Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the U. S. House of Representatives Minority Leader, and one of the most powerful Catholic politicians in the United States, has recently warned the Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, the Archbishop of San Francisco, to cancel his plans to speak at the June 19 National Organization for Marriage march on the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Calling the event “venom masquerading as virtue,” Pelosi urged Archbishop Cordileone to stay away from the event, and “join us in seeking to promote reconciliation rather than division and hatred.”
Pelosi has partnered with other self-described Catholics including California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and progressive Catholic activists like Fr. Ray Bourgeois, Marianne Duddy Burk, Mary Hunt, and Jeannine Grammick in protesting in a letter the Archbishop’s appearance at the pro-marriage rally.
And, while the parade of progressive politicians and Catholic dissidents is not surprising, Catholics should be much more concerned about the real power behind Pelosi’s attacks on the Archbishop.
The real story here is the betrayal of the bishops by those like John Gehring, formerly the Assistant Director of Media Relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who now works at the George Soros-funded Faith in Public Life/Faithful America. It is activists like Gehring who are providing the real power behind Pelosi’s threats.
Faithful America is a 501c (3) organization that has been very involved in political activity during the past few years. Most recently, the group spearheaded a petition drive on Facebook and other social media decrying what they see as Archbishop Cordileone’s “lending the church’s authority to their [National Organization for Marriage] vitriol and hatred—and undermining Pope Francis’s call for a more compassionate church.”
While a tax-exempt organization, Faithful America sponsors political protests that the organization calls “campaigns.” One of their current campaigns is to mobilize citizen opposition to Michael Boggs, a Georgia state judge who is described on the Faithful America website as a “right wing judge who misuses our faith” when he supports the 2nd Amendment and opposes same-sex marriage. Through petition drives, the group seeks to derail his Republican-backed nomination for a seat on the U.S. District Court because “he built a political career by fear mongering about homosexual Boy Scout leaders.”
Most of Faithful America’s causes involve gay and lesbian issues including a campaign supporting the right of an 8-year-old girl to practice an alternative gender identity at her Christian school; attacking World Vision for refusing to hire openly gay employees; and protesting the new teacher contract issued by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati that explicitly bans teachers who are involved in same-sex marriages. Furthermore, Faithful America distorts the new contract language, claiming that the Cincinnati Archdiocese will fire a teacher if he or she “attends a family member’s gay wedding,” or “shares kind words with a bullied student.”
The Origins of Faithful America
Faithful America was originally founded in 2004 by then Catholic Democratic congressman Tom Perriello. It was always a political organization—described in their literature as a “communications and organizing resource center dedicated to helping faith leaders reclaim the values debate in America for justice, compassion and the common good.” The reality was that Faithful America was created to help Perriello convince voters—especially pro-life voters—to move beyond what he called “divisive abortion rhetoric.”
In addition to Faithful America, Perriello later joined with Alexia Kelly, a former leader of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development , to help create Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good—a George Soros supported organization with similar goals as those of Faithful America. Both were designed to help Catholics see beyond a candidate’s stand on abortion, to other life issues. But, their rhetoric was misleading, and in a speech on October 17, 2008, Archbishop Charles Chaput warned that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good had “done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.”
By 2009, drawing personnel and funders from the now-declining Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a re-organized Faithful America and Faith in Public Life teamed up with Sojourners, Jim Wallis’ social justice organization, and PICO National Network, the USCCB-funded community organizing initiative to help pass President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The groups created a “toolkit” designed to marginalize the Bishops on healthcare reform by reassuring Catholics that conscience protections would remain in place in the President’s health care reform. This toolkit was used in parishes throughout the country.
Faith in Public Life/Faithful American have implemented a strategy of attacking the teachings of the Catholic Church by directly attacking the authority of the bishops. Faith in Public Life has been flush with Soros money—although in 2010 Wallis refused to acknowledge the receipt of the funds. Wallis finally admitted what he called “his error” when the funding was made public in an article called “Wallis vs The Truth” by World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky.
In 2010, Faith in Public Life hired John Gehring as the senior writer and “Catholic Outreach Coordinator.” Gehring, who had just spent three years doing messaging work for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, was an especially valuable hire for Faith in Public Life because he formerly worked in media affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Gehring now spends his time attacking the same bishops he once worked for. In April, he published an article entitled “More Catholic Than the Pope?” attacking Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison for upholding traditional liturgical practices and for defending hometown son Congressman Paul Ryan. Until 2012, Gehring was joined in the attacks on the bishops by Nick Sementelli, another former employee of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good who became, until 2012, the group’s point man in attacking the bishops. Semintelli launched vicious personal attacks in 2012 on Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria because of their concerns about conscience protections and funding for abortion in the Affordable Health Care Act. Since Sementelli’s departure, Gehring has taken up the role of episcopal critic.
One of Faith in Public Life/Faithful America’s major campaigns to marginalize the authority of the bishops involved a protest of the Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom events in 2012. Claiming that the bishops’ support for the events showed “just how out of touch some bishops are with the real threats faced by working families,” Gehring wrote in a leaked email to reporters that the bishops were using “inflammatory and irresponsible rhetoric that conflates working through complex policy issues with a fundamental attack on the Catholic Church.” Gehring’s leaked email suggested that reporters should reject as “fiction” any claim that there is a “war on religion” and a “war on the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Cordileone is just the most recent target of the ongoing, well-funded attack on the Catholic Church by Faith in Public Life/Faithful America. As more and more bishops focus their priorities on defending core Catholic moral teachings and less on the progressive policies favored by an earlier generation of American bishops, the Catholic Left finds itself increasingly attacking episcopal authority. These attacks on the bishops come from progressive Catholic leaders like Fred Rotondaro, once a leader at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, who is now on the board of Faith in Public Life. Another Faith in Public Life board member, Tom Chabolla, previously served as Associate Director of Programs for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Other progressive Catholics who serve as speakers and organizers for Faith in Public Life/Faithful America include Greg Galluzzo, national director of the Gamaliel Foundation, and Sister Simone Campbell, national coordinator of Network, the progressive organization of women religious.
It is likely that the attacks on the bishops will continue to escalate—especially now that courageous Church leaders like Archbishop Cordileone are becoming effective obstacles to the progressive political agenda that threatens directly the religious liberty of Catholics and others. Still, no one should imagine that these attacks, so heavily funded by non-Catholic sources, reflect the views of faithful Catholics. This is why even a well-funded dissident minority cannot ultimately weaken a church that is united and confident in its teachings and mission and, most importantly, enjoys divine protection.
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. She is the author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education; The Politics of Abortion; and The Politics of Deviance (Encounter Books). She is also the co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Catholic Church – 2013.
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