How black money prostitutes the American church and distorts Catholicism


My colleague Brian Fraga’s article last week detailing the financial networks that link conservative Catholic organizations to the groups that staged the assault on the United States Capitol last year was frightening. This cold should haunt all American prelates. The distortions of our faith brought about by the Culture Wars have been mixed with a policy of betrayal by a well-funded network that is ready to wink at Trumpian fascism.

Let us be clear: people who deny election results, who allege electoral fraud without producing any evidence of such fraud, who try to get others to “find” votes and who try to prevent official certification of an election attack our democracy. Period. Complete stop. If these things aren’t betrayal, what are they? And there is nothing in Catholic teaching that regards cooperation with betrayal as morally neutral or otherwise blameless.

So when Melissa Moschella, professor of philosophy at the Catholic University, told Fraga: “Part of living in a world where things are morally disordered is that in order to do good you have to cooperate with others. people and organizations doing things you don’t agree with, ”she wasn’t wrong, but she was missing the point. Betrayal isn’t something you just don’t agree with.

For comparison – and I don’t mean that politics is a game – in football or basketball there are different styles of play, quarterbacks and pointers with different skills, defenses with different formations. , etc. Everything that makes the games interesting and exciting. But if someone is cheating, that is no small difference. It’s a difference that undermines the whole premise of the game.

The events surrounding January 6, 2021 were not political differences. They sought to undermine the Constitution, not to debate it. We are right to stigmatize it and those who perpetrated it. And while the distinction between words and deeds is one of the most cherished tenets of liberalism, there are words, like the “big lie,” which lead to violence in a sufficiently direct way that they also require violence. stigma.

Moschella’s observations are also insufficient in another aspect. She focuses on whether an organization receiving money from a controversial donor network will be compromised and concludes that such a compromise would only occur if there were conditions attached to the gift. “But if it’s just about this group supporting my position because I’m pro-life but also supporting other things that I don’t agree with, then fine I can work with it. them because we share a common pro-lifelong commitment even though I don’t agree with them on other things, ”she told Fraga. It is true but not exhaustive.

Obviously, if there are any conditions that would violate Catholic beliefs or the mission of an organization, accepting the money would be compromising. But there are many ways in which an organization can be compromised.

There are ways to get vaccinated against such corruption. As I read Fraga’s article, I remembered an incident when Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University ran into financial trouble in the 1990s. Two former school fundraisers came forward to help. They received much of their financial support from Reverend Sun Myung Moon, whose esoteric beliefs were deeply offensive to Bible-believing Christians like Falwell. Nonetheless, Falwell took the money, and when news broke that it was from Moon, Falwell gave an interview to Christianity today. “Rest assured that I will operate according to the Billy Sunday philosophy: The devil had it long enough, and cash the check quickly, ”he told the magazine.

It would be one thing if conservative Catholic organizations demonstrated the kind of nerve that Falwell possessed, his obvious disdain for the source of the money that shines through. This is not how it works in Washington. Men like the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo and investment banker and philanthropist Sean Fieler, who have access to vast sums of money, theirs or others, can pick up the phone, call an organization like Susan. B. Anthony List or the Catholic Association Foundation. , and ask them to get involved in an area beyond their normal reach. Are groups really able to say no if they have become dependent on the money the funder is already giving them?

The result is that groups like SBA List are teaming up with the Fieler-funded American Principles Project to launch a new initiative on “election transparency” led by former Trump aide Ken Cuccinelli. Why would a pro-life group get involved in this issue?

“The pro-life movement must engage in reform of the transparency and integrity of elections or its ability to elect pro-life and pro-family lawmakers – and pass laws that save lives – will be significantly diminished , if not extinct, ”Cuccinelli said in a press release announcing the project.

In a sense, Cuccinelli is right: The fate of the pro-life movement is now tied to the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has decided it needs to follow Donald Trump on the “big lie” that the 2020 election was. stolen. But this level of interpenetration between the groups shows that the relationship is not even the one that would be covered by the term “allies”. It is more like the relationship between infantry and cavalry in a single army. They no longer just make common cause. They are pursuing a singular cause, and that cause is political and not religious. If the SBA list wants to take such a path, that’s one thing, but organizations with the word “Catholic” in their title should be more judicious.

All that money creates a network that, over time, will bend to the will of the financial interests that fund it. Look at the Catholic Association Foundation, which received $ 5.5 million from the Dark Money Donors Trust in 2020. As Fraga noted, this amount made up the bulk of the funding for the Catholic Association, which s ‘amounted to $ 6.3 million, according to their 2019 990. How does someone at the Catholic Association reject a request from the big donors behind the Donors Trust?

I didn’t know the Catholic Association, so I went to their website, and still don’t know what they are doing. “The Catholic Association (TCA) is dedicated to being a faithful Catholic voice in the public square,” the website says, “TCA responds to the call of the Catholic Church for members of the lay faithful to apply the teaching, Catholic wisdom and principles. to the issues of the day. ”It sounds positively healthy.

How does TCA do this good work? It’s a bit more murky to determine. Under the heading “Staff” on the website, they list four senior fellows, but no executive director, no communications director, no program director. Their Tax Form 990 lists one of the senior fellows, Ashley McGuire, as the “director, president” of the organization for which she is paid $ 71,000. The tax form indicates that she works five hours a week. Good job if you can get it. And what does she do for this nice salary? Well, she wrote an EWTN defense in the National Review, which the TCA website wants to share. Weird that they don’t mention that it was the Pope himself who criticized EWTN!

Where does the rest of the money go? Leonard Leo received $ 120,000 for “consultation”. TCA donated $ 1,575,000 to the Catholic University of America and $ 250,000 to the Catholic Information Center, two Washington-based organizations that are deeply rooted in the conservative Catholic religious and political network of Culture Warriors. . They are lavish gifts. You might be tempted to think that the TCA is putting “luxuriance” back into the “slush fund”.

It is not simony, but another kind of corruption. Failure to see how the Culture Wars have distorted Catholic teaching and prostituted the faith in the political goals of some rich big cats is now a willful moral failure and, what is worse, a willful ecclesiological failure. Fraga’s reporting should be a wake-up call to American bishops and the Holy See.

If you want to know why the church in the United States is so much more hostile to Pope Francis than to any other national church, don’t look at the scriptures. Look at the 990s of these right-wing Catholic organizations.


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