Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a response from Catholic University.
Fifty prominent Catholic educators have signed a letter protesting Catholic University of America’s recent acceptance of a $1 million grant from a foundation affiliated with the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers, saying the gift sends “a confusing message” that the brothers’ “anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing” of a school created by U.S. bishops.
The letter, whose signers include deans and department heads of Catholic universities, was made public Monday but delivered last week to Catholic University of America President John Garvey and Dean Andrew Abela. It says the Koch brothers’ activism against unions and climate-change science, among other things, is in “stark contrast” to the church’s “traditional social justice teachings.”
Charles and David Koch have given hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative and tea party groups. The grant to Catholic will enable the university’s new School of Business and Economics to recruit and hire four visiting scholars to conduct research on “principled entrepreneurship.”
The protest letter says its authors “commend” the Koch brothers for their gifts related to arts and culture. “However, we must not ignore the stark contrast between the Koch brothers’ public policy agenda and our Church’s traditional social justice teachings.”
The university’s public affairs office issued a strongly worded defense Monday.
“The letter is presumptuous on two counts. First, its authors cast themselves as arbiters of political correctness regarding Charles Koch Foundation grants,” the statement said. “Second they seek to instruct The Catholic University of America’s leaders about Catholic social teaching, and do so in a manner that redefines the Church’s teaching to suit their own political preferences.”
The Koch Foundation grant to support “principled entrepreneurship . . . is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching,” the statement says.
In an interview Monday, Abela said Catholic teaching on economics is general — “at the level of principle” — and is “neither left nor right.” There is a great deal of debate, he said, about how to carry out papal writings when it comes to the economy.
Among the signers of the protest letter are Susan Ross, chairwoman of the theology department at Loyola University Chicago and a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America; Miguel Diaz, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a professor of faith and culture at the University of Dayton; and the Rev. Stephen Privett, president of the University of San Francisco.