Sunday, March 1, 2009

Right-Wing Catholicism, Right-Wing Politics: Thick Ties in the Martino and Misericordia Story

I’m always happy when something I write attracts the attention of bloggers of the religious-political right. I take it as a sign that I’m on the right track when this happens. The hot replies that often come forth from those sites, full of outraged (and outrageous) claims that their positions have been distorted, suggest to me that I’ve hit the bull’s eye.

And then there’s the free publicity for Bilgrimage. That’s no small consideration when one’s stats counter suddenly shoots up after a bit of calumny from our brothers and sisters of the right.

Friday, Carl Olson attacked me on his Insight Scoop blog (here). For those who don’t follow the intricate, incestuous connections of the Catholic right (and the intricate, incestuous connections between the Catholic right and the political right), Insight Scoop is attached to Ignatius Press.

Ignatius Press was founded by Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit whom an online history of Ignatius describes as “a longtime personal friend of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI” (here). Fessio founded St. Ignatius Institute at San Francisco University in 1976 “in reaction to liberalizing influences of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65) and curriculum changes at the university,” and is a “celebrated figure in right-wing Catholic circles” closely associated with the EWTN network of Mother Angelica (here).

Fessio is now Theologian-in-Residence at Ave Maria University. Ave Maria is the dreamchild of pizza magnate and right-wing Catholic political activist Tom Monaghan, whom reporter Liam Dillon identified last November as a “national power broker for GOP political candidates” (here).

Dillon’s article notes that Monaghan’s confidantes include Deal Hudson, “a prominent Catholic Republican operative,” and that the politicians and political action groups he has supported with major funding include Sam Brownback (R, Kansas), Mitt Romney (R, Massachusetts), Bob Schaffer (R, Colorado), and the Republican National Committee. As Dillon notes, Monaghan has chosen to exert influence on the American political process by use of his wealth to fund and create organizations for political activism.

Monaghan has a particular interest in trying to keep the Catholic vote in the Republican pocket. As Dillon states,

The combination of Monaghan’s staunch anti-abortion stance and pro-free market capitalism make him a natural fit for the Republican Party. His willingness to spend his fortune promoting these ideas makes him a power broker, especially as the bloc of 47 million Catholic voters nationwide continues to fragment.

Monaghan and Ave Maria have strong ties to Judge Robert Bork, Nixon’s attorney general and solicitor general, later appointed by Reagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C.; Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice appointed by Reagan; and Clarence Thomas, another Supreme Court justice appointed by George H.W. Bush. Under the Reagan administration, Monaghan was actively involved in the attempt to undermine liberation theology in Latin America (here and here).

As Michael Genovese notes in his study Catholics and Politics, Monaghan’s influence extends through the multiple right-wing political organizations he helps to fund and/or has set up through an interlocking network of ties that geometrically increase the influence of these groups on our political process (cited in Dillon). Dillon refers to this interlocking network as the “Ave Maria nexus.” I stress the word “nexus” here, because it’s central to Olson’s attempt to attack my analysis of what’s taking place with Bishop Martino of Scranton, on Olson’s Insight Scoop blog—an attack to which I will return in a moment.

Through his ties to Deal Hudson, whom Bill Berkowitz at Media Transparency characterizes as “the point man for the Bush administration in all matters Catholic,” Monagahan and his allies exerted strong influence in that administration (here). Berkowitz notes that Hudson was in regular contact with Karl Rove and advised Rove and his associates how to tailor their message for Catholic audiences. Berkowitz notes as well that

[Hudson] was also a major player in the organized effort by conservative Catholics to demonize liberal Catholics, and remake the church in their own ideological image; turn it away from concerns about economic and social justice missions and towards embracing narrow social issues.

Hudson fell on hard times, unfortunately, when it came out in 2004 that he had left Fordham University a decade before as a result of a sexual liaison with an 18-year old coed (here). He has now bounced back to a position of influence in D.C. at the Morley Institute, sponsor of the Inside Catholic blog, which describes itself as “a voice for authentic Catholicism in the public square” (here).

The preceding is a short overview of the intricate and incestuous nexus of right-wing Catholic and political ties within which the analysis of Mr. Olson’s Insight Scoop blog is situated. As anyone reading the preceding account of the thick connections between Mr. Olson’s right-wing Catholic cronies and right-wing Republican leaders immediately recognizes, there is absolutely no way that one can separate such right-wing Catholics from Republican causes.

It is with bad faith, indeed, then, that they try to play the conspiracy-theory card when others point out what is right in front of our eyes: the clear and plain intertwining and interlocking of religious and political objectives and affiliation in their "theological" analysis. Their religious analysis is also political analysis. They are moved as much (or more) by their political commitments and ideas, as by their religious ideas.

Their attack on Catholics who do not toe their right-wing Republican line is a political attack. It is designed to serve the interests of the Republican party. It reflects the judgment of a nasty nexus of right-wing political operatives and right-wing Catholics that the Republican party is the sole option for faithful Catholics today.

