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Texts of exchange between Catholic educators in war of words over $1 million Koch gift to university

Catholic University (Photo by Jeffrey Porter/ For The Washington Post) Catholic University (Photo by Jeffrey Porter/ For The Washington Post)

Catholic educators are feuding over a $1 million gift that the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers have given to Catholic University in Washington D.C.

A tough letter,  signed by 50  Catholic educators from across the country, says Catholic University should not have accepted a $1 million gift from the  the right-wing Koch Brothers because they support “anti-government, Tea Party ideology” that “directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues,” and that outsiders may think the school agrees with the Kochs. Catholic University officials  issued a response that slammed the letter, calling it “an effort to manufacture controversy and score political points at the expense” of the school.

Here is the text of the letter (about which my Post colleague Michelle Boorstein wrote in this story). Below that is the text of Catholic University’s response, posted on its website:

Dear President Garvey and Dean Abela,

We congratulate you on the opening of a new business school at The Catholic University of America. This is an opportune time to educate students about the importance of business ethics and global solidarity. Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have raised ethical and moral questions about global financial markets, and emphasize the need for preparing business leaders to not simply serve a profit motive but to serve the common good.

While we understand the challenges of starting a business school during a time of fiscal constraints and restrained philanthropic and government funding, we must raise our serious concerns about a recent $1 million gift the university has accepted from the Charles Koch Foundation. Given the troubling track record the foundation has in making gifts to universities that in some cases include unacceptable meddling in academic content and the hiring process of faculty, we urge you to be more transparent about the details of this grant. Charles and David Koch have an ideological agenda when it comes to shaping the national debate over economics and politics that is not simply academic in nature.

The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship. As you well know, Catholic social teaching articulates a positive role for government, an indispensable role for unions, just tax policies, and the need for prudent regulation of financial markets in service of the common good. We are concerned 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.

While the Koch brothers lobby for sweeping deregulation of industries and markets, Pope Francis has criticized trickle-down economic theories, and insists on the need for stronger oversight of global financial markets to protect workers from what he calls “the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

As Catholic bishops affirm the rights of workers to collectively bargain and organize, the Koch brothers gave generously to Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who stripped public employee unions of their rights to bargain. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by the Vatican, recognizes that unions are “an indispensable element of social life.” In their pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, Catholic bishops emphasized that the Church “fully supports the rights of workers to form unions and other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions….No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself.”

While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops advocates for Medicaid expansion, the Koch brothers’ primary political arm, Americans for Prosperity, has aggressively opposed Medicaid expansion in several states and demonized elected officials who support expansion that will improve the lives of the working poor, pregnant women, the disabled, and seniors in nursing homes. Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States, also has an abysmal environmental record.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with a Koch-affiliated group, Invista, in 2009 that required the company to pay a $1.7 million civil penalty and spend up to an estimated $500 million to correct environmental violations at facilities in seven states. In addition, Koch Industries funds an array of organizations that deny the reality of climate change, which the Vatican and many Catholic leaders around the world have made a central pro-life concern because of the disproportionate impact climate change has on the poor and most vulnerable.

The Koch Foundation does noble philanthropic work as a leading patron of arts and culture. We commend them for these charitable endeavors. However, we must not ignore the stark contrast between the Koch brothers’ public policy agenda and our Church’s traditional social justice teachings. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, Pope Francis writes:

 “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies, which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: ‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.’ A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders.”

It is this “absolute autonomy of the marketplace” that Charles and David Koch are working to achieve. Our Catholic intellectual and social tradition offers an important critique of this vision. We look forward to a productive and civil dialogue with you both on how we can protect the integrity of our Church’s consistent ethic of life teachings.


Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J.


University of San Francisco

(Catholic University of America, ’85)


William A. Barbieri Jr.

Associate Professor

School of Theology and Religious Studies

The Catholic University of America


Ken Pennington

Kelly-Quinn Professor of Ecclesiastical and Legal History

The Catholic University of America

School of Canon Law

The Columbus School of Law


Frederick L. Ahearn, Jr., D.S.W

Ordinary Professor and Co-Chair

Center for International Social Development

National Catholic School of Social Service

The Catholic University of America


William V. D’Antonio

Senior Fellow

Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies

The Catholic University of America


Mary Ann Hindsdale, IHM, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Theology

Boston College

(Catholic University of America, MA ’71)


Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J.

Executive Director

Jesuit Social Research Institute

Loyola University, New Orleans


Rev. Clete Kiley

Director of Immigration Policy

UNITE HERE International Union


Marty Wolfson

Director, Higgins Labor Studies Program

University of Notre Dame


Susan A. Ross

Professor and Department Chair, Loyola University Chicago

Past President, Catholic Theological Society of America


Miguel Diaz

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

University Professor of Faith and Culture

University of Dayton


Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J.

Visiting Scholar (’13), Boston College


Nicholas P. Cafardi

Dean Emeritus

Duquesne University School of Law


Rev. Raymond G. Decker, Ph.D.

Pastor Emeritus, Archdiocese of San Francisco

Steering Committee, Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice


Joseph J. Fahey, Ph.D.

Chair, Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice

Professor of Religious Studies

Manhattan College


Maureen H. O’Connell

Associate Professor and Chair of Religion

La Salle University


Dennis M. Doyle

Professor of Religious Studies

University of Dayton


Thomas Shellabarger

Public Policy Associate

Interfaith Worker Justice


Anthony B. Smith, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Religious Studies

University of Dayton


John Sniegocki

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics

Xavier University (Cincinnati)


Michael Duffy


Joan and Ralph Lane Center for Catholic Studies and Social Thought

University of San Francisco


Terrence W. Tilley

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Chair in Catholic Theology

Fordham University


Francis X. Doyle

Associate General Secretary (retired)

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops


Rev. James Hug, S.J.

