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Issue Date:  August 27, 2004

The Real Deal

How a philosophy professor with a checkered past became the most influential Catholic layman in George W. Bush's Washington


Editor’s note: Deal Hudson announced Aug. 18 that he would be giving up his position with the Republican National Committee in reaction to questions posed by “a liberal Catholic publication.” In recent days, NCR has tried repeatedly to meet with Hudson to get his response to questions about his departure from Fordham University in 1994 following allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a freshman female student. The university said Hudson “surrendered” his tenure. He also paid a settlement of $30,000 to terminate a lawsuit that the student brought against him on the basis of these allegations.

This past March 17, having paid tribute to the saint who drove the snakes from Ireland, George W. Bush -- first lady to his left, Irish prime minister to his right -- bounded off the Roosevelt Room podium. As he began to work the crowd of Irish Americans and Gaelic-wannabes, the president noticed a familiar face, a fellow Texan, among those assembled at the annual St. Patrick’s Day White House gathering.

“Immediately after George Bush spoke,” recalled former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn, “the first person he greeted was Deal Hudson.”

Heady stuff, perhaps, to be the first among the gathered Catholic glitterati to be singled out by the most powerful man in the world. But by now Hudson -- publisher of the conservative Catholic monthly Crisis, Bush political operative, and one-time philosophy professor -- was accustomed to the treatment.

Hudson, a 54-year-old, thrice-married former Baptist minister, is a regular White House visitor, a leading Bush campaign Catholic proxy, and a widely quoted partisan unafraid to use his pen to serve the Bush cause.

In more than two-dozen interviews conducted by NCR over a four-and-a-half-month period, mostly with former friends and Hudson’s ideological kin, a complicated portrait emerged. Though few of those interviewed would speak on the record, many of them painted a far less flattering picture of Hudson than his public moralizing would suggest, and several raised questions about the allegations that ended his academic career.

Still, Hudson does not shy away from the political limelight. In May he told The Washington Post that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry should be denounced from the pulpit “whenever and wherever he campaigns as a Catholic.” Politics and religion fully meshed earlier this year when Hudson led an effort to oust a low level employee, Ono Ekeh, from his job at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for African-American Catholics (NCR, April 23) because Ekeh hosted a “Catholics for Kerry” Web site.

“Look,” wrote Hudson in his widely circulated e-mail column, “it’s one thing for a Catholic to be a pro-life Democrat -- that in itself is a perfectly legitimate position and consistent with our Catholic faith. However, it’s completely unacceptable to follow Ekeh and trade away our pro-life responsibilities.”

Ekeh was forced to resign.

Politics aside, did Hudson have any personal regret that Ekeh, a father of three young children, had lost his job? Not in the least.

“If you’re going to play in the sandbox,” Hudson told NCR, “then you have to take the consequences of your public utterances and your public actions.” In a recent fundraising letter, Hudson pledged that Crisis would be taking “a close [emphasis in original] look at some of the bishops who are allowing their local politicians to get away with” the “deception” of calling themselves Catholic while voting for abortion rights.

“They [the bishops] are scared of him, afraid that he’s going to attack them,” says a leading Republican Catholic layman with close ties to the American hierarchy.

Hudson’s rise to influence and his status as public arbiter of Catholic morals is all the more remarkable given that almost 10 years to the day of the 2004 St. Patrick’s Day celebration, the then-Fordham University philosophy professor stood accused of breaching the bounds of the professor-student relationship. According to documents obtained by NCR, Hudson invited a vulnerable freshman undergraduate, Cara Poppas, to join a group of older students for a pre-Lenten “Fat Tuesday” night of partying at a Greenwich Village bar. The night concluded after midnight in Hudson’s Fordham office, where he and the drunken 18-year-old exchanged sexual favors. The fallout would force his resignation from a tenured position at the Jesuit school, cost him $30,000, and derail a promising academic career.

It threatened public disgrace.

But that was not Hudson’s fate. Instead, he got another chance -- and made the most of it.

* * *

Power in Washington is directly related to access -- the ability to get phone calls taken by influential senators, key cabinet officers, top name journalists, well-wired lobbyists, and, most important, access to that disembodied entity known as the “White House.”

Hudson’s got A-list access.

On Jan. 8 he was in the East Room for a presidential meeting with leaders of the National Catholic Educational Association. Later that month, on the day of the annual antiabortion March for Life, Hudson hosted the kick-off of the Republican National Committee’s “Catholic Outreach” effort, where his leadership was praised by RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie.

The previous month, Hudson joined William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, former Reagan and Bush I speechwriter Peggy Noonan, Kathryn Jean Lopez, associate editor of National Review magazine, and Vincentian Fr. David O’Connell, president of The Catholic University of America, for a Roosevelt Room presidential briefing. On May 26, Hudson was one of nine conservative religion writers who joined Bush in the Oval Office for an interview prior to the president’s meeting with Pope John Paul II.

