"IN THEIR OWN WORDS" 3rd in an RFFM.org series
by Mary Anne Hackett, President, Catholic Citizens of Illinois
To commemorate RFFM.org's 15 years of service to the conservative community, we will be conducting a series of monthly interviews throughout 2007 with some of the most influential leaders in the pro-family/conservative movement. RFFM.org's national director, Daniel Zanoza, will conduct Q + A sessions with the aim of educating our readers as to some of the views held by those who work tirelessly to reach their stated goals.
RFFM.org will also describe the mission statements of those who work for organizations or detail the expertise of some of the most prominent individuals in their fields regarding issues that affect Americans on many levels.
Mission Statement: Catholic Citizens of Illinois (CCI) is a lay organization which exists to support Catholic values in the public life of Illinois and to educate Illinois Catholics, as a conscious group, to serve as responsible witnesses to Christ in the midst of human society. CCI works in support of the church by seeking to answer the call of the Second Vatican Council for genuine lay involvement in the life of the Church and society.
Q. Your mission statement explains a great deal about why you formed Catholic Citizens of Illinois, but could you elaborate on why you felt there was such a need for your organization.
A. Statistics show that Catholics are indistinguishable from the rest of society in terms of their behavior and their voting patterns. Yet, our Catholic Faith has much to contribute in terms of guidance and direction in the teachings of the Church on the moral issues of the day. It is our belief that there has been a failure of catechesis for the last 30 or 40 years and our Catholic people do not know their Faith. We are seeking to fill that void.
Our organization was founded ten years ago by Tom Roeser, Tom Wronski, a young man who is no longer active with CCI, and myself. We have over 1,100 members.
Q. Keeping CCI's mission statement in mind, please explain to our readers how things would look for the Catholic Church if you met many of your goals.
A. Religion is not something we practice in the privacy of our homes or on Sunday morning at Church. Faith in God and in His Son, Jesus, is supposed to transform our lives. A priest friend often says we should “know our Faith, love our Faith and live our Faith.”
The greatest benefit for the Church is educated Catholics who live their Faith. If we are able to educate and encourage Catholics through the speakers at our luncheon forums, our web site and our newsletter, they will not only be a blessing to the Church, but to society as well.
Also, we were angry and disgusted with the tone of many articles about the Catholic Church in the secular media, many of them filled with misinformation, quoting dissenters and rarely those of us who love the Church. We resolved to become a media resource where reporters could come to hear the truth about the Church and what she teaches. We have been somewhat successful in that regard, but would like to become more well-known as a media contact and are working toward that goal. Some of our board members have appeared on radio and TV shows to defend the Church’s teaching.
Q. Most people who embrace traditional Christian values have found the media to be hostile to that message. What kind of bias, if any, has your group encountered? If so, how does CCI overcome this bias in the attempt to get your message out?
A. The reason a secular society belittles and tries to marginalize Christians is because they believe in moral rules that are at odds with the current hedonistic values. They want to stamp out things that make them feel guilty so they can continue to live as they wish for pleasure without rules. Christian moral values make them feel uncomfortable or guilty.
We get our message out through ads in newspapers and on the radio. We particularly try to reach Catholics before the elections pointing out that there are politicians who are pretending to be Catholic and asking for their vote, but they are, in fact, dissenters from the Faith, particularly on the issues of abortion and homosexuality. We urge them to “take their Catholic Faith into the voting booth.”
One year CCI took out ads, presenting the Catholic teaching on abortion, in newspapers around the State. We estimated that over 2,000,000 people saw the ad. We have also placed newspaper ads presenting the teaching of the Church on homosexuality. The ads are expensive, but we believe they must be a priority to reach our Catholic people because they are not hearing this information at Church.
Q. America's history is filled with anti-Catholic bigotry. Do you believe this bigotry still exists in our nation? And, if it does, why?
A. There is a bigotry against all Faiths, but the Catholic Church has been a stronghold against the evil in the world for centuries. Our doctrines, papal encyclicals, etc., oppose many of the evils in our society today, such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexual “marriage,” and contraception, so we have become the enemy of secularism. There is a focus on undermining the influence of the Catholic Church.
Because of the recent scandal involving sexual abuse by clergy, the faithful clergy and Catholic lay people who speak out on moral issues are told they have no right to speak on moral issues. Even one case of sexual abuse is inexcusable. But what about similar occurrences in other religions or among teachers and school employees which far exceed the 1% of priests who committed such crimes. Are they silenced or is it just Catholics?
