The Two Faces of Mr. Hyde: Vatican Puppets in American Politics. John M. Swomley states “The extreme religious right has captured control of the House of Representatives on the subject of abortion, largely through the leadership of Henry Hyde, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. His influence has also been strong in the impeachment hearings of President Clinton.” The author goes on to declare that “In essence, the Vatican and its representatives in the United States are advocating a theocracy, which has been repudiated by Catholics in Europe. Unless liberal Catholics, Jews, Protestants, humanists, and others organize to oppose such theocratic action, what appears simply to be right-wing politics will be even more subversive of democracy.” From: THE HUMANIST, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1999
The Two Faces of Mr. Hyde
Vatican Puppets in American Politics
John M. Swomley
The extreme religious right has captured control of the House of Representatives on the subject of abortion, largely through the leadership of Henry Hyde, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. His influence has also been strong in the impeachment hearings of President Clinton.
According to the New York Times of October 1, 1998, Hyde was made a “papal knight” of the Catholic church three years ago because he was one of a group of men “who promote the church’s interests. “ Another who received the papal knight award for serving Vatican interests was David P Schippers, who was chosen by Hyde to be the impeachment prosecutor of the president for the Judiciary Committee.
Their bold attack through the impeachment process on a president who has refused to accept abortion politics promoted by far-right Catholics and Protestants, and who has defended separation of church and state, is simply one evidence that the fanatical religious right will stop at nothing. For example, all of the twenty-one Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted to stop payment of the United States’ debt of about $1.5 billion to the United Nations by amending the appropriation bill so that it would ban international nongovernment organizations “from lobbying foreign governments on abortion laws, even with their own money” This, continued the New York Times of September 24, 1998, “would require non-governmental organizations to silence themselves in legitimate political debate over reproductive rights in their own countries.” The same editorial says, “Few international organizations that seek population aid from the United States perform abortions” but this right-wing rule “would prohibit these groups from sponsoring workshops on abortion issues, distributing materials, or making public statements that call attention to defects in a country’s abortion laws.”
Although the Times never mentions the Vatican, the back ground of this effort to silence free speech and lobbying in other countries is the failure of the Vatican to prevent outspoken support for reproductive freedom for women in many countries. In heavily Catholic countries in Europe, abortion has been legalized: in France in 1975; in Austria and in Italy, the home of the Vatican, in 1978.
The pope and the Italian hierarchy went all out to prevent legal abortion in Italy but; after the fall of the Vatican-influenced government over the issue of abortion led by thousands of Italian women, the new government voted for free state subsidies for abortion-on-demand in the first ninety days of pregnancy for any woman over age eighteen who said childbirth would endanger her physical or mental health.
The only hope for silencing advocates of reproductive free dom overseas therefore lies with the U.S. religious right, led by the persistent right-wing Catholic, Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican who for years has pressed this issue in the House.
The most persistent Vatican loyalist in Congress, however, is Henry Hyde. Immediately after the U.S. Catholic bishops launched their campaign against abortion in 1975, Hyde led their campaign in Congress. When the Labor-Health, Education, and Welfare appropriation bill for fiscal year 1976-1977 was considered in the House, Hyde inserted the following amendment: “None of the funds appropriated under this Act shall be used to pay for abortions or to promote or encourage abortion.”
Waldo Zimmerman, a Roman Catholic, in his book Condemned to Live: The Plight of the Unwanted Child, writes:
Congressman Hyde, who is a devout Catholic, tried to discount the religious angle. He said, “The old argument that we who oppose abortions are trying to impose our religious concepts on other people is totally absurd. Theology does not animate me; biology does.” No one who is familiar with the situation will take Brother Hyde at face value. It is obvious that he and his colleagues were following the blueprint for political action prepared by the Roman hierarchy’s Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities announced only a few months previously....
Colleagues paint Congressman Hyde in glowing terms: a fine character, a genial, friendly compassionate man. . . a virtual prototype of the legendary Dr. Jekyll. It is only when the subject of family planning comes up that he begins to change. At the drop of a word-abortion- there is a metamorphosis as strange as that in [Robert Louis] Stevenson’s masterpiece; the genial Dr. Jekyll becomes the monstrous Mr. Hyde. The Congressman bares his fangs, throws compassion to the winds, scoffs at the countless lives wrecked by his heartless amendment and condemns thousands of unwanted children to a miserable unwanted life.
