Deal W. Hudson, publisher of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis and a close ally of the Bush White House, has resigned as an adviser to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign because of allegations that he sexually harassed a Fordham University student a decade ago.
Hudson, 54, had been a key player in the Republican Party's effort to attract Roman Catholic voters. Because of his connections to the White House and his friendship with senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, he was widely regarded as a Catholic power broker in Washington.
Hudson announced Wednesday in the online edition of National Review magazine that he was leaving his unpaid position in the Bush campaign because "a liberal Catholic newspaper" was about to publish an investigation detailing "allegations from over a decade ago involving a female student at the college where I then taught."
"No one regrets my past mistakes more than I do," Hudson wrote. But the incident is "now being dug up, I believe, for political reasons," he said.
Spokesmen for Hudson, Rove and the Bush campaign said yesterday that they will have no comment beyond Hudson's statement.
The article that Hudson had anticipated was published yesterday by the weekly National Catholic Reporter. It chronicled how Hudson's once-promising academic career was derailed by the sexual misconduct charge in 1994. The paper's Washington bureau chief, Joseph Feuerherd, denied any political motivation and said in a column that "I went where the story led me."
The alleged victim, Carastona Poppas, was an 18-year-old Fordham freshman who had been in and out of foster homes since age 7. Hudson was her philosophy teacher, a tenured associate professor who had been a Baptist minister before converting to Catholicism.
"He knew I was a ward of the court, without parents, severely depressed, and even suicidal," Poppas told the Catholic newspaper. "He was extremely attentive and genuinely concerned."
That attention allegedly went too far one night in February 1994 when Hudson invited her and several older students to a bar in New York's West Village. They all got drunk, and he had sex with her in his car and office, the paper reported.
According to a sexual harassment lawsuit she filed the following year, Hudson pleaded with her to remain silent and created an "extraordinarily hostile" classroom environment that "emotionally devastated" her. The paper said Hudson settled the lawsuit for $30,000 in 1996 and moved to Washington, where he revitalized Crisis magazine and caught Rove's eye by devising a GOP strategy to target frequent Mass-attending Catholics in the 2000 election.
A spokeswoman for Fordham, Elizabeth Schmalz, issued a statement yesterday saying "sexual harassment is not tolerated" at the Catholic university. Without naming either Hudson or his accuser, she said, "Fordham followed its policy rigorously and initiated an investigation into the matter upon the student's complaint. The professor later surrendered his tenure and left the University."
Hudson is the fourth person involved in outreach to religious groups who has come under intense personal fire in this presidential campaign. The Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson, a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), stepped down Aug. 4 as the Democratic Party's first director of religious outreach. The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights had issued three blistering news releases on her past stands, particularly her support for the removal of "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
A few weeks earlier, Mara Vanderslice, the religious outreach director for Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, stopped speaking to reporters after the Catholic League labeled her "a radical leftist who associates with anti-Catholics."
Hudson himself may have gotten the ball rolling with a column early this year revealing that the moderator of the Catholics for Kerry Web site was an employee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The conference subsequently fired the employee, Ono Ekeh, for using his work computer to make postings to the political Web site.
Ekeh, 34, said yesterday that he sympathizes with Hudson.
"It's come to the point where disagreements about doctrine or ideology have made people consider the other side as bad people," he said. "So it's moved from ideological disagreements to personal disagreements, and that's bound to get destructive."