The Bishops’ Strange Love


The Bishops’ Strange Love


Vol. VII No. 6
June 1972

As a journalist, I dedicate this report to His Eminence John Cardinal Krol, in gratitude for honest answers to honest questions.


This is a discussion of the spring meeting of the American bishops in Atlanta. It appears at least a month after other commentators have finished their slight remarks upon the subject, which evidently bored them immensely, and in a magazine which seldom publishes lengthy discussions of bishops’ meetings. These two circumstances seem to make an explanation desirable, if one is to avoid the charge of talking very late about very little.

Very little is, indeed, what one would gather from the coverage of the secular press. The New York Times’ Ted Fiske, who is said to have a competence in journalism, let one after another of the Atlanta days go by, days warm and moist as kisses, without troubling to file copy. The Washington Post was rather better served: its man saw the importance of a letter circulated among the bishops from Cardinal Seper, in which the prefect of Rome’s Holy Office denounced the American catechetical establishment. This sort of thing doesn’t happen every day; but whether it is rare or common, its significance was impenetrable to the rest of the secular press corps. The only thing that seemed, momentarily, to excite these enlighteners of the public was the possibility that Bishop Gumbleton might offer an anti-war amendment to a statement the bishops were preparing on the population commission report. He didn’t.

Yet for anyone who cared to pursue it, there was a story in Atlanta, a story whose implications, to my mind, are extraordinary. It is that the American bishops have agreed publicly, in principle, to finance abortionists through the Campaign for Human Development. I have chosen these words very carefully. Such is the charge; and since it has been nowhere discussed, I think it is not too late to talk about it.

The relevant facts are extremely few and simple. On Tuesday afternoon, April 11, Bishop Francis J. Mugavero of Brooklyn, Chairman of the bishops’ committee on the Campaign for Human Development, gave a report to the NCCB on the state of the Campaign. He made public at that time what, to my knowledge, had been stated before only in private correspondence, namely, the three norms for the disbursement of CHD funds. I cite here the norms in the wording Bishop Mugavero used on that occasion (minor textual variations having appeared elsewhere):

  1. No CHD funds will be used to support any activity or project that does not conform to Catholic teaching.
  2. No CHD funds will be used to support a specific project or program which is sponsored or promoted by an organization whose primary or substantial thrust is contrary to Catholic teaching, even though the project itself is in accord with Catholic teaching.
  3. In order to fulfill CHD’s objective of helping the poor help themselves, Campaign funds may be used to support specific programs or projects which are in total accord with Catholic teaching, even if in particular instances the organization may also sponsor a project or incidentally promote other programs which may not be in accord with Catholic teaching. In such instances, CHD funds must be applied exclusively to the project approved for funding.

How the NCCB Learned to Stop Worrying and Live with Abortion

As the reader will have noticed, this third norm leaves untouched the question whether some incidental projects or promotions might be too heinous to permit any funding of any project of the sponsoring organization. One thinks, for example, of the death-camps run by the Nazi Party, camps which were certainly not the “primary thrust” of an organization that was substantially devoted to the regeneration of German society and that must have “sponsored or promoted” many projects no less in accord with “Catholic teaching” than the irrigation and road-building activities the CHD is now funding. It was with this possibility in mind that I posed a series of questions to Bishop Mugavero later in the same afternoon at a press conference.

“Bishop Mugavero,” I said, “under your third norm, which allows for funding clean projects of organizations only incidentally dirty, has the CHD in fact funded any organizations whose incidental dirt was abortion?”

“No,” he replied.

“You must be aware,” I said, “that considerable evidence exists to the contrary…”

“What evidence? I have never seen any such evidence.”[1]

“…All right, as a hypothetical question, then, could a clean project of an organization whose incidental dirt was abortion be funded under norm three?”

“That is a hypothetical question.”

On Thursday, April 13, I posed the same “hypothetical” question to His Eminence, Cardinal Krol, who by virtue of his office as President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops is also National Chairman of the CHD. His answer was an unequivocal “yes.” In his understanding, that is to say, organizations involved (incidentally) in abortion can be funded by the Catholic hierarchy of the United States with money furnished by the Catholic people for charitable purposes.

