Ray Flynn, the Religious Right and Progressive Revival
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Aug 01, 2008 at 01:50:05 PM EST
There has been quite a flap going on ever since pastordan  took the new blog site Progressive Revival to task about a few things over at Street Prophets.

The new blog, a project of BeliefNet, is owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch of Fox News fame. The site says of itself that although coming from different traditions, the writers "all are dedicated to the revival of religious progressivism and its influence in American politics." Pastordan says, among other things, that it is far more centrist than it is progressive. But whatever else the site may be, it also now home to a man who as a nominal Democrat, has in recent years headed organizations of the religious right and supported George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.  Among the featured writers is none other than Ray Flynn, best known as the former mayor of Boston and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican under president Clinton.  But if you did not know about Flynn's involvements with the Religious Right, that is just the way he wants it. He leaves that part of his history out of his long Progressive Revival personal bio.  On the flip is some of what Flynn would rather you not know.

In 1995, the then-mighty Christian Coalition headed by Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, created a Catholic front group called The Catholic Alliance. It was quickly rebuked by Catholic Bishops for appropriating the name of the church while pushing a rightwing economic agenda that was incompatible with Catholic teaching.  The group had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, they said. The Catholic Alliance subsequently faded into obscurity,  but in 1998, the Catholic Alliance appears to have been folded into Fr. Frank Pavone's organization, Priests for Life, which has been one of the leading organizations of anti-abortion militancy in the United States. It has also been the subject of repeated complaints about electioneering in violations of its 501(c)(3) federal tax-exemption.

Ray Flynn became president of The Catholic Alliance in 1999.

The previous year, in 1998 The Catholic Alliance declared its independence and emphasized that

Catholic Alliance no longer receives any financial support from the Christian Coalition. It is now a completely independent Catholic organization that is receiving financial support from private donations.

It it also announced that it would seek to influence the 1998 and 2000 elections, and included an advisory board of Catholic Bishops. Here is part of the press release on the Priests for Life web site:

MARCH 9,1998 (202)544-3603

Catholic Alliance announced today additional members of the Catholic Alliance Bishops' Advisory Council. "We are deeply honored to have the prayer, example and advice of these bishops. We desire above all else to be faithful to Catholic teaching as we build a non- partisan Catholic voters' movement promoting the common good. The Church has called for lay men and women to fully participate in the political process to build a more just society, which respects the dignity of all human life, the primacy of the family, authentic freedom and solidarity. Our movement is in response to that call," said Deacon Keith A. Fournier, President of Catholic Alliance.

"Our members are dedicated to effective political action and education in order to change America. As we approach the third millennium, the need for an active educated movement of Catholic voters has never been more urgent. We deeply appreciate the support of Bishops McHugh and Egan in their leadership of this advisory council as well as their demonstrated courage in their own pastoral leadership."

"Catholic Alliance seeks to consolidate a Catholic vote for Life, Family, freedom and Charity in the important 1998 and 2000 elections. Catholics are 23% of the vote in the United States. No political party or candidate can afford to ignore the Catholic vote.'

The Catholic Alliance had become independent of the Christian Coaliton, but it was certainly not independent in any conventional definition of the term.

In 2001, Flynn spoke at the tenth anniversary  celebration of Priests for Life and declared that Catholics need to be told how to vote.

"We Catholics don't know how to vote. We need someone to tell us how to vote.

He went on to offer a vague explanation of why he endorsed George W. Bush for president over Al Gore:

"I thought it was more important to be good American and Catholic than be a good Democrat," said Flynn.

In 2001 in an emblematic theocratic policy push so typical of the Bush era, Flynn as head of the Catholic Alliance joined with other religious right leaders in urging the Department of Health and Human Services to oppose embryonic stem cell research.

By the 2004 election he had become the head of another Religious Right agency, Your Catholic Voice, that like the Catholic Alliance had been formed by longtime Pat Robertson ally Keith Fournier. Unsurprisingly, among the leaders and advisors of this outfit were such far Religious Right figures as Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, Michael Schwartz of Concerned Women for America, and of course, Frank Pavone.

That year, rightwing bishops had made an issue of denying communion to prochoice Catholic politicians, notably John Kerry. When 48 Catholic Democratic Members of Congress objected to this politicization of communion, here is what Ray Flynn had to say on behalf of Catholic Voice:

"They want to be Catholic on election day and get the Catholic vote, but when they get to Washington or the state house, they consistently vote with every well financed radical group that is working against the most fundamental of all human rights."

Yep. Flynn said that the reason that Catholic pols like Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry are prochoice is because they are in the pocket of rich radicals.

The list could go on. Indeed, Flynn has also crusaded against marriage equality and has provided the fig leaf of bipartisanship whenever the Religious Right needed it. The point here is that Ray Flynn personifies a dimension of the far right, anti-pluralist, theocratic politics and policies of the Religious Right in word and deed, and has a long history to prove it. As we enter a more progressive and Democratic era, it is important to be mindful that there will be a lot of Ray Flynns on hand acting like nothing happened, covering their tracks when they can.

Flynn believes that there is a Catholic way to vote; that Catholics need to be told how to vote. He has alligned himself with the most authoritarian and rightwing Catholic religious and political leaders in the United States who would define their particular form of Catholicism and the politics and policies that stem from it as normative for Catholics and would impose them on all Americans if they could.

Reasonable people may differ over the definition of progressive in both religion and politics. But going forward, consider the example of Ray Flynn writing under the rubric of Progressive Revival.

I just don't get it. Flynn supported Bush over Gore solely over choice even though Bush has: A) disemboweled distributive justice capitalism economics; B) supports policies causing global warming; C) started a war in Iraq that the Vatican opposed; D) tried to turn Social Security into a private gravy train for his buccaneer capitalist buddies; and E) scuttled health insurance for children by vetoing S-CHIP legislation.

So much for Ray Flynn's definition of "voting Catholic."

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:51:17 PM EST

Abortion, all the time. It appears that a sizable number of the bishops in the hierarchy have caught up to the Catholic Alliance and Priests for Life. This  means Ray Burke, Michael Sheridan, Fabian Bruskewitz, Robert Finn, Joseph Naumann, need I go on?

by khughes1963 on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 10:09:00 PM EST
it is the comprehensive program of the theocratic elements in the church.  Abortion is the bit litmus test; the wedge. But there is much more. In another piece, that perhaps I will write about separately, Flynn waxes nostalgic for a time when the bishops could go to a pol, and tell them what to do or not do, and that was it.

If Flynn, a former U.S.Ambassador to the Vatican is that far out in the anti-democratic camp, and is a featured writer at a place called Progressive Revival, there is much in our culture and politics that  people are refusing to see.

Its our job to take a look and to see the whole picture if we can.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 12:38:22 AM EST

If Flynn is that sort of authoritarian, he is indeed not progressive at all.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 08:11:05 AM EST

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