- - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A most remarkable set of documents was coughed up recently by WikiLeaks. George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, it turns out, made donations to two faith-based organizations to the tune of $650,000. Initially, this might cause one to think that perhaps Mr. Soros has finally gotten religion. But, no. Digging deeper, one discovers the motivation for the philanthropy (if you want to call it that), is far more banal: politics.

Nonetheless, there was a rather interesting dimension to the donations to these groups — PICO and Faith in Public Life (FPL) — which, in addition to being “faith-based,” run activist “grass-roots” networks. Mr. Soros was contributing to the effort to recruit 10,000 volunteers while training 3,500 others for mobilization in order to influence the Catholic Church during Pope Francis’ 2015 U.S. visit.

On their surface, the donations seem benign. As the president of a less-activist and nonpartisan group, I understand that it takes money to disseminate an organization’s ideas to people of faith. What’s disconcerting is the crass political intention to manipulate church leaders that is evident from the leaked documents. One gets the impression that Mr. Soros and his fellow travelers view the leadership of the religious community generally and the Catholic Church in particular as mere useful idiots to be manipulated to further their own political and, frankly, secularist agenda.

Despite this, the social justice warriors at Faith in Public Life and PICO apparently harbor no moral qualms about receiving money from sources that, judging by Mr. Soros’ various charitable enterprises, see the Catholic Church and other traditional religious groups as a great part of the social problem they seek to eradicate. According to the leaked documents, a portion of the Soros gift was spent promoting John Gehring, a former assistant media director at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as a commentator to media national media outlets.

Mr. Gehring ran afoul of the bishops in 2012 after issuing a memo of talking points to the media providing journalists with antagonistic questions with which to confront Catholic bishops regarding that year’s Fortnight of Freedom religious liberty initiative. He also encouraged journalists to challenge at every opportunity any claim that First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom were under attack.

Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the United States followed the release earlier that year of his encyclical “Laudato Si.” Both of these set the stage for not only the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris but a wide-ranging religious and political debate about these issues, which is precisely what the holy father intended. The leaked documents reveal, however, that the FPL and PICO had much more than a debate as their goal.

They wanted, for instance, “Buy-in of individual bishops to more publicly voice support of economic and racial justice messages in order to begin to create a critical mass of bishops who are aligned with the Pope.” They also reported that “PICO’s local chapters are capitalizing on the momentum of the Pope’s visit, as planned, to push for a range of state and local policy reforms, including in Minnesota, a state with a significant Catholic population in suburban and rural counties, where nineteen parishes in key swing legislative districts are now poised to support state legislative campaigns to win driver’s licenses for immigrants, regulate payday lenders, and advance statewide paid family leave.” The $650,000 also helped seed PICO and FPL efforts to shift “the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression.”

Other details of the multiple, leaked Open Society board minutes reveal the workings of a “progressive” political network extending beyond PICO and FPA into the corridors of the Vatican itself. “In order to seize this moment, we will support PICO’s organizing activities to engage the Pope on economic and racial justice issues, including using the influence of [Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga], the Pope’s senior adviser, and sending a delegation to visit the Vatican in the spring or summer to allow him to hear directly from low-income Catholics in America.”

The minutes continue: “By harnessing the Papal visit to lift up the Pope’s searing critique of what he calls ‘an economy of exclusion and inequality’ and his dismissal of ‘trickle down’ theories, PICO and FPL will work to build a bridge to a larger conversation about bread-and-butter economic concerns and shift national paradigms and priorities in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.” Given the efforts evident among some faith-based activist groups, which essentially appear to be about influencing the present presidential campaign and even raising money using images of Pope Francis, I believe Mr. Soros’ investment has paid off.

This isn’t education. It’s political manipulation in order to focus the Catholic Church on Mr. Soros’ political agenda; a well-funded, cynical effort to exploit the faithful to achieve dubious moral and political ends.

Mr. Soros should be condemned for using his money in this way, and the faith-based organizations that took it should be ashamed.

Father Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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