From ......... HUMAN QUEST

July-August 1996

pages 11-12


LITTLE HAS BEEN written in the public press about far right [Roman] Catholic organizations. Instead, major publicity has been given to Protestant fundamentalist organizations like Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition and James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Yet there is an extensive network of extremist [Roman] Catholic groups who function on their own or whose members collaborate with the better known groups led by Protestants.

Among the well-known [Roman] Catholic far right leaders are such persons as Patrick Buchanan, Republican candidate in the 1996 presidential primaries; William Bennett, who managed Lamar Alexander's 1996 presidential campaign; Phyllis Schlafly, who heads the Eagle Forum; attorney William Ball, perennial defender of aid to parochial schools; William F. Buckley, editor of National Review; Robert Dornan, member of Congress and 1996 Presidential candidate; William E. Simon, former Treasury Secretary; and Paul Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foundation and the Heritage Foundation.

The Catholic right wing is basically built around issues set forth by the Vatican, including abortion, the role of women, opposition to contraceptive research, and various matters pertaining to sex, such as family planning, sex education in the schools, homosexuality, and aid to parochial schools.

In one sense they are led by the Vatican's chief agents in the U.S.: Cardinals John O'Connor, Bernard Law, Anthony Bevilacqua, James Hickey, Roger Mahoney, and Joseph Bernardin. Cardinal O'Connor, for example, is the ecclesiastical advisor of The Catholic Campaign for America; and Cardinal Law, the episcopal advisor of Women Affirming Life.

It was the Cardinals who attacked President Clinton for his veto of legislation prohibiting late-term abortions which the right wing terms "partial birth abortions." They have not joined together so forcefully as to attack any other political decisions that affect millions of people's lives and health adversely. The late-term abortions they singled out number about 500 a year and frequently involve [Roman] Catholic women who out of obedience to church doctrine avoid abortion. When tney discover in late term the threat to their own lives or health or that their baby when born would be without a vital organ and die a painful death, they turn to a late-term abortion. The Cardinals, who follow papal orders, demonstrated no compassion for the women involved.

Unfortunately, the official position is one summarized in question-answer form by Father Patrick A. Finnney in his book, Moral Problems in Hospital Practices, which was published under the imprimatur of the Archbishop of St. Louis:

Most [Roman] Catholics and some bishops would not accept such a rigid position, but the Cardinals must. The problem, of course, is more difficult in the case of a viable fetus, but not if the fetus is certain to die after birth. The Cardinals did not explore the profound ethical problems that the President had to take into consideration in his veto.

Among other official connections with the [Roman] Catholic right wing are Gale Quinn, the executive director of the U.S. Catholic Conference/National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and their spokesperson or Director of Information and Planning, Helen Alvare, who serve on the Board of Women Affirming Life, Inc.

The organization that has published the chief research on the Catholic right wing is Catholics for a Free Choice, ably directed by Frances Kissling. Their 1994 publication, A New Rite Conservative Catholic Organizations and Their Allies, divides the rightists into four categories.

The first is the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, which has an office and Committee for Pro-LifeActivities and which "is the best-funded of the U.S.C.C./N.C.B.'s thirteen secretatiats and committees, with a budget of $1.8 million in 1993." This reveals that abortion is the single most important concern of the U.S. hierarchy, since that budget was and presumably continues to be "more than three times the next largest budget, that of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and InterReligious Affairs, and four times the budget of the Secretariat for Laity, Women, Family and Youth."

This is not the only money appropriated for anti-choice work since other units which "contribute substantially to the anti-choice effort were Communications [$10.8 million], Legal Counsel [$1.18 million], and Government Liaison [$510,000]." All of this is in addition to each diocese which "has its own diocesan budget, and, in 28 states, bishops are organized into state Catholic Conferences." In Missouri, for example, the state offtce is constantly involved in writing and promoting legislative restrictions on abortion and other family planning.

The second division of 'A New Rite' identifies the most "prominent Catholic organizations" such as the Catholic Campaign for America, Human Life International, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta, and Opus Dei.

The third division lists and describes other Catholic organizations such as the Cardinal Mindzenty Foundation, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; Catholics United for Life, Pro-Life Action League; Sword of the Spirit and Word of God Movement, the Franciscan University of Steubenville. and others. Also listed is Lambs of Christ, a group of roving activists who have "welded clinics shut with metal pipes, chained dlemselves to clinic entrances, invaded women's health centers and engaged in abusive picketing of doctors' homes and their children's schools."

The fourth listing is allies of the Catholic right which includes the American Life League, Concerned Women for America, Ethics and Public Policy Center, whose President, George Weigel, and Resident Fellow Terry Eastland, serve on the National Committee of the Catholic Campaign for America, and Feminists for Life who have no connection with other feminist groups or activities.

The leading funder of the Catholic Bishops pro-life activities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, is the Knights of Columbus. It has a large insurance company attached to a Catholic fraternal order, with $4.4 billion in assets. It pursues a right wing agenda that includes school vouchers, aid to parochial schools, opposition to contraception, and abortion.

Another leading funder of right wing causes is Domino's Foundation which was set up by Thomas S. Monaghan, the owner of Domino's Pizza. He also founded Legatus as a "support group for Catholic corporate and church executives. Membership is limited to private-sector executives with more than 50 employees and $4 million in annual sales, heads of major [Catholic] church organizations and bishops." Legatus was instrumental in founding the "Catholic Campaign for America."

No discussion of Catholic rightists is complete without mentioning the role of Paul Weyrich, a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church who founded the Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation [FCF] whose major media project is National Empowerment Television which William Bennett chairs. Both Heritage and FCF were funded initially by the Coors beer family of Colorado. In the 1980s the FCF developed a Catholic Center "which played an important role in the development of a self-consciously Catholic wing of the Religious Right," according to A New Rite.

Russ Bellant in The Coors Connection cites Weyrich's connection with Laszlo Pastor, "a convicted Nazi collaborator" for his role in World War II, Weyrich's activities in Chile where Pinochet was the military dictator, and support through 'The Freedom Fighter' of Renamo, which the State Department estimated massacred about 100,000 Mozembicans.

One of Weyrich's major contributions to right wing politics was to persuade televangelist Jerry Falwell to form the Moral Majority and get into politics.

Another major contribution of Weyrich was to persuade Pat Robertson also to get involved in politics, according to Richard Viguerie in his book, The New Right. Falwell indicated that the Moral Majority had a membership of 30 percent Roman Catholics and 20 percent fundamentalists; the rest were Mormons, Jews and others. Ralph Reed claimed that the Christian Coalition's 1995 Catholic membership was 16.3 percent.

There are clear interconnections.

This commentary on the [Roman] Catholic right wing is necessarily sketchy for reasons of space. However, in fairness to our [Roman] Catholic friends and neighbors, it is essential to quote Catholics for a Free Choice:

The same can be said about Protestants; the Protestant right wing is also a small though well-organized percentage of Protestants.

There is still hope forAmerica if we are alert and active. Dr. Swomley is Emeritus Professor of Social Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri. He has a PhD. in political science and is Associate Editor of The Human Quest.


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