If President Bush seems to have gone well out of his way two weeks ago to welcome and host Pope Benedict XVI during the papal visit to Washington, D.C., perhaps Deal Hudson can take some of the credit.
Bush raised eyebrows when he decided to travel to the airport to greet the pope on arrival, then held a gala event with 12,000 guests on the White House lawn for the pope's 81st birthday, and finally hosted a state dinner for him in the East Room of the White House, although the pontiff had another engagement and missed it.
"I helped make the president Catholic-friendly," said Hudson, who spent almost six years on Bush's campaign and then time in the White House as the adviser on Roman Catholic issues. Hudson, 58, a Presbyterian turned Baptist turned Catholic, recently published "Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States." In the book, he shows how the two large factions, Roman Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, despite clear differences and historical issues, converged as political allies because of shared core beliefs, especially those dealing with family. He discusses scores of influential people in American religion and politics who have helped shape events in the past three decades, such as the campaign to defeat 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a Roman Catholic; the rise of the Moral Majority, and the impact of such faith leaders as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson.
"The basic hub of all issues is the defense of the family," Hudson said in a phone interview from Fairfax, Va. "It is not about abortion or anything - it is about the family, and that is precisely why the movement is not going away."
Hudson burst with pride on April 16 when Pope Benedict was greeted by the huge crowd, larger than one for Queen Elizabeth II's visit. Bush loves Catholics, Hudson said. "That is why he took this very historical step of going out to Andrews Air Force Base. That was from the heart. He didn't have to do it." It made "perfect sense," he said, because the president has "taken heat for" issues that "Pope John Paul II and Benedict have stood for. They are kind of comrades in arms."
Hudson, who is the former editor of the Catholic monthly Crisis, and now editor of its online version, Insidecatholic.com, said it was former White House adviser Karl Rove who first contacted him in 1998 to invite him to give Texas Gov. George Bush a crash course on Catholic issues. "I was the guy they asked to run the Catholic outreach for the 2000 campaign" after something he had written about Catholic voters caught their eyes. "So Karl Rove called me out of nowhere and asked me to come meet Governor Bush, and I did, and Karl asked me to run the Catholic effort." He said he held a number of meetings with Bush, some lasting up to an hour and a half.
The U.S. Conference of Bishops objected to Hudson being given Catholic outreach adviser status, he said, "but Karl Rove asked me to do it. They wrote a letter to the president saying that only the Conference of Bishops should be talking to the White House about policy issues," he said.
That work moved from the campaign into the White House, through 2004, when Hudson stepped down after the National Catholic Reporter unearthed and published a story about a 1994 sexual encounter between him and a drunken female student while Hudson was a tenured professor at Fordham University, a Jesuit institution in New York City. Hudson resigned and paid a $30,000 settlement. Newsweek columnist Dana Milbank details Hudson's missteps in his own new book, "Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes That Run Our Government."
Asked why seemingly many from the religious conservative movement have fallen from grace because of immoral actions, Hudson said, "You are asking the right guy," albeit 13 years before. "We are susceptible to that, and those of us who publicly espouse positions that we think are morally important, that when we make mistakes and they become public - and we all look like hypocrites."
But he said, "Sometimes it is very lonely in those positions. You get put up so high, and everybody thinks you are so great and happy and enjoying life, when, in fact, you are stretched terribly thin emotionally. You know you are a target, and you feel very vulnerable and lonely."
In his book, Hudson asserts that religious liberals have a strained relationship with voters because of their positions on such issues as abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage. Democrats will regain favor among Catholics and "get a piece of the religious conservative vote" when they break free from the influence of such groups as Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women and the Catholic reform group Call to Action, Hudson said.
"They seem more concerned about race and gender than about families," he said, adding that Republicans consistently "raise issues about culture, the media, the pop culture and music - and the elites laugh at them, but the moms and dads around the country will be nodding in agreement."
Hudson disputes what David Kuo, a former deputy director of White House faith-based initiatives, asserted in his book "Tempting Faith," in which he termed collaboration between the federal government and religious organizations for social services as "political seduction" and a "sad charade to provide political cover to the White House that needed compassion and religion as political tools."
Hudson, in his own book, calls Kuo's charges "on the eve of the 2006 election, a well-timed attempt to drive a wedge between the GOP and evangelicals, but it had no noticeable effect."
In March, Hudson met with the Rev. John Hagee, the Texas Baptist megachurch pastor who has made many critical comments about the Catholic Church. He has called the Roman Catholic Church "the great whore" and a "false cult system" for not standing up to Adolf Hitler in its persecution of the Jews. Hagee's remarks set off a firestorm among Catholics and it was heightened when Hagee endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for president.
Hagee "seemed genuinely perplexed by the label he had acquired," Hudson said in a lengthy recap of the meeting at Insidecatholic.com. He said that meeting, with another planned, "provides a starting point for seeing another side of the man who has become a symbol of anti-Catholicism."
Hudson said he is working with Hagee to fix any rift between evangelicals and Catholics. "I am trying to help him not be seen as anti-Catholic."