Catholics United describes itself as a “non-partisan” organization that uses online advocacy and educational activities to promote “the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.” The group’s earliest roots can be traced to the spring of 2004, when an alliance of religious activists formed the Catholic Voting Project (CVP) to promote the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 2003 document, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, which was subsequently retitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. CVP’s mission was to “encourage a public dialog about faith and politics that went beyond the tired rhetoric of partisan interests.” In 2005, CVP incorporated formally as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization called Catholics United (CU).
In a February 2012 email exchange that was later hacked and made public by WikiLeaks, Voices For Progress founder Sandy Newman told longtime Democrat operative John Podesta: “There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic Church.” In response, Podesta said that CU and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good were two organizations that had been established for the purpose of recruiting religious people who could help lead such a transformative revolution when the time was right: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”
Woven throughout CU’s agenda is a desire to radically change an American society that is “marred by deepening disparities between rich and poor.” This objective is founded on CU’s interpretation of a scriptural directive exhorting Christians to remember that “the least among us”—i.e., the “weak, vulnerable, and most in need”—“deserve preferential concern.” CU’s specific policy positions fall under the following major categories:[
CU states unequivocally that abortion “is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed”; that cloning and the destruction of human embryos “for research or even for potential cures” are “always wrong”; and that assisted suicide and euthanasia are not “act[s] of mercy,” but rather, “unjustifiable assault[s] on human life.”
By the same token, however, CU cautions people of faith not to “reduce Catholic moral concerns to one or two matters.” And “pro-life” positions, says the organization, cannot be defined solely in terms of opposition to abortion or euthanasia. Rather, they also encompass “finding more effective ways to prevent conflicts” and to “resolve them by peaceful means.” Thus, CU maintains, even proponents of taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand can claim to be “pro-life” if they adopt pacifist stances vis à vis military and foreign-policy matters.
While conceding that military force can sometimes be justified as a last resort when all efforts for diplomacy have failed, CU demands that such force “not be indiscriminate or disproportionate”—meaning that the use of weapons-of-mass-destruction or “other means of warfare that do not distinguish between civilians and soldiers” is “fundamentally immoral.” Further, CU asserts that the United States has a responsibility to “reduce its own reliance” on such weapons “by pursuing progressive nuclear disarmament.”
Yet another position that “pro-life” individuals should adopt, says CU, is opposition to the death penalty, which “cannot be justified” under any circumstances, particularly in light of the “unfairness and injustice” with which it is applied to poor and nonwhite convicts.[
CU declares that marriage must be “defined, recognized, and protected as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman”; it opposes requirements mandating that healthcare plans must cover the cost of contraceptives and abortifacients, thereby forcing many religious people to “compromise their moral convictions”; and it approves the use of tax credits and publicly funded scholarships to help parents of “modest means” exercise their “fundamental right to choose the education best suited to the needs of their children, including public, private, and religious schools.”
But CU also asserts that “pro-family” positions include such articles of progressive faith as support for “living wage” laws that “allow workers to support their families”; easy and wide access to “public assistance”; and government-imposed “regulation” designed to “limit concentration of media control, resist management [of media outlets] that is primarily focused on profit, and encourage a variety of program sources.”[
CU calls for the elimination of “barriers to equal pay and employment” for the multitudes of Americans allegedly “facing unjust discrimination” based on “race, religion, sex, ethnicity, disabling condition, or age.” Reasoning from the premise that capitalism is inherently rife with inequity, the organization urges workers, employers, and labor unions to collaboratively “build a more just economy” and thereby “advance the common good.” Moreover, CU calls for society to “take positive steps [i.e., affirmative action] to overcome the legacy of injustice” wherever it may exist.
Welfare policies that “provide a safety net for those who cannot work” are vitally important, says CU, which thus advocates massive public funding for programs that cover the costs of food, child care, healthcare, housing, and transportation for low-income people.
Citing the “estimated 47 million Americans lacking health care coverage” prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, CU contends that “affordable and accessible health care” is both “a fundamental human right” and “an urgent national priority,” particularly for poor people, children, pregnant women, immigrants, “and other vulnerable populations.”
“The Gospel mandate to ‘welcome the stranger,’” says CU, forms the basis of the organization’s plea for Catholics to “care for and stand with immigrants, both documented and undocumented.” “Comprehensive reform” to America’s immigration system is “urgently necessary,” CU adds, and should include “a temporary work program with worker protections and a path to permanent residency”; “family reunification policies”; a “broad and fair legalization program”; “access to legal protections” and “essential public programs”; and “refuge for those fleeing persecution and exploitation.”
To remedy America’s “broken” criminal-justice system, meanwhile, CU advocates a “remedial, rather than a strictly punitive, approach to offenders.”
Yet another major “moral issue” facing humanity, says CU, is the preservation of the natural environment. Toward that end, the organization demands that political leaders and policymakers “seriously address global climate change” by focusing not on maximizing profits, but rather on “pursuit of the common good”—especially in light of global warming’s potentially disastrous consequences for the “vulnerable” populations of the world’s “poorest nations.” Because of the disproportionate degree to which pollution associated with American commercial activity has purportedly degraded the earth’s environment since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, CU reasons that the U.S. “should lead in contributing to the sustainable development of poorer nations and promoting greater justice in sharing the burden of environmental blight, neglect, and recovery.”
Likewise, CU contends that the United States “should take a leading role in helping to alleviate global poverty” through “more equitable trade policies” as well as “substantially increased development aid” for the world’s poorest countries.
Another “especially urgent priority,” says CU, is for America to play a leading role in arranging comprehensive Mideast peace negotiations that will eventually lead to “a just and peaceful resolution that respects the legitimate claims and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.”