During the Reagan administration, I served as staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere. I spent most of my time dealing with Latin American policy, especially the Communist subversion going on in Central America. Visitors came by my office to lobby all the time, among them representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). One of them was a Franciscan friar who is now the cardinal-archbishop of Boston, Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap.
Other "Catholic" groups, lay and religious, came by as well, predominantly on the Left. Some of them were professional agitators. That was not uncommon — I was on Capitol Hill, after all. I recall one priest from North Carolina bragging with a laugh that he only wore his collar when he was lobbying Congress or buying a car.
And I saw nuns — lots of nuns. They flooded Capitol Hill. They always wore habits and were usually accompanied by a male minder. Many of them were sent to me by Senate staffers on both sides of the aisle, grateful that I'd meet with them.
Word got around pretty quickly that I would be glad to talk to all the holy rollers who wanted to complain about Reagan's policies, so they became part of my daily routine.
Central America was always on the policy agenda, and I traveled there often. Each time, I made it a point to speak with every religious group I could find. Early on, I was surprised to discover that I was the only American official who had met every bishop in El Salvador. The visits were sometimes difficult, but worth it.
Again and again, throughout the region, bishops had one observation in common. They said that their brother bishops in the United States were on the wrong side of the ongoing wars, even siding with the Communists.
Moreover, America's bishops wouldn't listen to their fellow bishops south of the border. When asked why our bishops would be so callous, Cdl. Obando y Bravo of Nicaragua wryly said, "Maybe they aren't getting their mail."
The cardinal later told me he had to sleep in a different house every night because Nicaragua's communist Sandinistas were trying to kill him.
Finally, I decided I'd heard enough, and I did what I thought any layman in my position should do. I called the office of the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C. and made an appointment to meet with the nuncio to tell him what I'd seen and heard.
When I arrived for the appointment, an American priest, the nuncio's secretary, met with me (the nuncio was "not available"). He listened respectfully, stone-faced, scarcely saying a word. He then showed me to the door.
After that visit, things changed — but not like I thought they would. Suddenly, I had no visitors from the bishops' conference. At the time, of course, the bishops were in high gear attacking Reagan's policies, and their lobbyists were "working the Hill" all the time. But they never lobbied me — a Catholic staff director of the most vital Senate committee dealing with the issue.
When I saw that nothing was going to change, I coordinated with a foreign policy think tank to sponsor visits to Washington by bishops from all over Central America. Democrats, as well as Republicans, met with us and expressed their gratitude — and often, their surprise. Liberal Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas congratulated me after one emotional meeting.
"Let's work together on this," he said, shaking my hand.
Folks, that kind of thing didn't happen very often. After all, Tsongas and my pro-life boss, Sen. Jesse Helms, were seldom on the same page.
We took one of our visitors, Msgr. Freddy Delgado, the president of El Salvador's bishops' conference, to meet with Baltimore Abp. William Borders in his chancery office. When we finally said, "Your Excellency, we've got to go to the airport," the archbishop told us, "I'll take him myself. I need to find out more. My staff hasn't told me any of this before!"
In fact, that was a very common reaction to our visits. Only recently have I found out why.
The diplomatic priest-secretary with whom I had met at the nunciature in Washington that day was Fr. Blase Cupich.
Who was running the bishops' conference in those days? Well, Chicago Cdl. Joseph Bernardin, and he was the most powerful prelate in the country. His ally, Robert Lynch, had started working at the National Council of Catholic Bishops (today's USCCB) in the early 1970s.
When I visited the nunciature, Lynch was serving as an associate general secretary of the bishops' conference. He eventually assumed the top spot and ran the conference until Cdl. Bernardin died in 1996. A year later, Lynch was made bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, where he had to pay an adult male employee in excess of $100,000 to settle a sexual harassment suit.
Put the pieces together: Gay-friendly Cdl. Bernardin and Fr. Cupich; radical liberal and homosexual Fr. Lynch at the USCCB. I'm convinced that Cupich didn't tell the nuncio a thing.
Instead, I think he got on the phone to Lynch at the conference as soon as I walked out the nuncio's door, warning him: "Keep clear of this guy. He's trouble." So what if I worked for the most pro-life senator on Capitol Hill? That wasn't nearly so important to the sodomite syndicate as pushing their left-wing agenda was.
In the years that followed, our office never had another visitor from the U.S. bishops' conference. The bishops' "Lavender Underground" had an agenda then, and they have one now. And Blase Cupich has been a key player for some 40 years.