When the Senate objected to the Hyde language in the 1976-1977 appropriation bill, conferees from the Senate and House met to resolve differences. Seven of the eleven House conferees were Catholics and not one woman was on the House committee. As a result, a deadlock in the committee lasted an unusual five months. It was resolved finally with a compromise motion advanced by House Republican leader Robert Michel, which the House accepted by a vote of 181 to 167.
The question of the constitutionality of the Hyde amendment was brought before Federal Judge John F. Dooling in the Eastern District of New York. Dooling is a practicing Catholic who took thirteen months to hear the evidence. In his 428-page decision that struck down the Hyde amendment, the judge says the amendment reflects a sectarian position that “is not genuinely argued; it is adamantly asserted,” He concludes that Hyde’s amendment is religiously motivated legislation with a specific theological viewpoint that violates dissenters’ First Amendment rights.
Dooling’s ruling was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on another ground-that states are not required to pay for abortion. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, a Catholic not in the service of the Vatican, writes about the Hyde amendment:
Both by design and in effect it serves to coerce indigent pregnant women to bear children that they would not otherwise elect to have. By funding all expenses associated with childbirth and none of the expenses incurred in terminating pregnancy, the government literally makes an offer that the indigent woman cannot afford to refuse.
Hyde’s religious bias is also evident in his actions as chair of the Republican Platform Committee, which again and again has inserted into the party’s platform this statement: “The unborn child has a fundamental right to life that cannot be in fringed.” This clearly means that men and fetuses have a fundamental right to life but pregnant women do not, In 1996, Hyde loaded the Platform Committee with anti-abortionists so that the presidential candidate, Bob Dole, could not control it. Dole wanted some statement that would express tolerance for pro choice Republicans, but Hyde did not yield on that point.
In an open letter, Hyde invited Catholics to help him develop the party’s 1996 platform, He wrote: “Catholics are a power ful voice of moral authority and fulfill a growing leadership role in the Republican Party.” More than any other politician or member of Congress, Hyde has steadily tried to identify the Republican Party with right-wing Vatican issues. He also says in that letter that, “as a Catholic, I believe the basic principles of Catholic teaching are ideologically, philosophically, and morally aligned with the Republican Party.”
Hyde rigidly follows the Vatican position not only against family planning but against separation of church and state. In November 1996, he introduced a religious equality amendment to the Constitution that would end separation of church and state and permit government funding of religion. It reads:
Neither the United States nor any state shall deny benefits to or otherwise discriminate against any private person or group on account of religious expression, belief, or identity, nor shall the prohibition on laws respecting an establishment of religion be construed to require such discrimination.
Hyde decided to attach this to the Prayer Amendment of Protestant fundamentalist Ernest Istook so that the phrase “deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion” would be accepted as well as public school prayer.
All of these Hyde positions are relevant to the impeachment process because Bill Clinton is the first president since Hyde was elected in 1974 who, by his leadership and vetoes, has defended family planning, abortion rights, and the separation of church and state. In other words, over the last few years Clinton has been the chief obstacle to the Vatican’s efforts on these issues and hence has become an enemy of Hyde and the Vatican.
In September 1998, I received information from New York attorney John Tomasin, whose religious persuasion, if any, I do not know. He wrote to others as well, suggesting that “Henry Hyde recuse himself as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to insure a fair, impartial and unbiased preliminary impeachment inquiry.” Tomasin included two supporting documents issued by Pope John Paul II that would require Hyde’s obedience.
The first document is Evangelium Vitae, issued in 1995, which forbids faithful Catholics with respect to “a law permitting abortion” ever “to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.” The second document, Ad Tuendam Fidem, issued in May 1998, is an incorporation into canon law that requires obedience to the pope by all Christians on such doctrines as abortion. It specifically says, “All Christian faithful are therefore bound to avoid contrary doctrines. . . . Therefore anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively, sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church,” In comment on these papal doctrines, Tomasin states:
It is well known that President Clinton is pro-choice and has recently vetoed anti-abortion legislation, and is considered the major obstacle to laws limiting or prohibiting abortion. The faithful are duty bound by the Pope to oppose him, and to remove him as such obstacle, if at all possible.