That’s the Deal Hudson Washington knows. Largely unfamiliar to the capital’s movers and shakers just five years before, he has parlayed his position at the once-sleepy Crisis into significant influence on both church and state. He’s respected by some, feared or disliked by many across the ideological spectrum, but taken seriously by all those who watch Catholic machinations in the capital.

Today, his columns and e-mail missives can get a staff person at the U.S. bishop’s conference removed from a job or force a response from the conference’s general secretary on the bishops’ commitment to support the Federal Marriage Amendment; a year ago, his pique over a meeting between some American bishops and a group of “dissidents” led leaders of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy to spend a day with their conservative critics.

He summarized his relationship with the Bush administration in a November 2003 letter to Crisis magazine supporters: “I continue to lead an informal Catholic advisory group to the White House, as well as communicate with various White House personnel almost every day regarding appointments, policy, and events. These efforts have helped to place faithful, informed Catholics in positions of influence.”

While there’s an element of publisher self-promotion and puffery in Hudson’s letter, he was telling the truth. “He’s probably the most prominent lay Catholic [recognized] by the Bush administration,” says Flynn.

Says a conservative Catholic activist: “The White House has a Catholic strategy and its name is Deal Hudson.”

From his perch at Crisis, Hudson transformed himself into a classic Washington power broker -- counseling the administration on appointments and dispensing opinions from his modest row house basement office in tony Dupont Circle.

It wasn’t his first such transformation.

* * *

Deal Wyatt Hudson was born Nov. 30, 1949, in Denver, the only son of Mildred Emmie Deal (hence the unusual moniker) and Jack Wyatt Hudson. He was raised in Fort Worth, Texas.

It was, Hudson recalled in his 2004 memoir, an “ordinary middle-class upbringing” though, apparently, not without its bumps. In American Conversion, Hudson, by then a philosophy professor at Atlanta’s Mercer University, recalled his first visit to a Catholic confessional.

“We spent much time talking about my parents and my sisters. I had not realized until then how much baggage I had been carrying around since my Forth Worth days. I had always been told a burden would be lifted in confession, but I wasn’t prepared for the demons that were released that day.”

Graduated from Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights High School in the late 1960s, Hudson entered the University of Texas-Austin. “Like all teenagers entering adult life,” recalled Hudson, “I thirsted for the bonds of genuine fellowship to compensate for the kind of disappointment most of us experience in family life. I found this fellowship in a Southern Baptist Church.”

In American Conversion, Hudson describes the summer of 1971. He and a group from Atlanta’s Ridglea West Baptist Church traveled to the Mexican village of San Benito, where he found himself questioning the goal of “converting” the Catholic townspeople. Later that summer, on Aug. 31, Hudson married Nancy Mae Myers, an event that merited no mention in American Conversion.

Hudson pursued his master of divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1970s and was “licensed to preach,” though his doubts about the Baptist approach to things aesthetic was emerging. “Something seemed wrong,” he wrote later, “about a Christian outlook that excluded all the world’s greatest writers and artists from the conversation about truth.”

At Atlanta’s Emory University, Hudson pursued his PhD and served as associate minister at Atlanta’s Druid Hills Baptist Church. He oversaw the youth ministry.

“He ran a fantastic youth group,” recalled John Strickland, a 46-year-old member of Druid Hills who, as a teenager, first encountered Hudson. “He had a very dynamic presence and he cared about the kids,” said Strickland. “He had his hands full” with homework clubs, Sunday school and Bible study, trips, summer Bible school, and socials. The group met in the church’s youth center, dubbed the “upper room.”

The teenagers performed a controversial Christmas play in which Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents was depicted. “The Catholic imagination at that time had grown accustomed to seeing biblical stories embellished by theatrical, often funny and bawdy, treatment,” Hudson wrote. But it was a little much for the more conservative Baptists. “The elders of the church were not used to having that type of thing presented,” agreed Strickland.

Hudson engaged the teenagers in discussions about films and novels -- further raising eyebrows among those Baptists who viewed the Bible as the sole source of genuine wisdom. Later, as chairman of the Mercer University Philosophy Department, and at Fordham, his innovative teaching methods and conservative outlook became a Hudson trademark.

That same dynamism was evident at Emory. At the university’s prestigious Institute of the Liberal Arts, Hudson made his mark. Former classmates recall a charismatic presence -- a gifted conversationalist, first-rate intellect, and a sophisticated charmer. His first marriage dissolved in Atlanta (“She’d just had it with him,” recalled one classmate) and a second marriage was short lived.

Hudson alludes to the time in his 2004 memoir.

“About a year before my [1982] conversion I was jolted by the sudden departure of someone I loved but whose love I had not treated well. The hurt was compounded by my sense of failure. I spent many months in a daze hoping to win her back but without any progress. I was to blame and I knew it.”

