The Vatican Connection: How the Roman Catholic Church Influences the Republican Party. John M Swomley on how, in the 1996 elections Robert Dole’s endorsement of the Catholic political agenda, along with a similar endorsement by the Republican Party platform, made the Republican Party in effect a religious or sectarian party, how the Catholic bishops took action to aid the Republican Party and how Henry Hyde, in turn, according to the National Catholic Reporter, invited Catholics to help him develop the party’s 1996 platform.
“The Vatican wants to extend its authority over civil law, not only in countries with Catholic majorities but in others with religiously diverse populations. The Catholic bishops have decided to try to impose papal authority in the United States through the abortion issue.” From: CHISTIAN ETHICS TODAY, APIRL 1997
The Vatican Connection:
How the Roman Catholic Church Influences the Republican Party
By John M Swomley
It was the Vatican’s program that dominated the Republican Party platform and presidential campaign in 1996, although Ralph Reed and the Christian coalition claimed the credit.
After winning the Republican primaries, candidate Robert Dole made a major speech to the Catholic Press Association’s annual convention in Philadelphia on May 23, in which he endorsed “school choice,” which involves the funding of parochial schools through tuition tax vouchers. He also attacked President Clinton’s late term or “partial birth” abortion veto and, in the context of abortion, said, “Though not a Catholic, I would listen to Pope John Paul II.”
The word “listen” in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, is defined as “give heed, take advice.”
Immediately following that speech, Dole had a 20-minute meeting with Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia. On June 25, Dole had an hour-long private meeting with Cardinal John O’Connor of New York City in which they discussed Dole’s commitment to the papal position on abortion (and presumably family planning) as well as his strategy to persuade moderate pro-choice Republicans to accept an anti-abortion platform. ‘When a reporter asked O’Connor if he was comfortable with Dole’s efforts to seek tolerance for pro-choice Republicans, the cardinal endorsed Dole’s plan by saying, “I cannot imagine that Senator Dole will deviate from his commitment on abortion.” He also said, “I think that Senator Dole has a wonderfully pro-life record and I doubt very much that that’s going to change in any significant way.”
Although Dole did not request a joint photo, the cardinal posed with Dole for a picture for the New York Times which appeared the next day on the front page as an obvious endorsement.
On July 18, Dole spoke to a Catholic audience at Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee where, according to the New York Times, he emphasized his proposal for “vouchers paying $1,000 a year in tuition for pupils in grades one through eight and $1,500 a year for high school students. States that had adopted voucher programs would apply for federal assistance” and the “federal government would provide $2.5 billion a year to be matched” by the state.
Bob Dole chose Rep. Henry Hyde as head of the Republican platform committee. Hyde is generally regarded as the Catholic bishops’ spokesperson in Congress. Hyde, in turn, according to the National Catholic Reporter, invited Catholics to help him develop the party’s 1996 platform. In an open letter to Catholics, he wrote: “Catholics are a powerful voice for moral authority and fulfill a growing leadership role in the Republican Party,” noting that “there are nine U.S. senators, 55 members of the House, and nine governors who are both Republican and Catholic.” His letter also said, “As a Catholic, I believe the basic principles of Catholic teaching are philosophically and morally aligned with those of the Republican Party.”
The Catholic Political Agenda
However, although Dole’s endorsement of the Catholic political agenda, along with a similar endorsement by the Republican Party platform, made the Republican Party in effect a religious or sectarian party, it is even more significant that the Catholic bishops took action to aid the Republican Party. The president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland, departed from custom to tell the 250 bishops that, although they should not engage in partisan politics, they could address political issues that might be closer to the views of one party. Then, after a “stinging attack on President Clinton’s veto of a measure that banned a type of late-term abortion,” the bishops, according to the June 24 New York Times, “unanimously endorsed [Dole’s] appeal to Congress to overturn the veto.”
The bishops tried to paint President Clinton as an extremist, whereas a progressive Catholic, Jesuit priest Robert Drinan, said, “Congress should sustain the veto, because the bill does not provide an exception for women whose health is at risk, and it would be virtually unenforceable.” Drinan said that opponents are "using Mr. Clinton’s veto as a political weapon.”
The New York Times said that “orders had been placed” by the Conference of Bishops for more than nine million sets of post cards urging Congress to overturn the veto. This political campaign obviously made the bishops’ political position felt throughout the country. On no issue other than abortion and birth control have the bishops been so openly active.
