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Controversial Koch brothers give big (again) to Catholic University

(RNS) Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit on May 5, 2014. For use with RNS-KOCH-CATHOLICS, transmitted Jan. 30, 2015. Reuters photo by Carlo Allegri. * Eds: This Reuters photo can ONLY be used with RNS-KOCH-CATHOLICS.

(RNS) Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch recently made headlines by pledging nearly $900 million to help elect candidates who support their libertarian strain of economic conservatism, but the industrialists are also nearly doubling their investment in the business school of Catholic University of America, which is overseen by the U.S. bishops.

(RNS) Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit on May 5, 2014. For use with RNS-KOCH-CATHOLICS, transmitted Jan. 30, 2015. Reuters photo by Carlo Allegri. * Eds: This Reuters photo can ONLY be used with RNS-KOCH-CATHOLICS.

(RNS) Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit on May 5, 2014. For use with RNS-KOCH-CATHOLICS, transmitted Jan. 30, 2015. Reuters photo by Carlo Allegri. * Eds: This Reuters photo can ONLY be used with RNS-KOCH-CATHOLICS.

That’s despite the fact that many Catholics — including Pope Francis — say the kind of unregulated capitalism that the Kochs promote runs counter to church teaching.

The $1.75 million dollar grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, one of several nonprofits with ties to the industrialist brothers, is part of a $3 million pledge to CUA announced in January that includes $500,000 from the Busch Family Foundation and $250,000 each from three business leaders.

The donation to the Washington-based university comes just over a year after the Koch Foundation gave an initial $1 million grant that allowed CUA to launch its own School of Business and Economics. The school is run by Andrew Abela and it is dedicated to promoting what it calls “principled entrepreneurship.”

The grant fits with the Kochs’ strategy of funding business and other programs at universities around the country. (They are also generous underwriters of numerous cultural institutions.) But from the moment the first CUA donation was announced in the fall of 2013, many Catholic theologians and others raised questions about why the only pontifical university in the country would take so much money from the Kochs.

Dozens of theologians and academics wrote to CUA president John Garvey and Abela expressing concern that “by accepting such a donation you send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops.”

They renewed that criticism last February, saying the Kochs’ libertarian-leaning positions “are in direct conflict with traditional Catholic values.”

A few months later, at a conference sponsored by Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, the Honduran cardinal who is one of Francis’ top advisers blasted today’s free market system as “a new idol” that is increasing inequality and excluding the poor.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga was joined at the conference, and in his critique, by Bishop Blase Cupich, who in September was personally tapped by Francis to be the new archbishop of Chicago, the pontiff’s most important U.S. appointment to date.

Francis himself has focused on economic inequality in the nearly two years since he has been pope, repeatedly denouncing the current capitalist system and in particular the “trickle down” economics favored by many Republicans and libertarians.

Those statements have generated a great deal of friction and unusually direct and sharp criticism of Francis from Catholic conservatives, especially in the U.S. Some conservatives have responded by arguing that Francis is not talking about capitalism as it is practiced in the U.S., or that he simply doesn’t understand economics.

Andrew Abela speaks during the celebration founding of the school of business and economics.  Photo by Ed Pfueller, courtesy of  The Catholic University of America

Andrew Abela speaks during the celebration of the founding of the Catholic University of America’s school of business and economics. Photo by Ed Pfueller, courtesy of The Catholic University of America

In a Jan. 22 statement announcing the new gift, Abela said that the donation will help the school create “a cadre of faculty dedicated to research exploring how we can make business and economics more humane.” As if anticipating criticism, he added that is also “a moral imperative that Pope Francis has been championing with great passion.”

That same day, Tim Busch, co-founder of the Busch Foundation and a Koch ally, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal arguing that “the principles behind this initiative and the principled entrepreneurship program are consistent with Catholic teaching.”

Critics said Busch was exaggerating that overlap and glossing over the real goals of libertarian free-market advocates, which they say are in no way compatible with church teachings.

While Busch is a practicing Catholic, the Kochs are not, and in fact David Koch supports gay marriage and abortion rights.

Critics of the CUA gift say it is ironic that the school would seek such massive support from a social liberal when Catholic charities are not allowed to take any money from any person or group that supports abortion rights or gay rights.

KRE/AMB END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

16 Comments

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  • Critics of the CUA gift say it is ironic that the school would seek such massive support from a social liberal when Catholic charities are not allowed to take any money from any person or group who supports abortion rights or gay rights.

    They take such money all the time.

    The question here, as everywhere, is whether the Koch foundations are in the business of pushing either abortion or “gay rights” and whether there were effective conditions on the donations. The Koch brothers have tended to be generically libertarian (which, by the way, is inconsistent with any sort of ‘anti-discrimination’ law, no matter who the clientele are supposed to be. However, that is not the undiluted object of their donations (which include, for example, PBS science programs) nor can one say that every personal opinion either brother has is a source of particular efforts at promotion on their part. My mother had lots of opinions, but all of her involvement in local politics had to do with one limited set of civic issues.

    What’s more, the complainers do not distinguish between economics as a social research discipline (i.e. positive social science), the normative questions which guide social research, and the principles which evaluate the costs and benefits associated with various ways of proceeding (informed by economics as a discipline). Come to think of it, the people usually prating about Catholic Social Teaching (TM) seldom do this either. The Pope himself has been known (in his too numerous to count off-the-cuff press interviews) to use nonsense terms derived from polemical literature. Very little teaching going on there.

