” (www.davidscottwritings.com/newfrequency.html). Saeman is unapologetic about his attempt to influence political decisions in areas beyond his state boundaries: as the PA GOP Insider blog noted in 2006, Saeman gave to the Santorum campaign because he supports Santorum’s purported “pro-family, pro-life” values (http://pa-gop-insider.blogspot.com/2006/02/philadelphia-inquirer-02132006-casey.html).

Through the numerous organizations he funds or with which he is affiliated, John Saeman continues to pursue one overriding objective. That objective is described by the organization Colorado Conservative Voters, an initiative to which he has lavishly contributed, as the attempt “to educate Colorado citizens about issues, officeholders, and political candidates that further conservative values,” though, clearly, the concern to “educate” citizens goes far beyond the boundaries of a single state (www.campaignmoney.com/political/527/colorado_conservative_voters.asp).

Indeed, it does not require any stretch of the imagination to see that the influence of big-pocket Republican Catholic powerbrokers like John Saeman reaches the Vatican itself, particularly when John Saeman’s board biography on the Cable Center website states that he helped to support the educational and charitable efforts of the last pope, John Paul II (www.cablecenter.org/about/boardDetail.cfm?id=45). Is it any wonder that John Paul II chose Denver as the site of his 1993 World Youth Day Conference, an event twhose political underpinnings the right-wing Republican National Review trumpeted as follows:

The Pope's visit to Denver was a triumph, demonstrating that millions of people-not only Catholics, or even believers-respond with joy to uncompromising reaffirmations of the morality the modern West so sorely lacks. Even Bill Clinton and Al Gore felt obliged to pay their respects to a man who opposes everything they stand for.

Oh. And Mr. Saeman has long been closely associated with the Daniels Fund of Denver (www.danielsfund.org/About/Board%20Bios/John_Saeman.asp). Of which the current vice-president of communications is none other than Peter Droege (www.danielsfund.org/About/staff.asp?s=2).

Peter Droege, former editor of the Denver archdiocesan paper, the Catholic Register.

Peter Droege, who headed the Solidarity Institute at the same time he was media representative for John Saeman’s Medallion Enterprises.

The Solidarity Institute whose website links to that of the Colorado Catholic Conference.

The Colorado Catholic Conference which is sponsored by the three Catholic dioceses of Colorado.

The Solidarity Institute which is named as a resource for voters in the pro-Republican robo-calls Bob Beauprez has recently been making in Colorado.

The Republican robo-calls implying that the Catholic church supports Republican politicians, calls about which Archbishop Chaput’s spokeswoman Jeannette DeMelo disclaims any knowledge on behalf of the archbishop.

The Solidarity Institute whose website sponsors a "fact-based" "informational" resource guide to Catholic voters that consistently ranks McCain and other Republican politicians as embodiments of Catholic values.

The Denver archbishop Charles Chaput who has repeatedly attacked Mr. Obama in this election while professing that he does not endorse a particular candidate (http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2008/10/catholics-life-issues-and-elections.html).

The same Charles Chaput who had the pope name the Saemans Knight and Dame Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, and who, two years ago, presented the Saemans with his prestigious Imago Dei award (www.archden.org/dcr//news.php?e=353&s=4&a=7418).

After following these information trails, I understand why Catholic theologian Rev. Richard McBrien has said of Charles Chaput that, of a bad crop of bishops appointed by the late pope, Chaput is “one of the worst” (www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2005/decjan2005p7_2121.html).

In the person of Charles Chaput, the Catholic church of Colorado has sold its soul to the Republican party, lock, stock, and barrel—and to the big-money donors that sustain that party in Colorado and elsewhere. Catholic values should not be for sale. In the case of Archbishop Chaput, they clearly have been, to the detriment of the church’s ability to proclaim those values—and the gospel itself.