Press Watch: Funding Radical Activism

We have been hearing a lot about church and state lately. Bishops were encouraged to “speak out” when it came to issues of “war and peace.” But with abortion, bishops are expected not to “interfere in politics.” It all depends on the substantive agenda, of course. Liberals are forever trying to disguise their substantive agenda as mere devotion to procedure (freedom of speech, civil rights, etc.). How about bishops trying to get a government official fired? You would think this would be exactly the kind of thing that all of those “wall of separation” worriers would be worrying about: concerned editorials in the New York Times, and so on. But as it turns out, of course, it (vice again is substance, not procedure, that really matters. ‘

We can pick up the story in Our Sunday Visitor, the weekly newspaper published within the jurisdiction of Bishop McManus of South Bend, Indiana, and edited by Father Vincent J. Giese. This summer the newspaper published several articles attacking Thomas Pauken, the director of a federal agency called Action. Pauken later charged in a letter to the president of OSV that they were “filled with innuendo, falsehood, and what I consider to be highly questionable journalistic ethics.” They were written by OSV’s notably left-wing Washington bureau chief, Jim Castelli, a man who once described Vincent Giese as “the first editor I have worked for who is more liberal than I am.” One of the OSV stories was attributed to “OSV staff,” but Pauken believes that Castelli in fact was the author of that, too.

What was it that Pauken had done to arouse the ire of Our Sunday Visitor and its Washington bureau chief? At issue, first of all, is a 16-page “draft memo,” which is not signed, and may or may not have been written by Pauken, but which undoubtedly does reflect his thinking. Pauken in person makes the claim that the Catholic Church’s “education-action program,” the Campaign for Human Development (CHD), founded in 1970, has been “funding the political left in this country.”

Pauken was appointed director of Action by President Reagan in 1981. At that time Action, under the direction of Carter appointee Sam Brown, was funding numerous radical groups. Pauken moved to cut off this politicized use of taxpayers’ money as soon as he could. But then, he noticed, the Campaign for Human Development took over the funding of the self-same groups. (In 1982 the CHD’s November appeal yielded $10 million in contributions at the second collection.)

The question in Tom Pauken’s mind was, and is: Do rank and file Catholics know, when they put money in the plate for CHD. that it is going to finance radical groups like ACORN, or Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation? It is a good question. I wondered the same thing myself when I went to Dallas for the Republican Convention, where ACORN was a noisy and noisome presence. (The acronym stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, founded in the 1960s by the welfare rights agitator George Wiley, and by SDS organizer Wade Rathke.)

About 200 ACORN members were gathered at “Tent City” in the Trinity River Bottoms in Dallas. They marched to the convention center, put on Hate-Reagan skits and raised numerous objections to our “Imperialist Warmonger” President. Eventually they were driven off by the fierce heat, and I doubt if they did much more than create a general sense of disgust among the good citizens of Dallas; but again, one couldn’t help wondering: How many Catholics know that when they put money in the plate for the second collection, it could be going to finance ideological, anti-American street theater?

Between 1980 and 1982, ACORN groups received a total of $452,000 from the Campaign for Human Development. Moreover, the executive director of CHD, the Reverend Marvin Mottet, “has been a member of ACORN,” according to the 16-page draft memo, “which raises a separate question of a possible conflict of interest given his role as a key decision maker in the grant process. Mottet has taken good care of his associates at ACORN.”

According to Rael Jean Isaac and Erich Isaac, in their book The Coercive Utopians, the “largest grants” made by CHD “have gone to the community organizing projects of the Alinsky school: the largest single recipient has been the Industrial Areas Foundation, founded by Alinsky.”

“It is particularly ironic,” the unsigned 16-page memo notes, “that Alinsky’s opening quote in his book Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals should be:

Lest we forget, at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all legends. mythology and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.

In Our Sunday Visitor. Marvin Mottet has “rejected as false” the charge of funding leftist activists, responding that the charge is an attack on the “Catholic hierarchy and its promotion of the Church’s social teachings within the U.S. political economy.”

This is an interesting response, of course. Mottet seems to be trying to establish the point that criticism of church bureaucracy is synonymous with criticism of church hierarchy. The implicit appeal to obedience is thus presumably intended to forestall criticism of CHD officials — to place criticism of it offbounds for all dutiful papists.

“I have not uttered one word of public criticism directed at any individual bishop in Texas or bishops in general,” Pauken told The Wanderer. “My only criticism has been of Marvin Mottet and the national grants of the Campaign for Human Development. That criticism was in response to an attack he made on the Action agency and the Reagan Administration for some of the programs we were no longer funding.”

Far from “attacking” the hierarchy, the 16-page draft memo can more reasonably be construed as alerting it to what has been going on. It is indeed quite likely, for example, that Bishop James V. Malone, the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, had no idea that CHD was funneling so much money into radical causes with which its executive director was formerly associated.

Earlier this year Tom Pauken went down to Texas (he is from Dallas) to look into developments in the Rio Grande Valley, following a winter freeze which destroyed crops and threatened a wave of unemployment. An Alinsky-inspired, CHD-funded group called Valley Interfaith (VI) was at that time trying to whip up support for a Federal jobs program. (Valley Interfaith has received over a quarter of a million dollars from CHD since 1982.) Pauken was, however, familiar with Alinsky’s and hence Valley Interfaith’s tactics of “wielding power by confronting politicians” (as Peter Skerry put it in a New Republic article that described the success Pauken has had in outwitting the Alinsky pupils), and he lost no time in denouncing one VI organizer in particular as “an outsider parachuted in from California” with a “hidden agenda.”

Somehow that seemed to turn the tide locally against Valley Interfaith. No Federal jobs program was forthcoming. And then two bishops wrote to the White House, trying to get Tom Pauken fired.

CHD money, according to its own brochures and its own criteria, is supposed to go to “self help” projects that assist people to become independent. But for some reason independence is construed to mean organizations that try to create dependency — on government. As for the confrontational tactics used by recipients of CHD money, Bishop Joseph Florenza of San Angelo has defended them. “Sometimes that’s the only way the poor can get the attention of the power structure,” he told Jim Castelli.

It will be a great blessing if we ever see the day when left-wing journalists and church bureaucrats grasp the point that radical organizers such as those involved in Valley Interfaith and ACORN rarely have the interests of “the poor” at heart, but are far more likely to see them as convenient accessories to their own struggle for power.

Meanwhile, I was curious to hear that bishops had tried to get a Reagan Administration official fired, so I asked Pauken about it at the time of the convention. He said that officials at the Campaign for Human Development “had two bishops write letters to the White House demanding that I be fired for criticizing the Campaign for Human Development.” One was Bishop Charles Grahmann of Victoria, Texas, the other Bishop Joseph Delaney of Fort Worth. Pauken added that Delaney is “a real leftist — he has these Sandinista priests come in and preach from the pulpit.”

So what about that “wall of separation”? I can’t say I’m too worried. The state has made so many inroads into church-occupied territory that it’s encouraging to see the direction of battle reversed, even if the Texas bishops are wrongheaded, as I believe them to be. Still, I’m glad the White House people took no notice, in this instance.


  • Tom Bethell

    Tom Bethell is a senior editor at the American Spectator. A graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, he is the author of several books including Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages (1998); The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (2005); and Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher (2012).

Join the Conversation

Comments are a benefit for financial supporters of Crisis. If you are a monthly or annual supporter, please login to comment. A Crisis account has been created for you using the email address you used to donate.

tagged as:
Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...