  • “have tended to be generically libertarian (which, by the way, is inconsistent with any sort of ‘anti-discrimination’ law, no matter who the clientele are supposed to be. ”

    Which is why libertarianism is such a pile of nonsense. It amounts to putting lipstick on the pig of “might makes right” and pretending one has a right to persecute and attack others under the color of law.

    It completely undermines the purpose of civil liberties by pretending to extol them. Civil liberties are the protection of those outside the political majority from having their basic (what are supposed to be inalienable) rights voted away by more powerful political majority.

    If the school wants the money, they are welcomed to whatever implications it brings either positive or negative. Accepting or rejecting money from a public figure means in the eyes of the public accepting or rejecting the views of said figure.

  • Which is why libertarianism is such a pile of nonsense. It amounts to putting lipstick on the pig of “might makes right” and pretending one has a right to persecute and attack others under the color of law.

    He says while hiring lawyers to harass merchants minding their own business.

    Larry, in the adult world, there is only one sort of person who fancies they are ‘persecuted’ or ‘attacked’ by someone else’s refusal to do business with them (for all the reasons people have): narcissistic jerks.

  • Minding their own business? Try breaking laws, committing tortious acts and tying up open commerce with their petty uncivil conduct

    In the adult world, if an act is bad in of itself, claiming a religious privilege to it doesn’t make it any more acceptable. Refusing business based on personal prejudices isn’t any acceptable behavior whether you claim it is in the name of God or just because you “don’t like their kind” .

  • These hefty donations from the Koch hydra are little more than attempts to sway the public’s image of them as cold-blooded plutocrats, and that’s why people view their “charity” with skepticism.

    A donation made to a religious cause or charity means nothing when it comes from them; money is their god.

  • Chris,

    It is much worse than you seem to realize.

    They donate to the Catholic Church because religion is part of how dictatorships happen.

    The Koch Brothers want the same thing the Church does.

    To crush Separation of Church and State. Once that happens, the Church and the State will be one and profits will be limitless.

    The Koch Brothers are at war with liberals.
    That is their religion.

    There are not in it for money, but for power to reshape America into their vision of a Christian Happy Land – and in their profound ignorance and their big money they will create a dictatorship.

    Last year’s Hobby Lobby case is a tiny microcosm of what America must prepare for. We are heading into a Theocracy.

    This is why I say “Quit religion while you are still free to do so”.
    Religion and money are the most dangerous combination.

    ____
    AM
    For

  • Yes. The Koch Brothers are part of the vast world-wide conspiracy whereby the secret cabal surrounding the Papacy will one day rule the world, instituting a massive theocracy (the Pope himself is just a puppet, everyone knows). They will take away your porn, your drugs, and make you read the Bible *all the time*. Frankly, given their success so far, your best bet is to load up and head for a bunker in the mountains. The Papal flag (which you have to admit is pretty cool looking) will be flying from the Capital dome any day now.

  • It won’t make any difference whatsoever how much $$$$ they contribute since God’s kingdom or heavenly government will soon put an end to all human forms of rule and rule in their stead (Daniel 2:44), as well as all of mankind’s corrupt, selfish and greedy systems (including economic ones). Amen when that happens!!

  • Max,

    The only true “theocracy” is a government or rule by God. Man’s governments will never be a theocracy (even though they try to convince us otherwise!) since they want to rule instead of God and “do their own thing” (they really prefer this!!) and do what is best in their own eyes (and not in God’s eyes), for their own selfish interests and not for the best interests of the masses.

    Church and State should be separate and apart, but they have been “buds” for ages! Eventually, State shall turn on Church; it will be verrrrrry interesting to see the result of that clash!!!

  • They do not fund just Catholic groups. They fund any organizations that are moving along the same religious and politically conservative path. The Kock brothers do fund many religious institution projects, academic departments, and political-religious fellow-traveler groups. Their goal has been expressed many times by their corporate and non-profit agencies. They simply want everyone to recognize their religious objectives and fall in line. There’s no mystery here. The Supreme Court has made it easy for them and others like them. The Court has recognized corporations as people in the Citizens United decision. The Kock brothers and their wealthy cohorts can and will monetarily overwhelm the rest of us. They own the Congress. There are no stoppers for their money directed votes. Sarcasm about what these billionaires have accomplished to our detriment and their plans for the future is just sad.

  • People have been saying that the end times are just arund the corner for two millenia. So far, score the inerrant Bible with a zero for prediction. There have been events interpreted as signs of the Armageddon found in every age by the people willing to believe fairy stories. Inerrant Bible — Nuts!

  • The end of this wicked era will come about at God’s timeline, not man’s. Of course, man always wants things done yesterday; nothing new there!

    Jesus provided the signs of when we humans would know that it was near (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21).

    A most important sign is the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom (Daniel 2:44) as the only hope for man on earth before the end comes (Matthew 24:14.

    People need to know what the future holds. The fulfillment of these signs is being realized now, and will be “completely” fulfilled (Revelation 21:3,4) just like other Bible prophecies in the past have come true.

  • Charles, you make no sense.

    Yes, people have spent the last two millennia saying the end is nigh…..The fact that everything is still here obviously proves they were wrong.

    But how does the fact that they were wrong prove the Bible is wrong?

    One thing has nothing to do with the other.

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