President Emeritus

Center of Concern


Eugene McCarraher

Associate Professor of Humanities

Villanova University


Donald C. Carroll

Pres. Law Offices of Carroll & Scully, Inc.

Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice

Adj. Professor of Law

School of Law, Univ. of San Francisco


David O’Brien

Professor Emeritus

College of Holy Cross


Rev. John A. Coleman

Associate Pastor

St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco

Retired Professor, Loyola Marymount University


Padraic O’Hare

Professor of Religious and Theological Studies

Merrimack College


Frederick Glennon, Ph.D.

Professor of Social Ethics and Chair

Department of Religious Studies

Le Moyne College


Paul Misner

Professor Emeritus

Department of Theology

Marquette University


Alex Mikulich

Jesuit Social Research Institute

Loyola University New Orleans


Susan Weisher

Migration Specialist/Fellow

Jesuit Social Research Institute

Loyola University New Orleans


John Inglis

Chair and Professor of Philosophy

Cross-appointed to Department of Religious Studies

University of Dayton


Christopher Pramuk

Associate Professor of Theology

Xavier University (Cincinnati)


Rev. T. Michael McNulty, S.J.

Adjunct Professor of Philosophy

Marquette University


Edward Joe Holland

Professor of Philosophy & Religion

Adjunct Professor School of Law

St. Thomas University, Miami, Fla.

President, Pax Romana


Marian K. Diaz


University of Dayton


Kathleen Mass Weigert

Carolyn Farrell, BVM Professor of Women and Leadership

Loyola University Chicago


Brian M. Doyle, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Theology

Department Chair

Director of Center for Ethical Concerns

Marymount University

Arlington, VA


Dr. Sixto J. Garcia, Ph.D.

Professor of Theology

St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary


John R. Morris, ThD

Lecturer, St. Mary’s College

Promoter of Justice and Peace

Western Dominican Province


David McLoughlin

Former President

Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain


And here’s Catholic University’s response, taken from its website:

Dec. 16, 2013


The letter spearheaded by the organization Faith in Public Life is an unfortunate effort to manufacture controversy and score political points at the expense of The Catholic University of America.


The Catholic University of America has received a commitment of $1 million from the Charles Koch Foundation and $500,000 from the Busch Family Foundation to support research into the role principled entrepreneurship should play in improving society’s well-being. The grant will enable the University’s School of Business and Economics to recruit and hire three visiting scholars from academia and one visiting scholar-practitioner from the business world.


The University controls the search, recruitment, and selection process for all positions funded in the agreement. The University will independently select all faculty and staff related to this grant in accordance with existing University hiring policies. All the activities funded in the grant are related to the core mission of the University to teach and conduct research in service to the Church and the nation.


The Faith in Public Life letter suggests that the University has not been transparent in disclosing details about the Charles Koch Foundation grant. This is puzzling. The University was happy to receive the grant and publicized notice of it in a Nov. 12 press release. It was posted on our website that day and has remained there since then.


The letter is presumptuous on two counts. First, its authors cast themselves as arbiters of political correctness regarding Charles Koch Foundation grants. They judge the Foundation’s support of the arts and culture to be “noble philanthropic work;” its underwriting of grants to universities elicits their “serious concerns.” 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. We are confident that our faculty and academic leadership are well versed in Catholic social teaching and well equipped to apply it. We created a school of business and economics for the express purpose of promoting respect for the human person in economic life, based on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, human dignity, and the common good. The aim of the Charles Koch Foundation grant — to support research into principled entrepreneurship — is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching. On that point the letter’s authors are strangely silent.

The facts bear out a long record of involvement in higher education by the Charles Koch Foundation, without any serious claim of interference with recipients of their funds. For more than three decades the Charles Koch Foundation has been a 501(c) (3) charitable organization (prohibited by law from directly or indirectly participating in political activities). According to its website it currently provides support to more than 270 universities nationwide, including Brown, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern. Twenty-five Catholic colleges and universities, in addition to The Catholic University of America, are on that list. Among the 50 signatories to the Faith in Public Life letter are 15 individuals who list affiliations with colleges and universities that receive Charles Koch Foundation support (San Francisco, Loyola/New Orleans, Notre Dame, Dayton, Duquesne, Villanova, Holy Cross). So widespread and, on balance, non-controversial has been the Foundation’s support for higher education that we wonder whether the 15 signatories realized, before they endorsed the letter, that their institutions are “guilty” of the same association they chastise The Catholic University of America for. And if they were aware of this, we wonder why they apply a different standard to The Catholic University of America than they do to their own institutions.

The grant has not engendered any controversy on our campus. No students, faculty, or staff members have contacted either President John Garvey or Dean Andrew Abela to express concern. Nor has the University’s Board of Trustees voiced any reservations; in fact one of them is working closely with Dean Abela on the grant. The negative attention to the grant has all been externally driven by organizations with a political agenda. Nearly two weeks after the University publicly announced the grant, an organization called Faithful America launched a petition drive in opposition. Faithful America appears to be an affiliate of Faith in Public Life, the organizer of the letter. In recent weeks Faithful America has also launched three separate petition drives against one Catholic bishop and two Catholic cardinals. All have been characterized by harsh, simplistic, and one-sided rhetoric. As for Faith in Public Life, it is telling that after a two-week-long effort to recruit faculty support at Catholic University, it was able to muster the signatures of only three professors, less than one half of one percent of the University’s faculty.

The Catholic University of America welcomes constructive input from all who share an interest in advancing and supporting its mission. It has no intention of revisiting its decision to accept the grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.


Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · December 16, 2013

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