Recently, a Catholic bishop took umbrage when a group of laity objected to his political activism and questioned the appropriateness of his supporting NM CAFé.[i] He defended himself, writing: “The ad states some facts that are concerning (and I am in dialogue with CAFé about them), but also intentionally misleads readers, while ignoring other important facts. The basis of the ad is the suggestion that one is guilty by association.
This is faulty logic — or at least a view of the church's engagement in the world that is not Catholic. By this logic, Jesus would have been guilty because of the company he kept! Moreover, the ad intentionally obfuscates the facts: it names the treasurer for CAFé, noting she organizes pro-abortion rallies, insinuating she uses church funds for these pro-abortion purposes. This is false. (If it were true, it would be quite scandalous.) CAFé as an institution does not support abortion. It does not take a stand on abortion, since it is an interfaith organization with individuals and institutions that hold differing views on the issue.”[ii]
Oh dear. Let’s see if we can pull this apart and make some sense of it.
First there are the facts about NM CAFé:
- Fact number one is that Sarah Nolan, CAFÉ’s executive director, was an organizer for PICO’s San Francisco Organizing Project for five years during a period when SFOP was pushing the pro-abortion Healthy San Francisco and Healthy Kids programs.[iii]
- Fact number two is that Carli Romero, CAFÉ’s Campaign Manager for the Land of Opportunity civic engagement campaign, is also the Regional Director of Shakti Rising of New Mexico that hosted a 2013 “1 in 3 event to bring light and space to the fact that one in 3 women has an abortion in the US,”[iv] in an effort to “end the stigma and shame women are made to feel about abortion” and “begin to build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support for access to basic health care.”[v]
- Fact number three – to which the bishop refers in his op-ed above – is that Jan Thompson, NM CAFÉ’s board treasurer, was responsible for organizing a pro-abortion counter rally to protests against the opening of an abortion clinic in Las Cruces.[vi]
None of these facts mean that NM CAFÉ is, itself, actively or directly promoting abortion. But they do mean that none of NM CAFÉ’s political activism will ever actively or directly obstruct abortion, either.
Which leaves the question: can NM CAFé be politically neutral?
“Guilt by association” isn’t actually what the NM CAFé critics are charging. The charge is something more serious: that NM CAFÉ’s progressive political concerns support a progressive political agenda that includes abortion, even if as a political entity NM CAFÉ is only addressing a few facets of that agenda.
If we take abortion off the table, we are left with other issues.
One is immigration. NM CAFÉ’s position seeks amnesty and an expedited path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers in the US.[vii] That is a progressive position. NM CAFÉ’s Campaign for Citizenship has worked with Senator Martin Heinrich who voted for SB 744, a immigration reform bill that NM CAFÉ also supported.[viii]
Actually, Heinrich has worked with CAFÉ on a number of issues. He co-introduced legislation to establish the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument[ix] and he has stumped for CAFÉ’s minimum wage campaign.[x]
Heinrich is a progressive politician. Besides the above, he has also voted against imposing any limitations on a woman’s “right” to abortion and he supports “marriage equity.”
So, to whatever degree Heinrich is a political ally of NM CAFÉ and its pro-abortion board…and its more nuanced Catholic members, Heinrich will be supported by them. Even if his Catholic supporters are only supporting Heinrich for his immigration policy – or his environmental policies or his minimum wage policy – and not because he is pro-abortion, their support does support a pro-abortion politician. That’s the nature of political packaging.
Catholic political activists are forced to prioritize their issues. Assuming they believe a raised minimum wage to be a good thing and amnesty for the undocumented to be a good thing, they must choose between these goods and the lives of unborn children. The Catholic members of NM CAFÉ have chosen for raises and amnesty.
If the Catholic involvement with NM CAFé were comparable to Christ keeping company with sinners, NM CAFé’s member parishes would be exhorting them to add the injustice of abortion to their causes. Given NM CAFÉ’s current board and PICO National’s track record, that doesn’t seem likely.
That tells us a lot about the problem of Catholics belonging to such a group.
[i] NM CAFÉ is an affiliate of PICO, a national Alinskyian organizing network.
[ii] Bishop Oscar Cantú, “Bishop Cantu addresses ad criticizing work with CAFé,” Las Cruces Sun-Times, 1-25-15.
[iii] Patrick Craine, “CCHD, San Fran Archdiocese Supported Abortion-Funding Health Plan,” LifeSite News, 1-6-10: webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:FA1b3YhA7igJ:https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cchd-san-fran-archdiocse-supported-abortion-funding-health-plan+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us Nolan left SFOP before this information was made public but would have been working there at the time SFOP was pushing these programs and the clinics associated with them.
[iv] Carli Romero, FaceBook posting: Aggies for Feminism: www.facebook.com/AggiesForFeminism/posts/371228393009982
[v] 1 in 3 Campaign: http://www.1in3campaign.org/videos/109#.Ukn-NIYQMXf
[vi] Carlos Andres-Lopez, “Pro-Choice Rally Joins Support of Clinic,” Las Cruces Sun News, 9-28-14.
[vii] April 12, 2013 Letter to Congress: http://blog.directcarealliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Citizenship-once-and-for-all-sign-on-letter-4-12-13.pdf
[viii] NM CAFé Campaign for Citizenship Action, which includes Heinrich speaking in support of SB 744:
[ix] NM CAFÉ press release, “NM CAFé: Proposed Legislation Preserves Area’s Spiritual Legacy,” 12-12-13. http://www.organizenm.org/uploads/6/7/8/5/6785840/cafe_omdp_press_release_dec_2013_final2.pdf
[x] James Staley, “Heinrich praises Las Cruces efforts to lift minimum wage: Local store has pushed 'living wage' for six years,” Las Cruces Sun-Times, 10-16-14.