In promoting such analysis, I am engaging, Mr. Olson maintains, in conspiracy mongering. Olson implies that there is not, as I claimed in my Friday posting on Bishop Martino and the Misericordia story, a "nasty nexus of right-wing Catholics and their well-funded, powerfully placed political allies" involved in promoting stories like the Martino story, in an attempt to gain political traction for the Republican party (here).

When one looks at the abundant—the clear and patent—evidence for such a nasty nexus in the brief sketch with which I began this posting, one wonders why Olson seeks to deny what is evident to anyone who does even the scantest research on the organization for which he himself writes. The ties are obvious, and they are exceptionally thick. From Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, to Bork, Scalia, and Thomas, through right-wing Catholic activists including Monaghan, Hudson, and Fessio, to Republican congressional members funded by this nexus: the ties I’ve described in my analysis of Martino are everywhere.

And there’s more. Martino is not merely a bishop. He is a political activist, a member of a nasty nexus of several U.S. Catholic bishops and Republican leaders, who have done and continue to do everything but stand on their heads to convince American Catholics that we will lose our souls if we do not vote Republican.

Consider, for instance, Martino’s ties to the Cardinal Newman Society. Martino’s biography on the Diocese of Scranton website notes these ties: it states that he is a member of the Ecclesiastical Advisory Committee of that society (here). Other members of that committee include such outspoken advocates of right-wing Catholicism and politics as Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Vatican official Raymond Burke. Its spiritual advisor Benedict Groeschel is a close associate of EWTN, and its board chaplain Paul Scalia is a son of Justice Antonin Scalia (here).

And what exactly is the Cardinal Newman Society, whose name suggests that it is a Catholic confraternity or theological organization? Dig into the organization’s history, affiliations, and activities, and the fun begins—along with a growing recognition that this is not a theological confraternity at all, but a front for the Republican party wearing Catholic disguise.

In 2005, Michael Kranish did a valuable analysis of the Cardinal Newman Society for Boston Globe readers (here). Kranish notes that the group, whose headquarters are in an unmarked building in a mall in northern Virginia outside D.C., routinely “pores over statements by professors at the nation's Catholic colleges in an effort to find ''heretics and dissidents . . . ."

Give us syllabi. Quote course numbers. Prove to us you are no longer beating your wife. Right now (here).

And why this lavish devotion to the attempt to prove that American Catholic colleges are heretic-infested? As Kramish notes, the allegations that the Cardinal Newman Society makes about the purported decline in Catholicity of Catholic colleges “help the group raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly from small contributors.” Money that goes towards political causes—Republican political causes; and allegations that keep Catholic money flowing in that direction . . . .

Kranish wrote his exposé at a time in which the Cardinal Newman Society had decided to target Boston College. Unfortunately, the attempt of the Society to depict that Jesuit university as defectively Catholic backfired, as leading figures in American Catholic academic life denounced the tactics and not-too-hidden political agenda of the Cardinal Newman Society.

In the view of Rev. John Beal, a canon law professor at Catholic University of America, the Society’s behavior is “red-baiting in ecclesiastical garb." Charles L. Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in 2005, told Kramish that the ''attacks [of the Cardinal Newman Society] can no longer go unchallenged." He noted that the Society’s activities at Boston College ''follow a long trail of distorted, inaccurate, and often untrue attacks on scholars addressing complex issues."

According to Michael James, vice president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in 2005, the Cardinal Newman Society is ''destructive and antithetical to a spirit of unity in our commitment to serve society and the church." In the view of Rev. John Paris, a member of Boston College’s faculty attacked by the Society, he was targeted to help the Cardinal Newman Society raise money. Paris questioned the political agenda of the Cardinal Newman Society.

Karnish notes the widespread conclusion of many of those observing this quasi-Catholic political activist organization that its high-profile attacks on Catholic colleges are primarily about raising funds for Republican causes. As he also notes, a number of its board members have strong ties to politically conservative groups.

These include L. Brent Bozell III, director of the Media Research Center, which Karnish characterizes as “a self-described watchdog for liberal bias.” Karnish notes that Bozell's website says he is executive director of the Conservative Victory Fund, a political action committee that has raised money for congressional candidates.

As Media Transparency’s webpage tracking Brent Bozell notes, Bozell is “a zealot of impeccable right-wing pedigree,” who is a nephew of William F. Buckley and whose father L. Brent Bozell, Jr., assisted Barry Goldwater with writing The Conscience of a Conservative (here). The webpage also notes that Bozell was a close associate of Terry Dolan, the closeted gay founder of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, on which Bozell has served as finance chairman and president.

In the view of Media Transparency, Bozell’s Media Research Center is all about right-wing political activism—“a platform from which to bash the arts and popular culture.” Keith Olbermann named Bozell “Worst Person in the World” in November 2006 when Bozell claimed that "100 generals ... would disagree" with NBC's characterization of Iraq as "a civil war" (here).

