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Fidelis’s CatholicVote.org Enbraces the Apostate Glenn Beck and More!

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The Tom Monaghan-linked group Fidelis which has seemingly dabbled in financial fiddling seems to be at it again. It’s political affiliate, CatholicVote.org is employing Catholic Right culture war memes to help elect Mitt Romney to the presidency – while also falsely casting economic libertarianism as the basis of the Church’s understanding of Social Justice.

We’ll talk about that in a moment, but let’s first call on Glenn Beck to help us set the stage.

One would think that Glenn Beck should be the last person to instruct American Catholics on how to vote in the upcoming election. After all, Beck is the former Fox television talk-show host who gave religious folks an odd admonition:

“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.  Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Now, a few oddly influential neocons or libertarians notwithstanding, economic justice is a cornerstone of Catholicism, especially since 1891 papal encyclical Rerum Novarum.  This means the right for workers to organize; the right to a living wage; and the belief that labor is not to be treated as a mere commodity.  This has been repeatedly reaffirmed, most recently in the papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

I guess no one should be surprised that Mr. Beck abandoned Catholicism to become a Mormon in 1999 because “For me some of the things in traditional doctrine just doesn’t work...”

The actual Catholic view of economic justice is as lost on the folks at CatholicVote.org as it is on the apostate, Glenn Beck.  So much so, that the group created a September 25th town hall call-in event designed to reach Catholic voters centered around the self-described “Rodeo Clown” in the hope of roping them into the GOP.  Uncoincidentally, the group’s the group’s president, Brian Burch, took a leave of absence to work for the Romney campaign.

As previously noted, CatholicVote.org is a project of Fidelis (it may have superseded Fidelis itself as its web site no longer exists)

Fidelis is currently affiliated with Champion the Vote, a project of United in Purpose (UIP), which has been quietly financing and organizing a revived, dynamic religious right. Who makes up UIP’s leadership? The Los Angeles Times reports, “Most of its financial supporters remain anonymous, but one of its main backers is technology entrepreneur Ken Eldred, a generous Republican donor. Its board includes Reid Rutherford, a Silicon Valley solar-energy plant developer.”

UIP is the group that bankrolled at least American Family Association’s involvement in the Perry prayer rally – an event that featured prominent anti-Catholic New Apostolic Reformation ministers.

There seems to be some hypocrisy here. Conservative Catholics and conservative evangelical Protestants both oppose reproductive rights; marriage equality; and embryonic stem cell research. Those issues are consistent with the Vatican hierarchy. But with that said, CatholicVote.org is clearly out of sync with Rome – and the larger Church — on economics and environmental stewardship.

This disconnect was readily apparent by their town hall event featuring none other than… the apostate Glenn Beck!

This disconnect is evident right on the CatholicVote.org’s “Issues” page on its web site where culture war hot button issues – marriage, for example – are prominently featured.

But also front and center is an an essay in the “Taxes and Government” by Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of The National Review, complaining about how entitlements for the elderly are financed. The link to Economic Justice features a brief essay authored by Samuel Gregg, Director of Research for the libertarian Acton Institute.  And the link to Environmental Stewardship while darkly warning of the “worship of nature” makes no mention at all of global warming.

Let’s consider Samuel Gregg a little further. He is also affiliated with the anti-regulation, libertarian Atlas Economic Research Foundation.  A past president of Atlas once said its mission “is to litter the world with free-market think-tanks.” To that end, major funders include Exxon-Mobil ($500,000 since 1998) and Koch family foundations (1997-2008: $122,300). Other similarly-minded contributors include the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Earhart Foundation (Harry B. Earhart, who started the foundation, funded much of the work of libertarian icon economist Friedrich von Hayek).

Ramesh Ponnuru’s leading role at The National Review speaks for itself.  But he comes from good libertarian stock. He served as a fellow of  The Institute of Economic Affairs , which also gave birth to Atlas. The Institute was founded by another Hayak benefactor, Antony Fisher.

By clicking on “Educational Freedom” we find an essay by Kevin Schmiesing calling for the public funding of vouchers for private school tuition. Who is Mr. Schmiesing? He is a research fellow at the Acton Institute.

