The self-described “Catholic” group protesting Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) speech at Georgetown University Thursday has ties to the Obama administration and left-wing advocacy groups funded by liberal billionaire George Soros.
The protest, which aims to critique Ryan’s “attacks on the poor” and will feature a 50-foot banner reading “Were You There When They Crucified The Poor?” is part of a broader effort to portray the Republican budget as a fundamentally anti-Catholic document heading into the 2012 election season.
Catholics United, the group leading the protest, describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.”
Judging from the organization funding Catholics United, however, the group’s partisan leanings are clear.
The Soros-funded Tides Foundation has given $65,000 to the organization since 2007, and has given nearly $200,000 to the affiliated group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Another Soros-funded group, the Open Society Institute, has given $450,000 to Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good since 2005.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue dismissed Catholics United as a “Soros-funded front group” created for the sole purpose of promoting liberal policies that is completely out-of-touch with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
“They don’t have legitimate membership,” he told the Washington Free Beacon. “But every election year they get resurrected.”
A May 2010 report in the Washington Times noted that Catholics United was one of many left-wing religious organizations established during the 2004 election season in an effort to counter traditionally conservative groups.
“Liberal folks realized that religion was important to the electorate and if you can’t beat them, not only join them but appropriate their brand,” wrote Times reporter Julia Duin.
The founding members of Catholics United have strong ties to both the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.
Executive director James Salt served as faith outreach director for the Kansas Democratic Party under then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) at the center of a controversy over a provision of the new health-care law mandating religious organizations to offer insurance plans that cover contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
Catholic bishops vociferously oppose the mandate.
Salt helped launch the affiliated group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good with colleagues Chris Korzen, a former organizer for the left-wing Service Employees International Union, and Alexia Kelley, who was appointed by President Obama to run the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at HHS, which oversees about $20 million in annual grant funding.
The group backed Obama in 2008 and played a key role in his election, but was denounced by leading Catholics for doing so.
In October 2008, Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Denver strongly criticized pro-Obama groups like Catholics United for supporting “the most committed abortion-rights candidate … since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.”
“The work of Democratic-friendly groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, have done a disservice to the Church,” Chaput said.
When Obama nominated Sebelius for Secretary of HHS, former archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Burke admonished the former governor against receiving communion due to her pro-choice stance.
Despite its avowed affiliation with the Catholic church, there are remarkably few examples of pro-life advocacy on the Catholics United website, which describes the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List as an “extremist” organization. The group does appear to promote regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a means to protect the unborn, however.
Catholics United has also criticized pro-life Republican president candidate Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic, for his “overstated positions on social issues.”
The group actively supported the president’s controversial health-care law, which was criticized by Catholics and other pro-life advocates for containing provisions that could allow federal funding of abortions.
In 2010, the group launched a $500,000 campaign to defend supporters of the new law in their reelection campaigns.
Catholics United has a history of supporting and in some cases joining leftwing causes such as the controversial “Occupy Wall Street” movement, as well as the union-led protests against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) budget reforms.
Catholics United will be joined by nearly 90 faculty members at Georgetown University to protest Ryan’s speech Thursday. The faculty at the prestigious Jesuit school signed a letter to Ryan accusing him on misinterpreting Church doctrine with respect to the federal government’s role in public life.
“We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few,” the letter says.
Their critique of Ryan’s budgeting is noticeably similar to the one offered by Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“[The Republican] plan would hurt America’s seniors and working families while lavishing more tax breaks for the wealthiest few…” Clyburn said in a statement.
The protest will focus on the Republican budget proposal, authored by Ryan and embraced by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a document Catholics United has denounced as “immoral.”
“Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal is an outrageous slap in the face to our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens,” the group wrote in a press release.
Some have criticized Ryan’s budget because it would increase spending on certain welfare programs less quickly than the president has proposed. Ryan has argued that spending reforms are necessary to ward off an impending economic crisis that will occur if the country fails to get its soaring debt—$16 trillion and counting—under control.
In such a crisis, Ryan contends, the poor and elderly would be the hardest hit.
“We rightly pride ourselves on looking out for one another—and government has an important role to play in that,” Ryan wrote in a recent op-ed in the National Catholic Register. “But relying on distant government bureaucracies to lead this effort just hasn’t worked.”
The budget proposed by Obama would significantly increase spending on most government programs. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, however, the president’s plan would have a detrimental effect on long-term economic growth and would add an additional $3.5 trillion to the federal budget deficit as compared with current law.
Leading Catholics told the Washington Free Beacon that disparaging Ryan’s economic policies as anti-Catholic was misguided.
“Just because Paul Ryan favors a free-market approach versus a government-sponsored approach, that hardly qualifies him as anti-poor,” Donohue said. “These are not reasonable liberals, we’re talking about people who lie, and it’s only going to get worse because it’s an election year.”
Stephen White, a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, expressed discomfort at the idea of invoking religion to criticize Ryan’s plan.
“To suggest that Ryan’s budget is somehow draconian because it doesn’t increase spending as quickly is disingenuous,” he told the Free Beacon. “If you’re going to argue there’s some magisterial or theological reason to believe that government spending as a percentage of GDP needs to be higher and is somehow a matter of Catholic doctrine, you’ve got a bit of an uphill climb.”
“This is about the prudential application of unchanging [Catholic] principles, not a matter of the principles themselves,” White added. “It’s not about whether to help the poor, it’s about how you do that.”
Donohue suggested that because Georgetown welcomes a number pro-abortion clubs on its campus, including one formerly run by notorious liberal activist Sandra Fluke, the university and its faculty has “no moral standing” to accuse Ryan of being anti-Catholic.
Obama’s standing with Catholic voters, a crucial constituency in national elections, has suffered from the fallout over the HHS mandate controversy, and the efforts by Catholic United and other left-wing groups to smear Republicans are part of a desperate attempt at damage-control, Donohue said.
“There’s been some slippage in Catholic support for Obama, and he can’t win without the Catholic vote,” Donohue said. “It’s not such much that Catholics are embracing Republicans, they’re abandoning Obama. No wonder they’re concerned.”
These efforts may be politically motivated, White said, but are unlikely to yield much benefit in the election.
“I don’t think that this is going to balance whatever damage Obama takes from the HHS controversy,” he said. “The mandate is not an issue people have faced before and there’s some uncertainty involved there. The issue of Democrats wanting to spend more money and Republicans wanting to spend less is not a new one.”