The above are the essential facts. Before I comment upon them, let me place them in a broader context of antecedent facts and unavoidable conclusions.

Fact No. 1. By late September 1971, Judge John H. Norton of Fairfield, Connecticut, had collected documents indicating that at least 16 organizations funded by CHD (for a total of $300,000) were, in varying degrees, involved in abortion and birth-control activities.

Fact No. 2. Norton privately apprised several officials of the USCC of the existence of this documentation on September 29, 1971, asking that some action be taken.

Fact No. 3. On October 18, Norton supplied to Bishop Bernardin, General Secretary of the USCC, a sample of his evidence: a document authored by the Director of Casa Maravilla, a Los Angeles “youth counseling” organization to which the CHD had given $9,800. The Casa Maravilla Director had declared, in part:

I checked today and found that we have taken 63 of our girls for abortions in the past 2 1/2 months.

We have given out all types of birth control devices to the girls after abortion… We have also just begun to develop sex education classes for our girls, despite parental reaction…

Fact No. 4. It is not I or Triumph magazine which alleges that Casa Maravilla or any other organization funded by CHD arranged 63 abortions. It is Casa Maravilla which alleges this, in a document which I, among others, have seen, and to whose authenticity I can attest.

Fact No. 5. By the first week of November 1971, all Norton’s evidence was available to the USCC for investigation. The response of CHD was to threaten suit. Norton retained James McKenna to represent him in case of need.

Fact No. 6. Early in January 1972, Bishop Bernardin told Triumph that an investigation had been made (not by him or his staff but by diocesan Ordinaries) which showed “that the accusations [sic] are not true” and “that our money is not being used for purposes contrary to our Faith, contrary to our moral teaching.” He mentioned Philadelphia, where, he said, Cardinal Krol was satisfied that the documents implicating two organizations there were at variance with reality. When pressed on this story, however, Bishop Bernardin refused to say (a) that Norton’s evidence was faked or (b) that the organizations in question had lied to somebody. TRIUMPH then pursued the case of Casa Maravilla. Bernardin said that an Auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Los Angeles had “gone down to talk to” the organization’s directors. This Auxiliary then reported to Bernardin that the charges were “not true.” The above is absolutely all that Bishop Bernardin would reveal about the alleged investigation.

Fact No. 7. The Auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles to whom Bernardin referred was Most Rev. William R. Johnson. I asked him what he had discovered. He said he did not feel at liberty to discuss that question, that he had sent a report to Washington, to Fr. Robert Monticello’s office (the executive director of CHD), and that if I wanted information, why didn’t I call there? I did. Fr. Monticello refuses to reveal the contents of this or any other report.

Fact No. 8. Later in January Triumph learned through a highly placed source whose credibility cannot be doubted that at least one of the implicated organizations had refused to execute an affidavit repudiating the substance of the evidence Norton had gathered about its involvement in life prevention. Since the diocesan Ordinary whom Bishop Bernardin’s staff had asked to investigate this organization was supposed to have witnessed, by his own signature, the signing of this affidavit it is clear that in at least this one case the USCC knew there was something to Norton’s evidence.

Conclusion A. Apart from a blind act of faith, it is impossible to affirm, on the basis of existing evidence, that the alleged investigation established the sweeping vindication claimed by Bishop Bernardin in January (and thereafter by many others). To be sure, it may be true that the organizations in question ah lied when they claimed involvement in abortion and birth control; but it is clear that the investigation did not discover that this was the case. On the contrary, the evidence is that the investigation ought to have suggested the opposite conclusion.

Fact. No. 9. Despairing of further confidential attempts to secure reform, on January 12, 1972, Judge Norton put out a press release making public some of his evidence and for the first time making an accusation: that the CHD had funded organizations implicated in abortion and birth control.