Economic libertarianism is anything but synonymous with the principles of Catholic Social Justice. Indeed, it is its antithesis. It is a theory in which workers are commodities and should not be paid much beyond subsistence. I suspect that advancing this belief under the guise of religious freedom (for the hierarchy, that is) is what CatholicVote.org’s agenda is ultimately about.

Writing in his recent book, The “Poisoned Spring” of Economic Libertarianism: Menger, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard: a Critique From Catholic Social Teaching of the ‘Austrian school’ of Economics, Catholic economic author Angus Sibley noted:

Most practical methods of reducing inequalities are repugnant to libertarians. Labor unions are hated because they obstruct the worker’s freedom to agree his own contract with his employer. Minimum wage rates are another blasphemy against the divine free market, whose worshippers assert, against much historical evidence, that fixed minima “inevitably” reduce the demand for labor and so cause unemployment. Redistributive taxation (higher tax rates on higher personal incomes) “is a mode of disguised expropriation of successful capitalists and entrepreneurs” according to Mises, while his admirer Murray Rothbard stated that “Taxation is Robbery” and that “the libertarian favors the right to unrestricted private property and free-exchange”.

He also wrote:

Catholic teaching flatly repudiates all that nonsense. Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum, §45) spoke of “a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner”, and he strongly commended (#49) workers’ associations, of which “the most important of all are workingmen’s unions.” John Paul II (Centesimus Annus, §20) observed that “unions… are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people.”

It is a sham, (arguably self-satire), for any organization that purports to inform Catholic voters of where the Church stands to try to sell them unCatholic ideas. But then again, to understand why CatholicVote.org engages in such mendacity one only need to follow the money — and Glenn Beck!

Bill Donohue: Defender of Glenn Beck.

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Glenn Beck’s recent admonition that people who attend a church that teaches social justice should leave — was anti-Catholicism. This was obvious from a wide range of perspectives –from a Jesuit scholar to a liberal newspaper columnist and a neoconservative evangelical blogger.

Yet perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this tawdry episode was that stepping forward to defend Glenn Beck was none other than Bill Donohue leader of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

But before we get too deeply into the scandal, let’s recap: On the March 2, 2010 Fox News TV show that started it all, Glenn Beck said:

“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

James Martin, S.J., writing in the Jesuit journal America, observed:

“Of course this means that you would have to leave the Catholic Church, which has long championed that particular aspect of the Gospel.”

Martin elaborated on the thinly veiled anti-Catholic vitriol of Beck’s pronouncement:

The term “social justice” originated way back in the 1800s (and probably predates even that) and has been continually underlined by the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the church) and popes since Leo XIII, who began the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching with his encyclical on capital and labor, Rerum Novarum in 1891.  Subsequent popes have built on Leo’s work, continuing the church’s meditation on a variety of social justice issues, in such landmark documents as Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on “the reconstruction of the social order,” Quadregismo Anno (1931), Paul VI’s encyclical “on the development of peoples,” Populorum Progressio (1967), and John Paul II’s encyclical “on the social concerns of the church” Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987).  Social justice also undergirds much of Catholic social teaching on peace.  “If you want peace,” said Pope Paul VI, “work for justice.”

On his March 11, 2010 radio program, Beck went even lower, conflating real Catholic social justice with the bigoted Rev. Charles Coughlin, which was a thinly veiled effort to equate the social justice teaching of the Church with fascism.  But it as with most such coarse demagoguery, what is left out is as misleading as what is actually said.

Washington Post op-ed writer Harold Meyerson helped correct the historical record.

The most celebrated and notorious Catholic of the New Deal era was radio priest Charles Coughlin, the Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly of his day. On his weekly nationwide radio broadcast, the Detroit-based Coughlin was a staunch FDR supporter during the initial years of Roosevelt’s presidency. He approved of the first phase of the New Deal, the National Recovery Act, which rejected laissez-faire capitalism and endeavored to replace it with a managed economy that balanced opposing social interests — echoing Catholic economic doctrines propounded by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum and by Pius XI in his 1931 Quadragesimo Anno. By 1935, however, Coughlin had split with Roosevelt over the issue of America’s recognition of the World Court (the very kind of issue that today’s talk-show fascisti also love to demagogue). The cosmopolitanism of the New Deal and the new CIO was increasingly unbearable to the anti-Semitic Coughlin, and by 1936 he was attacking “Franklin Double-Crossing Roosevelt” in every broadcast.

