Senator Brownback Says Other Senators Aren’t “Real” Catholics

So says Catholic convert, Senator Sam Brownback, who earlier this year signed a fundraising letter for a conservative Catholic advocacy group called “Catholic Advocate.” The letter seeks funds to fight the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), a bill which would codify the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. While pro-choice advocates have despaired that the bill is unlikely to be introduced or pass, Catholic anti-choice groups from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Knights of Columbus have made the bill a centerpiece of their anti-choice agenda. For smaller groups like Catholic Advocate, it is a fundraising ploy.

Brownback’s opposition to FOCA comes as no surprise, but his explicit condemnation of five Catholic Senate colleagues who are co-sponsors of the bill was viewed as a breach of Senate ethics and has resulted in a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Catholic Advocate and the controversial Brownback letter are initiatives of Deal Hudson, whom many readers will remember as the Catholic outreach advisor to President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. Hudson was flying high as the lead Catholic in Washington circles buddy-buddy with Karl Rove and gate keeper to seats in the convention sky boxes until an August 2004 National Catholic Reporter expose disclosed that he had “resigned” his faculty post at Fordham University in 1994 after an 18 year old student accused him of getting her drunk and having sexual relations with her.

Hudson was forced to resign his post as editor of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis, but friends in the conservative community set him up in the Morley Institute, a non-profit that owned the magazine. From that perch, he has continued to defecate on liberal Catholics, particularly those who are pro-choice on abortion, family planning or stem cell research. On the death of the Jesuit Robert Drinan, Hudson blogged: “The pro-abortion priest is dead…His last public act was delivering the homily at the January 3 Mass for Nancy Pelosi at Trinity University…I can’t think of a single priest who did more damage to the Church in this country than Fr. Drinan.”

Most likely the Brownback letter was composed by Hudson. It’s one of those long, hysterical fundraising letters with squiggly underlining, bold print dire consequences and handwritten asterisks so the reader doesn’t miss the highpoints. Of course, it includes a “petition” as the usual gimmick to get people to give money. It’s even possible Brownback never read the whole thing and didn’t see the third page list of the five evil Catholic Senators (John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Bob Menendez, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell). His staff initially claimed they had never seen the letter, but Catholic Advocate provided an email which proved that they had, in fact, signed off on the letter.

Brownback has, nonetheless, done some backtracking. He has asked Catholic Advocate to stop using the letter. It is however unlikely that Hudson, Brownback and others will stop claiming that “real” Catholic policy makers can’t disagree with the policy positions of the institutional Church on what have been called the five non-negotiables: abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem cell research, human cloning and “homosexual marriage.” And- we are told real Catholics can’t vote for candidates –catholic or non-Catholic – who favor any one of the five non-negotiables.

This idea was widely peddled by conservative Catholic groups in the 2004 election campaign with minority support by about a dozen out of the 300 plus bishops weighing in by threatening to deny communion to candidates who supported these issues. John Kerry was consistently on “wafer watch” with reporters stacked out at Sunday Mass to see if he would get the host or the boot. While Kerry never figured out how to handle his Catholicism, the attack backfired. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro organized 48 Catholic members of Congress, both pro and anti-choice to write to then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and express their concern that these threats would backfire and lead to a revival of anti-Catholicism. If the public believed that Catholic policy makers were not able to make independent judgments on legislation based on both the US Constitution and the common good rather than on church pronouncements, they would not get elected.

Most importantly, the Catholic legislators noted that when they “vote for legislation consistent [with the Supreme Court decision on abortion] they are not acting contrary to our positions as faithful members of the Catholic church.” They continued “we also do not believe that it is the obligation of legislators to prohibit all conduct which we may, as a matter of personal morality, believe is wrong.”

These are well educated Catholics. Their belief that they can, as Catholics, disagree with church positions on public policy on all issues is well grounded in Catholic theology. And, if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the reality is that the Catholic church knows this. As frustrated as it is by the voting record of many Catholics (Mario Cuomo, Geraldine Ferraro, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, Tom Daschle) it has taken no official action against any of them. None has been denied communion; not a one has been excommunicated. Noise is made. Press releases issued. Honors denied. Speeches canceled. But a line is drawn and no one is excommunicated, for if one was excommunicated thousands would also need to be excommunicated and that is not going to happen. The church is too smart for that.

The inaction of the institution has driven Catholics like Deal Hudson and, it would now seem, Brownback crazy. At the time of deLauro’s letter Deal Hudson noted: “The fact that so many Catholics hold public office and flout church teachings is a scandal that many of us have waited a long time to see addressed.” And so, the Brownback’s and the Hudson’s need to act as if they were the arbiters of church discipline and claim that “real” Catholics can’t vote for or support politicians who vote for abortion rights, stem cell research, assisted suicide or gay marriage. Luckily for the 136 members of Congress and the 26 Senators who are Catholics, real Catholics know that these guys don’t make the rules.