Fact No. 10. On January 13, Bishop Bernardin and Fr. Monticello issued “separate” statements in reply to Norton’s release. Both statements said that funds were “not being used to support any abortion and/or birth control programs whatsoever.” Both statements very carefully refrained from saying that no organizations which had been funded were involved in such programs. This distinction between programs and organizations is identical to that contained in the three norms later made public by Bishop Mugavero in Atlanta.

Fact No. 11. Several persons officially connected with the CHD told this reporter, in Atlanta, that the three norms did not exist before February of this year.

Conclusion B. The three norms were created ex post facto to justify, by means of the program/organization distinction, all disbursements made thus far, to “justify” meaning, in this context, to declare in line with existing policy. It follows that Cardinal Krol’s interpretation of the third norm must be correct, because the text was written precisely to bear this interpretation.

Conclusion C. Since, in February, the officials of the CHD and the USCC could not be sure what Norton would do — he might publish the names of the organizations implicated (as to this day he has not), and then one or more of these organizations, once named, might admit that the charges were true — the “safe” course was (a) to threaten to sue Norton, (b) to invent a distinction, and (c) to promulgate “norms” embodying that distinction as a fallback position. In other words, as of February, Bishop Bernardin and Fr. Monticello were no more prepared to rely on their “investigation” than I am today.

Now I have cited these facts and conclusions even though Cardinal Krol’s interpretation of the third norm makes them all irrelevant—since on its face his interpretation means that the bishops were all along perfectly willing to do what Norton charged them with having done already. Nevertheless, I have cited these facts precisely in order to argue to yet another conclusion:

Conclusion D. The three norms are not the result of serious moral reflection. They are the result of bureaucratic decisions taken in fear. They represent not what the American hierarchy really believes or wants but what its bureaucrats deemed necessary to avoid serious embarrassment. True, the bishops also want to avoid embarrassment, and they want these norms insofar as they may be the means of avoidance; but they do not want these norms directly and for themselves.

With this conclusion I have come full circle and returned to my original subject: the CHD norms as the crucial news story at Atlanta and what that story reveals about how the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference do business. It is my intention to prove four theses, which are as follows:

  1. The bishops do not directly desire any cooperation with abortion.
  2. The CHD has put itself in the posture of cooperation with abortion by acting in an un-Christian manner toward its “critics.”
  3. The CHD’s present position is morally untenable.
  4. Such catastrophes will continue as long as the bishops’ apostolic authority over the Church in the United States continues to be delegated in practice to a bureaucracy.

Thesis 1. By cooperation with abortion I mean treating the murder of infants as if it were just one more of the things one has to put up with in a pluralistic society — not that one will ever dirty one’s own hands with it; indeed not; the three norms preclude this sin; but that in the name of social goals, one must be willing to cooperate with some people who are directly involved in abortion, and that one must be willing to do this precisely because the evil one is trying to stop (poverty) is more heinous than the evil these people are incidentally perpetrating.

This is a view of abortion (and of poverty) which, I contend, the American bishops do not hold. They have, to be sure, committed themselves to the position that poverty is a pressing social evil that must be eradicated from American life. But of abortion they have said more; much more. They have called it the crime of murder and a mortal sin, they have said that it must not be tolerated or countenanced, much less legalized; they hold that it would be better for the inhabitants of the earth to be reduced to dire, grinding and irremediable poverty rather than that one human being should commit one mortal sin: for this is the teaching of the Catholic Church, grounded in the most elementary principles of supernatural faith and in no way subject to compromise. (I have already proven, in a way, my third thesis, but I shall expand on that point below.)