The reason has been clearly stated by the Vatican’s point man in the United States, Cardinal John O’Connor. In an April 3, 1992 speech to the most right-wing of Catholic universities, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, he said, “The fact is that attacks on the Catholic church’s stance on abortion, unless they are rebutted effectively, erode church authority in all matters, indeed the authority of God himself.” He said, according to the April 9 edition of his newspaper, Catholic New York.
Abortion has become the number one challenge for the Church in the United States because. ..if the Church’s authority is rejected on such a crucial question as human life...then questioning of the Trinity becomes child’s play, as does questioning the divinity of Christ or any other Church teaching.
O’Connor’s comments are not an over statement. The Vatican has made this its highest priority. On March 25, 1995 the pope issued an encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, which is an explicit instruction to obedient Catholics in Congress, state legislators, and even to Supreme Court justices in their official capacity, to oppose any laws or proposed laws which would permit abortion. Specifically, the pope said, “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is never licit to obey it, or take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.”
The Modus Operandi for Trying to Impose Papal Authority
The Vatican wants to extend its authority over civil law, not only in countries with Catholic majorities but in others with religiously diverse populations. The Catholic bishops have decided to try to impose papal authority in the United States through the abortion issue. Their Committee for Pro-Life Activities is the best-funded of the bishops’ thirteen secretariats and committees, with a budget of$1.8 million in 1993. It is more than three times the next largest budget, that of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs, and four times the budget of the Secretariats for Laity, Women, Family, and Youth, according to the latest published information by Catholics for a Free Choice.
The Birth Control Issue Waiting in the Wings
The abortion issue is also a cover for opposition to birth control, since the Vatican claims that contraceptives that function after intercourse - such as the “morning after” pill or an intra uterine device - are really abortifacients because they operate to prevent implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus. Therefore, all family-planning programs worldwide are opposed.
The bishops were successful in dominating the Reagan and Bush administrations on this issue, as revealed in the February 4, 1992 issue of Time magazine. That article, entitled “The U.S. and The Vatican on Birth Control,” began with this sentence: “In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign aid program to comply with the church’s teaching on birth control.” This, according to William Wilson (the first U.S. ambassador to the Holy See after Reagan established diplomatic recognition) resulted in the withdrawal of U.S. funding of international family-planning organizations, including the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.
“American policy was changed as a result of the Vatican’s not agreeing with our policy,” Wilson asserted. “American aid programs around the world did not meet the criteria the Vatican had for family planning.” Therefore, when the Reagan administration sent State Department representatives to Rome, Wilson said, “I’d accompany them to meet the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.”
In an accompanying article in the same issue of Time, there is a report of Reagan’s first meeting with the pope in 1982 and of other meetings between the Vatican’s U.S. representative, Pio Laghi, and Reagan officials. According to that article, “the key administration players were all devout Roman Catholics”: CIA director William Casey, National Security Advisor Richard Allen, National Security Advisor William Clark, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and Ambassador-at-Large Vernon Walters, as well as Wilson.
Reagan’s collaboration with the Vatican seriously impeded family planning activities in many countries, including curtailing the availability of contraceptives, and thereby contributed to increasing the total world population. The United Nations Fund for Population Activities in 1991 stated, “World population, which reached 5.4 billion in mid-1991, is growing faster than ever before: three people every second, more than 250,000 every day. At the beginning of the decade the annual addition was 93 million.”
The consequences are enormous. The editor of the National Catholic Reporter, in an editorial in the June 19, 1992 issue, said, “I feel the church is causing great harm to the planet, making mil lions suffer unnecessarily....Among today’s 5.2 billion as many as one fifth, mostly children, are undernourished. About 1 million die from hunger or hunger-related causes yearly.” (Estimates vary, however. The 1992 UNICEF report, “State of the World’s Children,” said that a quarter of a million are allowed to die every week from malnutrition-related causes; that is 13 million a year.)
Moreover, those hunger-related problems have led to massive economic migrations which, in turn, have led to population wars such as those in Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, and in India where “nine or ten million refugees from East Pakistan were driven out.” There are now, according to the 1996 World Almanac, 5.8 million refugees in Africa and 5.488 million in the Middle East, to say nothing of economic migration into California, Texas, and Florida from Mexico, Central and South America, Haiti, and Cuba.
