Editor’s Note: Part 4 of this series chronicled the honoring of pro-abortion and pro-homosexualist politicians by the California Catholic Conference and the softening of pro-life and pro-family messages to public officials. This week’s story tells what happens when the bishops’ conference is confronted with lay men and women who try to enlist the Church’s help in changing public policy.
Full disclosure: the president of the non-profit California Catholic Daily, Jim Holman, was one of the pro-life donors and volunteers who worked on the five attempts to pass parental notification initiatives.
In 1987 the California legislature passed a law requiring parental consent for an abortion to be performed on a minor. Governor George Deukmejian, a Republican, signed it into law. But it was never enforced. After lengthy court battles, the law was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1997.
In the fall of 2001, Assemblyman Bill Campbell from Orange County led an effort to put a state initiative on the 2002 ballot requiring parental notification for a minor’s abortion. The California Catholic Conference assisted Campbell with the effort. David Pollard, associate director for public policy for the conference, coordinated signature gathering at the parishes.
The Los Angeles archdiocese was a gaping hole in those parish efforts – reports showed no petitions were circulated in LA. By January 2002 it was obvious that the effort had fallen far short of the total signatures required. (Pollard was fired by his boss Ned Dolejsi in February 2003, allegedly because of cutbacks caused by the pedophilia crisis.)
Throughout 2003 California pro-life leaders talked among themselves about re-starting the effort of putting parental notification on the ballot. At least three major donors were recruited to help fund the paid signature segment. (In California, the high number of signatures required means that it is virtually impossible to gather enough signatures only from volunteers.)
Unfortunately the donor charged with vetting the initiative language made a crucial error – his legal advisors had cobbled together language for a constitutional amendment but included text from the consent law that made the amendment null and void. The nation’s constitutional expert on parental notification, Teresa Collett, warned against going forward. The donor tried to mollify other pro-lifers, saying that “the courts would sort it out.”
The California Catholic Conference joined the effort with the disputed text and urged signature gathering at the parishes throughout early 2004. Philanthropist Howard Ahmanson Jr. provided the $150,000 that was spent on paid signatures. Very few petitions were circulated at parishes, and the effort failed.
With the help of Teresa Collett and Catherine Short of California’s Life Legal Defense Foundation, a constitutional amendment was filed with the secretary of state in mid-2004 and signatures were gathered in late 2004 and early 2005.
But the California Catholic Conference was cool to the effort. On February 12, 2005, Carol Hogan, Dolejsi’s assistant at the CCC, issued a memo regarding the Parental Notification Initiative. “…due to the abnormally high number of initiatives seeking to qualify for November, which makes the cost of paid signature-gathering prohibitive, and the anticipated high hurdle of an expensive public education campaign to pass the PNI into law, the Conference had decided to refrain at this time from issuing a public letter of support,” Hogan wrote in the memo.
On January 10, 2005, Hogan wrote to Robert Sassone, author in 1997 of Handbook on Population. “Unless they [parental notification initiative sponsors] have $20 million to get it passed – it will fail at the ballot – and set back the cause a decade,” wrote Hogan. “I don’t think they have $20 million. It is not enough to get the signatures. Planned Parenthood et al will spend $50 million to defeat it – and if they can cast it as a curb on abortion rights they (PP) will win.”
With no cooperation from the Catholic Conference, private donors and volunteers were still able to get the required number of signatures for the special election called by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for November 2005. In spite of being outspent 5 to 1, parental notification, known as Proposition 73, got 47.2% Yes votes to 52.8% No votes. As it turned out, all of the eight initiatives in the special election went down to defeat. Prop 73 had the least financial support, but got the highest number of Yes votes.
Pro-life donors and volunteers made another effort in 2006. Led by the Catholic Conference, bishops strongly discouraged signature gathering at the parishes. Heavily outspent by opponents, Prop 85, as the 2006 proposition was labeled, received 45.8% Yes votes to 54.2% No votes.
A 2008 effort to put parental notification on the ballot ran into even stiffer resistance from the Catholic Conference.
In a February 2008 memo to pastors and others, Monterey Bishop Richard Garcia noted that the “CCC is not endorsing the gathering signatures for Sarah’s Law.”(Sarah’s Law, or Proposition 4, was the 2008 parental notification initiative.)