Furthermore, the American bishops understand abortion in its concrete centrality to the future of American society. They see it, as their denunciation of the Population Commission’s Report showed, as the leading edge of the anti-life madness with which the Catholic people and all persons of good will are now engaged in earnest warfare. Indeed, it is accurate to say that abortion is the one issue on which the American episcopate is still willing to take a decisive political stand (though perhaps racism is a second). No doubt, they have taken their stand falteringly, ineffectually, often stupidly, according to the lights of this magazine. So be it. But the stand has been taken. Moreover, at the Atlanta meeting itself, the bishops refused to becloud their statement on the Population Commission Report by including repudiations of other perils to innocent human life, such as the escalation in Vietnam. They were determined that their statement should bear precisely on abortion, and they were, as a whole, quite unperturbed by charges that this unique emphasis would deprive their statement of (liberal) credibility. Unlike large segments of the “Catholic” press, the bishops of the United States do not perceive opposition to life prevention as a “right wing” stance, needing to be “balanced” by a dovishness on the war. Finally, Cardinal Krol spoke for all the bishops, in my judgment, when he cried out against legalized abortion as morally equivalent to Hitler’s camps and Stalin’s forced starvations: as the unconscionable and totalitarian decision that some human lives are expendable. In sum, I believe that the American bishops want nothing to do with abortion, incidental or otherwise.

Thesis 2. Nevertheless, they are now in the position which they do not desire. They are there because the CHD bureaucracy has put them there. And it put them there by steadfastly, from the beginning, refusing to treat Judge Norton as a Christian man, disturbed in conscience, raising serious moral questions which demand honest answers, and raising them in utmost confidence out of loyalty to the Church. Of course I cannot prove that Judge Norton is the sort of man I have just described. I cannot prove that he or any other man is sincere or honest. But I know him. I have talked to him often enough to have formed, very strongly, the impression I have just sketched. Fr. Monticello and company, on the other hand, do not know him. They have chosen a priori, sight unseen, to treat him as a political threat, as if he were some sort of wild-eyed right-wing fanatic determined to wreck the CHD because he loathes the poor and suffering people of America. They treated him as one needing to be repulsed by hostility, threats and careful evasions, evasions which resulted finally in the promulgation of the three norms.

At Atlanta, I experienced this hostility myself, as did several others. To ask about the CHD produced the same effect as hanging a sign about one’s neck bearing the legend, “Leper.” A cardinal archbishop literally sprang across the room to escape answering a question whose second half my mouth was still open to formulate. Another prelate, having granted me an interview and then having learned I was interested in CHD, broke the engagement and declared his schedule absolutely intolerant of another. I name no names because I deem it unfilial and un-Catholic to cast aspersions on bishops, not to mention the impropriety of returning evil for evil.

I will say, however, that Fr. Monticello resolutely, flatly and repeatedly refused to grant me any interview whatsoever (and has for months refused another reporter the same request).

My point in saying this is not to whine about ill treatment; I am sufficiently unsaintly, on the whole, to give back as good as I get. My point is rather to underscore the smoke-filled room, crassly political mentality which reigns around this question, and which prevents its moral character from being faced. Those who are raising the question are not, so far as I can judge, enemies of the Church. Their problem—our problem—is simply that we, too, have consciences, and that our consciences, formed in large part by the American bishops themselves, cannot abide the three norms as applied to life prevention.

Thesis 3. There is nothing wrong with the three norms considered in themselves. One is told that the Holy See uses some version of them to govern its own eleemosynary activities. The scandal comes when one asserts that these norms may be applied to justify the collaboration with abortion and contraception that Norton’s evidence indicates the CHD is engaged in.

To be sure, one must not be overly scrupulous. To avoid all color of compromise with evil, I suppose, one would have to refuse alms to sinners, and all alms would thus come to an end. No one proposes anything so absurd. What is proposed, however, is that abortion is not just any evil. It is premeditated murder. To fund an organization which, however incidentally, traffics in abortion —to fund it for a purpose no matter how good (and to fund it strictly for that purpose) — is nevertheless to imply an equivalence between the destruction of innocent human life and some gain in social progress. It is to imply that some quantity of socio-political betterment outweighs the evil of this mortal sin (unless one knows that this abortion, performed by these people, is not a mortal sin; and how, pray, does one know that?), because it implies that some persons who commit this sin, publicly and unrepentantly, are still worthy of support by the Catholic faithful because something else they do outweighs their crime. The support is not possible unless the outweighing is possible. But according to Catholic principles, the outweighing is not possible.

