Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2016 / 06:02 am (CNA).- A reputed “Catholic Spring” group played a key role in influencing Barack Obama’s controversial 2009 Notre Dame speech, and its campaigns “broadened the agenda” of Catholic voters to see abortion as just one of several election issues.
This is according to a leaked memo attributed to George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
The group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, was founded in 2005. While early backing from billionaire financier George Soros’ philanthropic network was previously reported, a 2009 memo leaked earlier this year seems to provide the foundations’ view of the group’s early activities.
“CACG has helped to transform Catholic values in the mainstream media and in the public discourse on religion and politics, thereby thwarting previously successful attempts by the conservative movement to use religious faith for partisan advantage,” said the memo.
The memo, dated Sept. 22, 2009, is attributed to the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs’ Democracy and Power Fund. The memo, apparently a series of grant proposals, was posted to the website DCLeaks.com.
According to the memo, Catholics in Alliance played “pivotal roles” in 2009 during “critical Catholic moments” like President Barack Obama’s 2009 Notre Dame commencement speech.
President Obama’s controversial speech at the University of Notre Dame included the bestowal of an honorary degree on the new president. The action had drawn criticism from dozens of bishops who said it caused scandal and confusion. The bishops cited U.S. bishops’ 2004 document “Catholics in Political Life,” which said that Catholic institutions should not honor those who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
Bishop John D’Arcy, who at the time headed the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, objected that the university in his diocese honored someone “whose activities both as president and previously, have been altogether supportive of laws against the dignity of the human person yet to be born.”
The Open Society Foundations memo praised Catholics in Alliance for “reframing” the abortion debate in terms of reducing abortions.
“Indeed, this reframing is where the group has showed some of its most successful policy influence within the new Obama administration: the President made this reframing the centerpiece of his much anticipated Notre Dame speech,” the memo said.
The memo lists Catholics In Alliance for the Common Good under the section “grassroots organizing and civic engagement.” It indicates the group received at least $450,000 in financial support from the massive George Soros philanthropy network from 2006-2010, when the foundations also operated under the name Open Society Institute (OSI).
The group is currently in the public eye because the site Wikileaks has posted alleged 2012 emails involving Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, who appears to state that Catholics in Alliance was founded to aid a “Catholic Spring” political revolution within the Church.
Christopher Hale, who became Catholics in Alliance’s executive director in late 2013, distanced himself from accusations he and his colleagues aimed to split the Church.
“We don’t concern ourselves with the internal politics of the Catholic Church,” Hale told CNA Oct. 17.
“I think that it’s important to distinguish the work of organizations from those who funded it or used to fund it,” he added. “No organization funders agree 100 percent with its activity.”
Catholics in Alliance has become more critical of powerful abortion groups in recent years
“I want to state categorically that we are pro-life. If anyone has doubts about that commitment, ask Planned Parenthood,” Hale said.
The group broke with many political progressives by criticizing Planned Parenthood following the release of investigative videos appearing to show the abortion provider breaking laws in selling harvested fetal tissue and body parts from aborted unborn babies.
According to the 2009 Open Society Foundations memo, Catholics in Alliance drew criticisms from pro-abortion rights groups like Catholics for Choice for its efforts to “play down abortion rights and reframe the debate in terms of reducing the number of abortions.”
“We believe that CACG’s reframing may actually be one of its strengths,” said the memo.
The Soros network typically supports abortion rights. The memo added: “We will continue to monitor this issue, but at this time feel that CACG’s position on choice is not at odds with OSI priorities.”
Catholics in Alliance’s politics-related actions also drew praise from the grantmaker.
“Unlike in 2004, CACG and the progressive faith community in 2008 provided a consistent counterpoint to the religious right-wing’s message in key media stories,” the memo said. “Importantly, CACG broadened the agenda of Catholic voters.”
Hale discussed Catholics in Alliance’s current view of the abortion debate.
“Catholics should definitely consider abortion as central component of the social teaching of the Catholic Church. But it is fair to say that it’s not the only issue,” Hale told CNA. “While abortion is very important to Catholic conscience, it can’t be the only issue,” he said.
“We’re proudly pro-life. That means more than pro-birth.”
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has spoken up about a wide variety of political issues, criticizing the parties and platforms on both sides of the aisle. However, it has drawn criticism for its general avoidance of criticizing Hillary Clinton by name, while it has criticized Donald Trump on numerous occasions.
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