In short, the Reagan-Bush-Dole policy of collaborating with the Vatican has had serious effects on U.S. foreign and domestic policy.
Catholic Lay Elites Pressed into Political Service for the Vatican’s Agenda
The Time articles also revealed that the Vatican works in various countries through lay people who function politically without apparent connection to the Vatican. The major study of the Vatican’s use of Catholic laity throughout Europe was made by Catholic Professor Jean-Guy Villaincourt of the University of Montreal in his book, Papal Power: A Study of Vatican Control Over Law Catholic Elites. Villaincourt in his concluding summary said in part, “The Catholic lay militant has been pressed into service as an.. .intermediary between the Papacy and the modern state.” In Europe, it is Catholic Action and the Christian Democratic Party which assume “direct political responsibilities” that the Hierarchy must shun. In the Untied States, it is the Catholic Campaign for America, which was organized in 1991. Its “ecclesiastical adviser” is the ubiquitous Cardinal O’Connor, but the laity on the CCA board and national committee function without publicizing their role in the organization.
Among them are William L. Bennett, who was Reagan’s Secretary of Education and who often appeared with Bob Dole as his advisor on vouchers for parochial schools, and presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, whose role was to maintain a hard-line stance on the Catholic agenda so that the Republican plat form would reflect it. Buchanan insisted on continuing in the 1996 primaries even after it was obvious he could not win the nomination. He said he was “not after any seat or promotion or anything like that” but wanted “to remake and reshape the Republican Party.” He insisted that his major aim was to keep the “right to life” plank in the Republican platform.
The overall mission of the Catholic Campaign for America is “to activate Catholic citizens, increase the Catholic electorate’s influence in formulating public policy, and focus the public’s attention on the richness and beauty of Catholic teaching.” A 1992 newsletter of the Catholic Campaign declared that “separation of church and state is a false premise that must finally be cast aside.”
At the Republican Convention in San Diego a small group of right wing leaders including such Catholics as Phyllis Schlafly and Bay Buchanan (Pat’s sister and campaign manager) collaborated with Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer and Henry Hyde, the platform committee chairman, to thwart Dole’s effort to include tolerance for pro-choice Republicans in the party platform. Hyde had already loaded the decisive subcommittee with anti-abortionists so that Dole could not control it.
Phyllis Schlafly and Ralph Reed had organized delegates under their respective control who numbered over five hundred. They selected and trained delegates to work on the convention floor with regional groups. The Christian Coalition, for example, had a “war room” and instructed each of their five “whips” to whom had been assigned twenty delegates, each with a pager and hand-held computer.
Together Schlafly and Reed’s people informed the Dole campaign that they had the troops to disrupt the convention if there were an attempt on the floor to alter the anti-abortion plank In other words, a minority of well-organized right wing Catholics and Protestants were unwilling to have a democratic convention vote. Dole and others in his campaign yielded to a disciplined religious power group without a bow to pro-choice Republicans.
The Old Parochiaid Gets a New Name: School Choice
Dole’s other major Catholic obligation was aid to parochial schools through “school choice.” The Second Vatican Council’s decree on Christian education states:
“Parents, who have a primary and inalienable duty and right in regard to the education of their children, should enjoy the fullest liberty in their choice of school. The public authority therefore, whose duty is to protect and defend the liberty of the citizen, is bound, according to the principles of distributive justice, to ensure that public subsidies to schools are so allocated that the parents are truly free to select schools for their children in accordance with their conscience.”
The phrase “distributive justice” is an Aristotelian idea that superior status or contribution to society entitled one to greater benefits from that society. It was an aristocratic principle that denied the benefits of Greek citizenship to slaves. The medieval world in which Roman Catholic structure, theology and social principles were largely formed was not opposed to this idea of distribution in proportion to status.
What this means in America is taking money from the public school system and giving it to the largest private-school system - Catholic schools - using parents as conduits. A comparatively smaller group of other religious schools would also benefit, as would private schools in the South and North to which whites have fled integrated public schools.
Distributive justice is based upon the assumption that certain parents as taxpayers are being denied justice if they do not get what they pay in taxes so they can choose private schools. However, the public schools exist to serve the entire community by lifting the level of literacy, education, and ability of citizens to participate in a democracy. Older citizens and those without children do not expect to have their taxes returned.