Initially Roosevelt sought to keep Coughlin in the fold, sending such prominent New Deal Catholics as Joseph P. Kennedy and Frank Murphy, who’d recently been mayor of Detroit and was soon to become governor of Michigan, to try to rein him in. But Coughlin had made up his mind, and as the 1936 election drew near, he was calling FDR a “liar” and a “communist.”

Then Meyerson compared Coughlin with Monsignor John Ryan and other Catholic economic liberals:

But Roosevelt also had allies within the Catholic hierarchy, and he made sure to showcase them whenever possible. Foremost among these was Monsignor John A. Ryan, a professor of political science and moral theology at Catholic University and the longtime director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Council. Inspired by Rerum Novarum, Ryan helped create a distinctly Catholic brand of American economic progressivism. (His dissertation, completed in 1906, was titled “A Living Wage.”) In 1936, in an address he called “Roosevelt Safeguards America,” Ryan took to the airwaves to denounce Coughlin’s attacks on the president. Ryan also delivered the invocation at FDR’s 1937 and 1945 inaugurals.

Ryan’s labor Catholicism probably claimed the allegiance of several million adherents during the New Deal years. Among the most prominent were New York Senator Robert Wagner, who authored both the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act, and Philip Murray, the first president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and the second president of the CIO.

Coughlin was a renegade who, like Beck has moved from any semblance of mainstream political philosophy, to embrace one that is increasingly conspiratorial and radical.

Also criticizing Beck was Baptist neocon Joe Carter. Writing in First Things the journal founded by John Richard Neuhaus  Carter asked: “Could Beck’s claim be construed as “anti-Catholic?” Yes and no. I think if anyone else had made the remark it would have been hard to dismiss the anti-Catholic undertones.”

Carter went on to say:

“But Beck is a special case: He is too prone to say any dumb thing that pops into his head and too ignorant about history and religion to truly understand the implications of his statement. This doesn’t excuse him, of course, but it certainly is reason not to be too shocked when a self-professed “rodeo clown” advises people to leave their churches over Catholic “code words” like social justice.”

Carter closed his piece by wondering, “Still, I’m curious to see how Beck’s loyal defenders will excuse his latest outrageous remarks.”

Joe Carter, say hello to Catholic League President Bill Donohue!

In a March 12, 2010 Catholic League press release Donohue declared:

Many are hammering Beck for saying, “Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” A closer read of what he said shows he followed that quip with, “If I am going to Jeremiah Wright’s church. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish.”

Beck didn’t say Christians should abandon their religion. He recommended shopping around to find a more conservative parish if one is dissatisfied with hearing left-wing sermons. Nothing new about that. In the Catholic Church, there are priests who are stridently left-wing and stridently right-wing; many parishioners shop accordingly. Protestants shop by leaving one denomination for another. And so on.

See? Glenn wasn’t trying to strip Catholicism of a central tenet; he just wants us to go shopping!

Then Donohue tried to deflect attention away from Beck’s anti-Catholicism. But nowhere does he make any effort to explain the meaning of Catholic notions of social justice:

Some of those who have criticized Beck have done so in a sincere way. Others are just phonies. Just yesterday, we dealt with an issue which is far more serious than a sarcastic remark-we called out a radical feminist leader for branding pro-life Catholic congressman Bart Stupak “un-American.” And the day before we protested news stories accusing the bishops of “polluting” the health care debate. But we heard nothing from the social justice crowd about these matters. Wonder why.

Donohue does not in any way rebuke Beck, let alone defend Catholoic notions of Social Justice or such leaders as  Monsignor Ryan, Robert Wagner, Sr. and Dorothy Day.

But this is nothing new.  I’ve written before that for Donohue, movement conservatism always takes precedence over addressing ant-Catholicism.  

Glenn Beck not only launched a frontal assault on Catholic theology, but provided an opportunity for Donohue’s Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to carry out its stated mission.  That the League deflected for Beck rather than standing up for the social justice teaching of the Church ought to be a singularly illuminating moment for American Catholicism.