Henry Hyde even aligns himself with Joseph Scheidler, who was convicted of playing a role in coordinated assaults on abortion clinics. The Wanderer of October 5, 1998, reports that, during a trial brought by the National Organization for Women against Scheidler, Hyde said on the witness stand, “I cannot imagine a situation in which I would not want to be associated with Joe Scheidler.”
Scheidler refuses to condemn anti-choice violence and had a key part in the founding of Operation Rescue, a violent wing of the anti-abortion movement. He is also a cofounder of the Pro Life Action Network, which the Wanderer of February 27, 1992, describes as “a deliberately loose-knit network which meets annually to plan strategies for coordinated assaults on abortion clinics or pro-choice politicians and which subsequently gave rise to Operation Rescue.”
Scheidler was even arrested for disrupting an inaugural mass for pro-choice Republican Governor Pete Wilson of California, according to United Press International on January 30, 1991. And on July 16, 1992, the Wanderer reports that Scheidler claims credit for devising a “well-organized carefully planned effort” to hound Clinton “at every whistle stop and every coffee klatch” during that year’s presidential campaign.
If there is any doubt about Hyde’s enmity to Clinton it was evident in Hyde’s burst of temper when he accused the White House of revealing his extramarital affair and demanded an FBI investigation. Rabbi Mark Levin, in a Kansas City Star of October 1998, says, “The FBI is a powerful tool. Charges of impeachment were threatened against President Nixon for misuse of his power to use the FBI to investigate individuals. Let us not again walk that path of FBI investigations to control perceived political enemies and chill political debate.”
Although Henry Hyde is the right-wing Vatican point man in Congress, he is not an isolated individual leader. A monumental book -Papal Power A Study of Vatican Control Over Lay Catholic Elites, written by Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, a Catholic professor at the University of Montreal-describes the Vatican’s organization and use of key laypeople to promote the church’s political and economic power. That carefully documented study of papal control of lay elites in Europe, chiefly Italy, has its parallel in the United States. Certain key laypeople-such as William Bennett, the chief advocate of vouchers for religious schools; Paul Weyrich, the founder of the right-wing Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation; Henry Hyde and Christopher Smith in Congress; and many others-serve as apparently secular advocates or “front” people for important church interests and obscure the behind-the-scenes influence of the Vatican and members of the hierarchy, such as Cardinal John O’Connor.
There is in the Vatican a highly secret Pontifical Council for the Laity, which is not an organization of laity but is tightly con trolled, according to Vaillancourt, “through the inclusion of more cardinals, bishops and priests in the leadership positions of that organization.” This means that key Catholic politicians in the United States who are responsive to the cardinals and bishops do not ever identify themselves as representing the political and economic interests of the Vatican. In turn, the institution supports these right-wing leaders and their political positions by turning many churches into an essentially Catholic political party.
In his book Condemned to Live, Waldo Zimmerman describes this coordinated support as follows:
The “secret weapon” in the anti-abortionists’ arsenal is the millions of children in Catholic schools, their “shock troops” for staging massive demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns. Every year parochial school children look forward eagerly to January 22, when thousands of them will be treated to a free trip to Washington and other metropolitan centers for demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision on abortion. There were as many as a thousand or two- often more-in similar demonstrations throughout the country.
The January marches on Washington are staged pre dominantly by elementary and high school students carrying rosaries and miniature statues of the Virgin Mary... . Distributed at the masses are letters and bulletins thoroughly informing parishioners about specific bills, telling them how to compose a letter to congress men or state legislators and exactly what to write. School children are offered free time and other inducements for writing such letters.
In essence, the Vatican and its representatives in the United States are advocating a theocracy, which has been repudiated by Catholics in Europe. Unless liberal Catholics, Jews, Protestants, humanists, and others organize to oppose such theocratic action, what appears simply to be right-wing politics will be even more subversive of democracy. John M. Swomley is professor emeritus of social ethics at St Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, and a national board member of the Interfaith Alliance.