Newly released historical notes from the archives in the Soviet Union relate the clear plan to diminish the influence of the Church. Efforts have been made to discredit Pope Pius XII, claiming that he was complicit with Hitler in the extermination of the Jews, while there is clear evidence in the Vatican archives and even in the New York Times at that time, as well as from leaders of the Jewish people themselves that Pope Pius XII saved over 800,000 Jews in Italy and thousands in other countries.
Recent information has been reported of spying on Pope John Paul II by the Soviet Union because they feared his ties to Poland and his encouragement of the people of Poland to overturn communism. As a result of his inspiration to the Polish people, we have seen the fall of communism in Poland and in the Soviet Union.
Early reports by Bella Dodd, a communist activist and spy in America, related that the communists infiltrated the Catholic seminaries in the 1930’s in order to undermine the Faith. Dodd testified to that evidence before Congress in the 1950’s. The efforts to bring about the fall of the Catholic Church have been ongoing since the beginning of the Church, but Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church.
Q. Obviously, there are dedicated individuals within the faith who fight to the very end concerning moral issues and in their attempt to head off our nation's moral decline. I would assume you are happy there are so many Catholics who, in essence, put their time and money where their mouth is. Could you talk about this?
A. We are overjoyed with the response we have received to our organization, our newsletter, and particularly our web site. I’m not sure of the current figures, but in the past, 500,000 people visited our web site each week.
In the past, during times of crisis in the Church, it has been the lay people who have saved the Church. So, in terms of history, we are not surprised by the activism of our members and their desire for renewal in our Church. Conservative, orthodox Catholics are always seeking ways to learn more about their faith and to keep up with what is happening in the Church on a worldwide basis. Our web site (www.catholiccitizens.org) provides that type of information and has been ranked excellent and one of the top Catholic web sites in the country.
Q. CCI has forum luncheons every month with outstanding speakers who present current issues from a Catholic perspective. What is the purpose of those luncheons? Can you talk about some of the speakers you have previously hosted and in what way where they particularly impressive? Who do you have scheduled to speak in the future and is there anyone you would personally like to have address CCI?
A. The purpose of the luncheon forums is to educate. Sad to say, sermons on the moral issues of the day are rare in most of the parishes. We select speakers that address Catholic subjects such as a new encyclical, the role of Catholic education, thriving new religious orders, the Catholic vote, Catholic art and literature, natural family planning, marriage, and a host of other subjects that help Catholics to know the Church’s teachings in those areas and to live according to them. You might call it Catholic enrichment!
We have featured: George Weigel, the biographer of John Paul II; Mother Assumpta Long, founder of a new and thriving order of Dominican nuns with almost 100 new sisters in formation; and several local priests who have spoken on new encyclicals. Other speakers included: Raymond Arroya, the biographer of Mother Angelica of EWTN fame; Michael Rose, author of “Goodbye, Good Men,” which documented homosexuality in the seminaries; Father Joseph Fessio who was a student of Pope Benedict XVI; and Joseph Pearce, the biographer of numerous literary giants who are converts to the Church. Phyllis Schlafly spoke at one of our early annual dinners, as well as Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights.
We were really inspired by last year’s dinner speaker, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a stalwart defender of the Faith and a hero to most orthodox Catholics. His message: “Take your Faith into the Public Square.” That has been the goal of Catholic Citizens of Illinois from the beginning.
Our upcoming speakers include Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt who will contrast Islam and Christianity; Dr. William Carroll of Oxford University who will speak on St. Thomas Aquinas and the beginnings of the Universe; and Fr. Thomas Milota, who will speak on The New Evangelization. We are currently negotiating with Fr. Frank Pavone's office to have him speak at our annual dinner in the Fall. Father Pavone is the founder of Priests for Life and also of a new order of Priests for Life. He is a dynamic speaker on the defense of human life and the role of Catholics in the political life of our country. People can get information on upcoming speakers at our web site.
Q. What are some of the projects you are working on now and what are you planning to address in the future?
A. We are hoping to activate our people to take a public stand against homosexual "marriage", to defend traditional marriage and to end the curse of abortion on our country. We especially hope to inspire our members to love their Faith and defend it.
For more information about Catholic Citizens of Illinois visit their web site at: www.catholiccitizens.org. At the site, there is also info available for those who would like to make a tax-deductible donation or volunteer their time to CCI. Contact CCI at the following number: (312) 409-1845 or via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Write CCI at: Catholic Citizens of Illinois, 106 Calendar Court, PMB #122, La Grange, IL 60525. To make a reservation for CCI luncheons, call Maureen at (708) 352-5834.