This is the kind of company that Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton keeps. These are the sort of right-wing Republican fingerprints that are all over Martino’s ostensibly religious, ostensibly Catholic, crusade to shut down the Diversity Institute at Misericordia University. These are the right-wing players and right-wing motives lying behind Martino’s attempt—and the attempt of his allies—to work the charge that Misericordia is not adequately Catholic into a media frenzy.

This is the nexus that acolytes such as Carl Olson do not want to have exposed, because it demonstrates the essentially political, rather than religious, motives of Martino and his allies as they bash Misericordia University and threaten the denial of communion to Democratic politicians.

Bozell has been posturing to get media attention for stories like Martino's ever since it became clear that Mr. Obama would win the presidency. In October last year, he snorted,

As CBS and other networks touted Biden’s "working-class Catholic roots" growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, they refused even to note that the Bishop of Scranton had announced it wrong to give Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians like Biden (

As Eric Boehlert notes at Media Matters, even before Democrats had officially won the Senate, Bozell was whining last November, "In 25 years of looking at the national media, I have never in my life seen a more one-sided, distorted, vicious presentation of news -- and non-news -- by the national media" (here).

What is going on now with Martino and those promoting his story is part and parcel of an ongoing strategy of right-wing political activists and right-wing Catholics to use the media in a nationwide campaign to portray Catholics critical of the capitulation of some bishops to the Republican party as unfaithful Catholics, Catholics defective in their faith. As Steve Benen reported in the Washington Monthly in July 2004, in June of that year, Bozell, “a conservative activist, launched a $2.8 million advertising and talk-radio campaign to discredit the ‘liberal news media’” (here).

And they’re still at it. The cooked-up story of the defective Catholicity of Misericordia University and its Diversity Institute is part of this national campaign, which is all about undermining those who critique neonconservative political and religious ideology. It is all about trying to gain legs for an old story of which the media are growing somewhat tired, to the outrage of Martino, Bozell, and all their right-wing Catholic cronies around the nation: the manufactured fable of the decline in “authentic” Catholicism as increasing numbers of American Catholics turn away from the unholy alliance with one political party.

It is no accident that the story is now being spun out of Scranton by these powerful, wealthy right-wing political elites determined to keep the American Catholic church captive to their economic interests and viewpoints. Scranton is the home diocese of Obama’s vice-president Joe Biden. These attempts to shake the episcopal fist, to threaten withholding of communion from Biden and other Democratic politicians: they are attempts to threaten, embarrass, and undermine the new administration.

Republican attempts. Shameful, dirty attempts. By Catholic pastoral leaders in the pocket of shameful, dirty economic interest groups and their political mouthpieces. Who should have pastoral goals like healing, unifying, engaging, gathering in, speaking the truth, and critiquing the overweening powerful in mind, as they follow their callings—not goals like dividing, attacking, threatening, maiming, and distorting the truth.

And fundamentally stupid attempts, since the playbook does not shift at all even as the culture addressed by these bozart leaders shifts dramatically: while increasing numbers of American Catholics shrug their shoulders at the episcopal fist-shaking and saber rattling, their right-wing advocates continue to manufacture more shaking and rattling, as if this is effective and will influence us. As if we don't have eyes to see and minds to think, and consciences with which to weigh such behavior.

These are people—these are bozarts—who have not given a great deal of thought to the Catholic tradition they claim to be saving for the rest of us. They are not, sadly, people who read a great deal—really read, beyond soundbytes, or who think about the rich variety and nuance of the tradition they claim to be saving with their wild laments of waning Catholicity. They are not people who think carefully or who anguish over what they learn as they struggle with new ideas. They are not people who value dialogue and expanding of mental horizons.

They are people who want to dumb down, to make others as dumb as they have made themselves while they swallow their next dose of neocon kool aid. They are people who simply cannot see the glaring inconsistency between the economic worldview they keep defending, and the papal teachings they have so carefully sifted to remove from them their critique of rapacious American-style neocon capitalism. And sadly, they have anointed themselves the saviors of the intellectual life of American Catholicism!

And in doing so, and going about their business as they do, they are hurting the American Catholic church. As Rev. James Keenan told Michael Kranish in 2005, while Kranish researched the Cardinal Newman Society’s attacks on Boston College,

There is something terribly indicative here of the degree of contentiousness in the United States Roman Catholic Church today. Hopefully, someday our bishops will call us to end this awful conduct, which hurts not only those of us targeted, but more importantly, the unity of the church itself.

If Carl Olson were interested in hearing my opinion, I’d suggest that if he and his cronies love the church as much as they claim to do, they stop denying the patent (and thick) connections between their “religious” causes and their overarching political concerns. And as they do so, that they perhaps begin to subject the latter to critique, in light of central preoccupations of the former . . . .

If Mr. Olson needs any pointers about what those central preoccupations might be, I’m happy to share.