Progressives in the Public Square

By Filteau, Jerry | National Catholic Reporter, September 17, 2010 | Go to article overview

Progressives in the Public Square

Filteau, Jerry, National Catholic Reporter

WASHINGTON * Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good closed its office in Washington at the end of July and let its remaining paid staff go, but it plans to continue a scaled-back program.

Founded in 2005 after George W. Bush soundly beat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, it was one of three new Catholic organizations formed to spread the message of progressive Catholic social teaching that is fully pro-life, countering Republican efforts of recent years to lay claim to being the party that represents Catholic values.

The other two, Catholics United and Catholic Democrats, both more directly political than the alliance, say they are still going strong and expanding, but much of the alliance's funding dried up this year.

"The money just wasn't there" to keep the full operation going, said Jesuit Fr. William J. Byron of St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, a member of the alliance's board of directors.

Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, said a major problem facing progressive Catholic groups in general is that "they don't have any money."

"Catholic Republicans are willing to open their checkbooks and finance" conservative Catholic groups, he said, but there is no comparable support from the Democratic side for liberal Catholic organizations addressing public policy issues, and "they are way underfunded."

Fred Rotondaro, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and chairman of the Catholics in Alliance board, agreed that money problems forced the cutbacks but said the alliance will continue to operate "at a reduced stage."

He said that he is working on new fundraising and that in the meantime plans are under way to begin spreading the alliance's message through Web postings and e-mail. "We have a pretty good mailing list, about 40,000 people," he said.

He added that since closing its original office, the alliance has obtained some shared office space on K Street in Washington and "we will have staff. We will have at least a part-time office manager." At one time the organization had at least half a dozen people on its staff.

The alliance was formed in 2005--as Rotondaro put it, "right after the [2004] presidential election, when I think a number of progressive Catholics came to the belief that social justice ideas were not being very seriously considered by a lot of Catholics when they came to voting."

Over the past five years, "I think we did do a very good job of educating a great number of people, a great number of Catholics, about the fact that issues such as poverty, environmental issues, antiwar issues, were very, very important." he said.

"Catholics in Alliance is a pro-life organization, but a lot of us are--certainly I am--very strongly in favor of the Cardinal Bernardin principle of the 'seamless garment,'" he added, referring to the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin's argument that Catholics must apply a "consistent ethic of life" to the full array of issues that touch on human life and dignity.

He said the alliance may have suffered somewhat from its very success after Barack Obama was elected president. "There's a lot less enthusiasm right now [than there was when progressive Catholics felt shut out of the public debate]. In effect, we had a situation where 'we won and we don't have to worry about things'--well, unfortunately, you win but you've gotta keep pounding the pavement."

Rotondaro said there are a number of good, experienced writers on Catholic social teachings on the alliance board or still connected to the organization in other ways. Within the next month or so, he said he hoped they would begin writing a series of "roundtable postings" on the alliance Web site,, addressing "themes of Catholic social justice principles and how they apply to public policy at this time. …

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