Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bishops on Pew Forum Report re: USCCB Lobbying: Lemons!

That Pew Forum report that tells us how much the U.S. Catholic bishops are spending on lobbying--and that they're second in the list of faith-based lobbying groups in D.C.?  They aren't liking it one little bit.

Because it lets the cat out of the bag, as I observed several days ago, and makes it well-nigh impossible for the bishops and their water-carriers to keep pushing that very bedraggled old story of Catholics as victimized underdogs in a nasty anti-Catholic culture rapidly moving to secularism.

The USCCB media person, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, published a posting at the USCCB media blog site two days ago, in which she claims the Pew researchers have illicitly lumped expenses for lobbying with what she calls expenditures for "advocacy," ending up with apples mixed with oranges.

And so the report is lemons: 

In trying to get a handle on advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill, Pew researchers compared apples and oranges and got lemons.

As Kevin Clarke notes at America, the Pew folks are standing by the report.  To the best of my knowledge, the U.S. Catholic bishops are the only group studied by the report who have raised objections to the methodology the report employs.  And precisely because the USCCB is an exceptionally powerful and well-funded political lobbying group--the point the bishops do not want the public to see, because they can't play the victim card when this information is on the table--its objections could well result in some shift on the part of Pew Forum.  It will be interesting to watch and see if that happens.

There's a broader context to this story that should not be missed.  This is the fact that the USCCB and other powerful, well-funded Catholic lobbying groups like the Knights of Columbus, who are allied to the bishops in their political battles, are spending huge sums of money right now on overtly political causes--notably on combating the right of gay citizens to civil marriage.

While at the same time, as Nicole Sotelo reported last September, in the case of the Knights of Columbus, the amount of money given for works of mercy (to assist the hungry, those without shelter, those in need of medical treatment) is diminishing . . . .  After the Knights gave almost a million and a half dollars to the battle to remove the right of civil marriage from gay citizens in California in the prop 8 battle, it was widely reported (e.g., by Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin) that of $34.6 million that the K of C Supreme Council spent in 2009, only $3 million was expended for works of mercy.  Timothy Kincaid notes that in 2009, the Knights provided $8 million for the needs of the hierarchy, $5 million for their museum, $3 million for evangelization, but over $6 million to “family life” and “pro-life” programs.  The latter included($4.7 million for anti-gay and $1.9 million for anti-abortion political advocacy.

Under its current Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, the Knights have become virtually indistinguishable from a pro-Republican political lobby masquerading as a faith-based charitable group.  Supreme Knight Anderson served in the Reagan administration and was a legislative assistant for controversial right-wing Republican senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and he has led the way in converting the Knights from a charitable organization to a political lobbying group.  

Anderson's pro-Republican lobbying as Supreme Knight has been so pronounced and so unvarnished that it has brought him criticism from some Catholic groups, including members of the Knights of Columbus itself who argue that the diversion of the Knights' funds from works of mercy to political lobbying undercuts the organization's missional claims.  

When it comes to political lobbying right now, the USCCB and the Knights of Columbus are joined at the hip, so that they function as virtually a single--and very powerful and very rich--lobbying organization promoting overtly political (and highly partisan) positions through their lobbying efforts.  This is the bigger story that the bishops are desperate to keep from the front page of newspapers right now, because it makes it very difficult for them to claim to be all about walking in Jesus's footsteps, doing good, and serving the cause of life.  And so they will naturally be exercised at reports like the recent Pew Forum report, which pull the veil back and let the public see precisely how much money they're spending to play politics.  Partisan politics . . . . 

While they're closing churches and Catholic schools.  And while the money they're spending to attack a vulnerable minority group and take away its rights can't be spent on the hungry, those without clothing or shelter, those in need of medical care, and so forth.  Since it's being spent to play politics.

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