The Modesto Statement: playing politics, bishops are conned again

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 23, 2017

The statements adopted by the First US Regional Meeting of Popular Movements are, for the most part, fairly predictable leftist boilerplate: a condemnation of President Trump, a focus on the evils of racism and exploitation, a claim that the few are growing rich on the suffering of the many. Nothing that we haven’t heard before.

What makes the Modesto Statement noteworthy is that it is the product of a meeting organized, promoted, and subsidized by the Catholic Church. Co-sponsored by the Vatican’s new dicastery for Integral Human Development with the US bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), it was run by PICO: a leftist group that has received generous support from the CCHD (that is, from the people in the pews). A few dozen Catholic bishops attended, included Cardinal Peter Turkson, a leading official of the Roman Curia; Pope Francis sent a message of encouragement.

Without all that ecclesiastical support, the Modesto meeting would not have generated—nor deserved—much public attention. The enthusiasm of the hierarchy is the only real reason to pay any attention.

So how did the Modesto conference repay the hierarchy for that support? Let me quote just one passage from the final statement, adding my own emphasis:

Racism and all forms of human hierarchy, whether based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, arrest and conviction records, immigration status, religion or ethnicity are immoral.

If hierarchy is immoral, then the Modesto conference was steeped in immorality. But the organizers seem content to have used Church endorsements—talk about exploitation!—for their own political ends. Will the bishops who backed this effort learn anything from their experience? Will they even notice how thoroughly they were used?

Again I’m reminded of the First Rule of Poker Strategy: After 15 minutes at the table, if you haven’t yet identified the sucker, stand up and walk away; you’re the sucker.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: MWCooney - Feb. 27, 2017 2:44 PM ET USA

    The only persons conned are the faithful who continue to blindly follow a hierarchy that has been infiltrated and subverted by ideologies that are most hostile to the Church. And those hierarchies demand that the conned pay attention only to their own (the subversive hierarchy's) pronouncements, and not to bother investigating traditional, "rigid" viewpoints ... ironically, one of the key aspects of the "clericalism" that they so vociferously denounce. Many millstones are awaiting so many.

  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Feb. 25, 2017 2:39 PM ET USA

    Some Bishops act more like termites than teachers. Agree with earlier points that many Bishops aren't being fooled in the least - they are leading the charge - and that CCHD is a left-wing community organizer's honey pot to which I stopped giving decades ago. Catholics need to seriously think of shifting more support toward Catholic entities that promote authentic faith, either by legitimate and undiluted works of mercy, or sound and unyielding defense of Catholic truth.

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Feb. 24, 2017 6:03 PM ET USA

    OK: much of Church leadership doesn't like 21st century capitalism. (Neither did Trump voters - but that won't be credited.) And they want big changes. In the last century one political reality stands out - utopians urging fundamental socio-economic changes are absolutely required to outline the alternative road they seek. Left wing utopians went on a killing spree in the 20th century - and most would have liked the Modesto screed. So what does the Church want in words that have meaning?

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Feb. 24, 2017 11:51 AM ET USA

    Sadly, the bishops have not been "conned," "used," "exploited," or "suckered." The Modesto Statement reflects the views of many bishops, and they support it with eyes wide open. I stopped donating to the CCHD years ago, after pulling teeth to obtain a copy of their grantees--which, as I'd suspected, consisted of a variety of leftist front groups hostile to the Church's teachings, including her opposition to abortion. I later stopped giving to the USCCB as well, for the same reasons.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 23, 2017 3:22 PM ET USA

    It's hard to figure out what was the actual goal of the Modesto meeting and Statement. But it certainly undermines the moral authority of the Catholic Church, especially with the involvement of heavyweight hierarchy.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 23, 2017 1:36 PM ET USA

    "Again I’m reminded of the First Rule of Poker Strategy: After 15 minutes at the table, if you haven’t yet identified the sucker, stand up and walk away; you’re the sucker." Unless the reality at the table is that there are no suckers.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Feb. 23, 2017 9:11 AM ET USA

    At least the angelic hierarchies escaped condemnation.