Abortion is a crime, moreover, which is bidding fair, just now, to win total acceptance in American society. Any action which can be construed as tolerant of abortion, no matter how indirectly, contributes to this climate of acceptance. This is especially true of an entirely voluntary act, like the decision to fund a project of a particular organization, when there are hundreds of other projects of hundreds of other organizations which are in no way, no matter how incidentally, involved in abortion. On this ground alone, it is unconscionable that norm three should ever be applied to a grant where abortion is a factor.

Finally, the stipulation that CHD funds be applied strictly to the “clean” project is simply unreal. Any small, struggling, tax-exempt organization proposes to itself all kinds of projects. To fulfill any one of the projects requires that some other project or projects be funded; otherwise, the organization has little or no money with which to do anything. Hence, in the practical order, in the case we are considering, to fund a clean project is to release other income to support a dirty project. This outcome, to be sure, is not directly the giver’s own responsibility, but it is a consequence of his action that can be foreseen. And no one can wholly escape responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of his own action, not even the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Thesis 4. But how is the National Conference in fact responsible or accountable for this thing? That is the refractory question. Juridically, of course, the CHD staff is responsible to the CHD bishops’ committee, and this committee, I suppose, is responsible to the whole body of the NCCB. Yet in practical reality, it is absurd to say that the American bishops have fully consented to the three norms, much less to the application CHD will make of them. The bishops are somnolent on the whole question because most of them have no inkling that Norton’s charges might be true, and hence they are unaware that CHD’s three norms, so innocent in appearance, bear within themselves secret testimony of the cogency of the charges. Unaware of these things, the average bishop raises no questions when colleagues tell him that all is well. This situation cannot go on.

But what of the bishops who are not unaware? Here again, there are difficulties. These men have a vested interest in believing Fr. Monticello and a vested interest in disbelieving, let us say, me. Moreover, I doubt that any one bishop has had access to all the reports in Fr. Monticello’s hands. Perhaps I am wrong. In any case, suppose a bishop is fully convinced of what I suspect; what does he do against all the arguments that urge silence, that urge the avoidance of scandal? Personally, I would not want to be in the position of that bishop, to have to resolve that question. Enormous things are at stake—both the lives of innocent children, which might be lost as a result of something CHD has done, and the spiritual welfare of those millions who might be scandalized. But the point is that such things are now at stake—and because the issue of “incidental” abortions Was not resolved straightforwardly and confidentially last autumn. By insensible degrees, the American hierarchy has allowed itself, by the actions of men it does not really control, to be maneuvered into a position which is as difficult to defend as it is to abandon. This situation, too, cannot go on.

Yet there is a way. What harm would be done, or what vast plan would be unglued, if an amendment were proposed to norm three? If the amendment were to specify that in no case could CHD funds be given for any reason to any organization implicated in any way, incidental or otherwise, in activities contrary to the Church’s teaching on human life? Must this action wait till November, or could the Administrative Board itself consider it? If the Board could not, will someone give assurance that this proposal will be on the fall agenda?

I am far from asserting that this action would solve the whole unspeakable business. But it would be something. It would say to the American people that the CHD has something to give besides silver and gold, that it has truths to give more precious than the Population Commission knows, that what in fact it has to give is the Truth who was Himself an unborn child, and Who was poor, and in the name of Whom the CHD can say to the poor and diseased of a nation, “What I have, I freely give; rise up and walk.”

  1. On Wednesday, February 2, 1972, at 10 A.M., Bishop Mugavero had met with James McKenna, an attorney at law. McKenna had showed him copies of written statements by officers of several organizations which had received CHD grants, describing the organizations’ varying involvements in abortion and birth control programs. Presumably, then, what the Bishop meant to say in answer to my question was, “I have seen what you refer to as ‘evidence,’ but I do not regard it as ‘evidence.’ ” This is called a mental reservation. It is not necessarily the moral equivalent of a lie.

Click here for PDF