The October 2015 document said the Pope’s visit was an opportunity for the two grantees to focus on refugees, migrants, over-incarceration, and immigrant rights “while also bringing new energy into the 2016 presidential conversation.” The February 2016 memo said the funding allowed organizations to maximize the impact of the Pope’s visit to emphasize “the humanity of prisoners, immigrants and the poor.”
The texts suggested this activity would include using the influence of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga and sending a delegation to the Vatican to allow the Pope to “hear directly from low-income Catholics in America.” Cardinal Maradiaga, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, co-ordinates the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis.
Deeply influential, the Open Society Foundations are involved in many domestic and overseas activities.
Their funding for the papal visit efforts supported the work of Faith in Public Life in media framing and public opinion activities, including a poll on Catholic voters, Pope Francis and income inequality. The efforts aimed to secure media coverage for the message that fighting inequality is “pro-family.”
The Open Society Foundations planned to host a November 2015 “Francis effect” briefing for funders including the Ford Foundation that would feature its two grantees, labor unions, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
The February 2016 memo said the funded activity aimed to secure “buy-in of individual bishops to more publicly voice support of economic and racial justice messages” with the aim that this would begin to create, in the memo’s understanding, “a critical mass of bishops who are aligned with the Pope.”
“PICO and FPL have been able to use their engagement in the opportunity of the Pope’s visit to seed their position in the long-term project of shifting the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression,” the memo said.
According to the memo, the Pope invited PICO to help plan the Third World Meeting of Popular Movements.
“Resistance to this inside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been stark, and grantees are engaged in a live fight with a faction of the Church that seeks to curb the Pope’s influence on social justice issues,” the memo claimed.
The documents are not always accurate. The memo erroneously indicated the World Meeting of Popular Movements would take place in 2016, rather than 2017.
It added that Faith in Public Life and PICO can strengthen the foundations’ program goals if they can “shift the U.S. Catholic Church to be a voice on behalf of the poor and communities of color.” The memo said this is a long-term process that is “now underway.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on the story.
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An Open Society Foundations spokesperson responded to CNA Aug. 30, saying, “The Pope has personally championed many of the social justice issues we work on at the foundations. We saw his visit as an opportunity to further discussion and policy debate on those issues.”
The foundations characterized the document leak, which some have attributed to Russian intelligence, as “a symptom of an aggressive assault on civil society and human rights activists that is taking place globally.”
The PICO Network told CNA that the Open Society Foundations was “one of many individuals and foundations” that supported its work on income inequality, immigration reform and criminal justice “highlighted by Pope Francis and championed by the U.S. Catholic Church for many decades.”
“We are pleased that our efforts in conjunction with the Pope’s historic visit to the U.S. helped to share and advance his mission and message about the importance of the Catholic Church and people from all faiths standing with the poor and the powerless,” PICO said.
The network said it continues to work with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the U.S. bishops to advance Catholic Social Teaching. This includes a planned convening of the World Meeting of Popular Movements in the U.S. in 2017.
PICO did not answer questions about the alleged conflict within the U.S. bishops. It said Cardinal Maradiaga has supported its work with Central American faith communities for 10 years and spoke at a PICO launch event for its “Year of Encounter with Pope Francis” in early 2015.