On March 10, 2008, Monsignor Royale Vadakin, the LA archdiocese’s vicar general, sent out a memo to all pastors saying: “the Conference (CCC-Ned Dolejsi) does not have the human or financial resources to actively participate in the ballot qualification effort. Thus, it is the policy of the bishops to formally endorse initiatives only after they are qualified for the ballot. Consistent with that policy, our archdiocese is not organizing signature gathering campaigns.”
According to an April 24 article published in the San Francisco Faith, Dolejsi made this policy explicit: “Until an initiative qualifies, said Dolejsi, “it is an idea of an individual or a group of individuals,” not “officially part of the public debate.” When an initiative, following qualification, becomes part of that debate, the conference must consider its “moral significance.” But there are “other important assessments,” such as an initiative’s “political viability,” said Dolejsi.
Some initiative proposals are “good causes and have organized appropriately to be successful,” said Dolejsi. “Unfortunately, some others may be under funded, poorly organized and/or politically untenable.”
When “an issue is publicly before the people or the legislature for public debate, the bishops’ conference assumes the responsibility to offer guidance directly to Catholics about the moral importance of the issue and to present the Church’s wisdom,” said Dolejsi. “The bishops have consistently done this on every significant proposal in the last decade.”
Undaunted, donors and volunteers got the signatures needed to put parental notification on the November 2008 ballot. Though outspent by Planned Parenthood and its allies 15 to 1, Proposition 4, as the measure was called that year, came the closest ever to winning — 48% Yes votes to 53% No.
After this near-win (and because of the victory of the Prop 8 protect marriage initiative on the same ballot), pro-lifers approached the newly appointed archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, in August, 2010.
Archbishop Gomez, in a series of meetings in 2010 and early 2011, agreed to support parental notification and encourage signature gathering at the parishes – inside and outside the churches. At one meeting on March 25, 2011, he told pro-lifers, “I will get the other bishops on board.” As the meetings progressed throughout 2011, however, Archbishop Gomez seemed to adopt the earlier language of Dolejsi and the California Conference, saying the bishops would need to be assured that there was financial support, a wide coalition, and a professional campaign consultant hired before he and other bishops would help out.
One noteworthy incident occurred in one of the final meetings of 2011. Archbishop Gomez asked the lay people pushing the parental notification initiative to produce a Power Point presentation, which he could use at an upcoming bishops meeting in November 2011. The pro-lifers used the existing research, hired professional artists and Power Point experts, and sent a polished Power Point presentation to the archbishop and to Dolejsi.
After the bishops met, Dolejsi shared a version of the Power Point presentation he had edited for the bishops. The strong arguments in favor of the proposed initiative had been weakened, and the case against going forward strengthened. In fact, the page showing a “vulnerable” Planned Parenthood had been changed to show Planned Parenthood with assets of close to a trillion dollars, the amount of a small nation’s assets.
In August 2010, a parental notification initiative passed in Alaska with open-hearted and explicit help from Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz. A portion of the PowerPoint presentation prepared by backers of the California initiative told the story of this 2010 success. But it was deleted from the version the Catholic Conference showed at the November bishops’ meeting.
In late January 2012, two months after the five-month window for collecting signatures had opened, there was an announcement by the Catholic Conference that they would be supporting the ACLU-backed Death Penalty and the lay-sponsored Parental Notification initiatives. Several bishops issued letters to the faithful in their dioceses encouraging signature collection in parishes.
But the bishops’ encouragement was stymied by those who were supposed to work for them. In February 2012, Dolejsi worked with California Conference attorney James Sweeney to develop “Do” and “Don’t Do” rules for gathering signatures. Pastors were warned that they might be criminally prosecuted for any election law violations associated with signature gathering. Volunteers were warned not to pass out petitions to parishioners and by no means was any parish employee to be involved in gathering signatures. It was also strongly recommended that parishes spend no money on the effort, and, if they did, meticulous records had to be kept.
By the deadline in May 2012, it was clear that the bishops’ support had been so weakened by California Catholic Conference staff that it meant little in the end. The number of volunteer signatures gathered (200,000 out of the 1.2 million necessary) with support from the California bishops was the same as the number of volunteer signatures gathered in 2008 with open opposition from the bishops.
Just as important, as early as November 2011, potential donors to the parental notification initiative began to express misgivings, saying they got the feeling that the promised support from the bishops was not forthcoming. Donations dried up.
Next week: Part 6: the costs
To read previous parts of this series, click below:
Part 1: the years before
Part 3: a layman takes over
Part 4: blurred vision