How Aristotle’s Scheme Would Play in Peoria
A study of the way a voucher program would work in Pennsylvania based on $900 for each student in the state revealed that, because private schools are generally located in wealthy neighborhoods, “two thirds of the funds authorized by this plan would flow into the eight Pennsylvania counties with the highest per capita incomes, while none of the funds would go to the state’s poorest counties.” This means that the state’s poorest counties would be paying additional taxes to support the richest counties.
An examination of the top 51 private-school counties in the United States similarly reveals how tax money would flow into religious schools to the detriment of public schools in the same county and state. For example, in Carroll County, Iowa, the first of the counties studied, the Catholic church population is 62.4 percent, and 37.8 percent of the students are in private schools. In Sioux City, Iowa in the second highest county, the Dutch Reformed churches are dominant, and 37.4 percent of the students are in private schools.
Membership in the Roman Catholic church is a paramount factor in all 51 counties, ranging between 20.3 and 37.8 percent of all students in religious schools, even without a voucher program. A number of prosperous suburbs with strong Catholic identities are in the top 51, including Jefferson County, Louisiana; the Philadelphia suburban counties of Delaware, Montgomery, and Bucks; St. Louis County, Missouri; and the Kentucky counties (suburban to Cincinnati) of Kenton and Campbell. There is thus often a correlation between religious schools and higher incomes.
In general, large cities with historically Catholic communities (Philadelphia, Jersey City, Boston, Wilmington, Cleveland, New Orleans, and San Francisco) are in the top 51 counties. Voucher support of 20 percent to 40 percent of the student population would mean that state taxes to support the private schools would have to come not only from the counties with high private-school populations but also from the counties with few, if any private schools. The families with children in private schools would bene fit substantially, while those in public schools and those with no children would correspondingly lose tax revenue. For example, a family with five children receiving a $3,000 tuition voucher per child would pass along that money to their parochial school which would get the $15,000 and which would thus benefit enormously, while the public-school family would suffer from the corresponding reduction in per-pupil aid to the public schools.
There is also a correlation between race and private school enrollment. In the two dozen most heavily African-American counties in the nation, 11 percent of all elementary and secondary students attended white private schools in 1990, compared to the 9.8 percent average for all U.S. states. In Georgia, high private school counties had black populations higher than statewide. In Humphries County, Mississippi, 17.9 percent of all students attended private schools, and in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, 21.4 percent. No figures are available to determine white flight from black areas in the larger cities of the North. However, voucher programs would not only subsidize the existing racially motivated schools but would accelerate white flight elsewhere.
Another motivation for school choice is the desire to enroll minority students of other religions. Jesuit priest Thomas J. Reese notes:
“Catholic schools are the most successful evangelizing tool available to the church in the black community... .Most schools teach the Catholic faith to both Catholic and non-Catholic students.”
One illustration of this is Chicago’s Holy Angels School, which President Reagan visited to propose tuition financial aid for parents to send their children to nonpublic schools. Reagan called it “the nation’s largest black Catholic school.” The Washington Post reported that in order to attend that school both the children and their parents had to be instructed in Catholicism, which resulted in about 80 to 150 Catholic converts a year.
Moreover, the American Catholic bishops will continue to use parochial schools as instruments of political retaliation or benefit, as evident in the Archdiocese of St. Louis forbidding parochial school students to hear President Clinton speak in suburban St. Louis on May 17, 1996 because of the President’s stand on abortion.
There is little doubt about the fact that Bob Dole and the Republican Party sold out to the Vatican in spite of those moderate Republicans and progressive Catholics who still believe in separation of church and state and in protecting a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Republican candidates misjudged the Catholic vote. All twelve of the most numerically Catholic states, including those where Cardinals O’Connor, Bernadin, Law, Bevilacqua, and Mohoney presided, went for Clinton.
Dr. John M. Swomley is Emeritus Professor of Social ethics at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. An ordained Methodist minister and a veteran activist he continues to speak, write, and work incessantly on behalf of a broad spectrum of Christian social concerns. He is not a timid man. Straddling fences has never been his long suit. Editor Foy Valentine
The Center For Christian Ethics
Americans for Religious Liberty
P.O. Box 901630
Kansas City, MO 64190
CHISTIAN ETHICS TODAY