Meanwhile, his spiritual journey was leading to Catholicism, one of a particularly orthodox bent. “He was increasingly expressing conservative and right-wing Christian theological positions,” recalls a classmate. Yet Hudson was not only embracing conservative Catholicism, but a belief system that allowed him to explore faith expressed in art, music, philosophy and, not least, literature. Evelyn Waugh, Sigrid Undset, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Georges Bernanos were among the authors he read -- “one after another” -- as he grappled with Catholicism.

But “of all the novelists I read on my way into the church,” wrote Hudson, “none touched me more deeply than Julian Green” whose novels “reflect [the] struggle between sexual desire and the desire for God.”

Hudson was awarded a doctorate in 1979 and joined the faculty at Mercer.

“He was a very fine teacher … because he had some very innovative ideas for engaging his ideas … and students were interested in approaching philosophy and theology through topics that had natural interest to them,” Peter Brown, a 33-year veteran of the Mercer University Philosophy Department told NCR. Hudson, recalled Brown, dared to discuss love and beauty, areas that “professional philosophers quite often don’t think should be dignified” in an academic setting.

Hudson was deeply influenced by French Thomist Jacques Maritain.

“His distinction, drawing upon Aristotle, between the habits of art and prudence allowed me to make an argument to my Southern Baptist students about why they were being asked to read novels such as Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins in my classroom,” wrote Hudson.

Further, recalls Brown, as chairman of the philosophy department Hudson took courageous stands for academic integrity. In a battle over reorganizing the university, Hudson “was not afraid to take the lead with his colleagues or his students” and made sure “that the voice of liberal arts was strongly heard,” said Brown.

Hudson was received into the Catholic church in February 1982.

On May 29, 1987, Fr. Raymond Peacock, assistant pastor of Atlanta’s Christ the King Parish, presided at the wedding of 37-year-old Hudson and Theresa Ann Carver, an actress with a master’s in fine arts from the University of Alabama. Given his marital track record, Hudson later told friends, his father demanded the couple sign a prenuptial agreement.

Hudson received annulments -- the first in 1982, the second in 1986 -- for the two marriages, a Crisis spokesperson told NCR.

* * *

Newly married and recently published (Understanding Maritain: Philosopher and Friend, Mercer, 1988), Hudson joined the Fordham University philosophy department faculty in 1989. He flourished in the South Bronx ivory tower where philosophy is not an afterthought or elective, but an essential element of the Jesuit core curriculum.

Hudson’s academic stock was rising. He published two books (The Future of Thomism, Notre Dame, 1992; Sigrid Undset On Saints and Sinners, Ignatius, 1994). As a fellow at the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, he wrote introductions to reprints of Mortimer Adler’s The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes (Fordham, 1993) and The Time of Our Lives: The Common Sense of Ethics (Fordham, 1995). He received tenure and taught part-time at New York University.

Some recall tensions -- Hudson was perhaps the most theologically and politically conservative member of the moderate-to-liberal dominated department. Others, however, found him engaging and friendly with a sharp mind and quick wit and a Southern-style flirtatiousness (he occasionally wore a Stetson hat to class) that charmed. He and his wife became part of the Fordham circle -- socializing at their Mount Vernon home or at those of his faculty colleagues, sharing intimacies and intellectual interests as well as university gossip. He was popular with students.

And then, in early 1994, it began to fall apart.

In January of that year Cara Poppas signed up for a Hudson philosophy class.

An 18-year-old freshman from Portland, Maine, Poppas had been in and out of foster homes from the age of 7. The fourth of nine children, her mother an alcoholic and her father a troubled and disabled Vietnam veteran, Poppas had a difficult childhood.

“I will not go into all of the negative issues, times, situations, etc.,” her high school guidance counselor told Fordham in support of her application to the university, “but rest assured that they were indeed the most trying of situations where the greater majority of those who find themselves in these types of situations often stumble and fall and are then consumed.”

Poppas barely survived her first semester in the South Bronx. She had followed her high school boyfriend to Fordham but they broke up that fall. Her grades were terrible.

She returned home to Portland for Christmas break and in January returned to the Bronx, struggling but determined to succeed in the new year.

Ten years later, the slight and athletic Poppas, during a June 30 interview in her hometown, recalled that she signed up for Hudson’s class because it met the requirements of Fordham’s extensive core curriculum. Initially, she loved the class -- sitting in the front row, actively engaging in discussions. It was a bright spot at a difficult time.

In early February 1994, class concluded, she approached Hudson with a question. He suggested, she said, that they go to his office and discuss it.

“I told him everything about me,” Poppas recalled in a four-page document she provided to Fordham administrators at the conclusion of the semester. “He knew I was a ward of the court, without parents, severely depressed, and even suicidal. I discussed with him why I had lost my faith in God, in humanity, and in myself. He was extremely attentive and genuinely concerned.”

On Feb. 15, “Fat Tuesday,” Poppas again visited Hudson at his office.

“He was in high spirits, telling me of how he had searched far and wide for the best marguerite [sic] in town,” Poppas wrote. Hudson would be meeting a group of NYU students at Tortilla Flats, a popular West Village bar where, according to a current review, “friendly waiters sometimes surprise you with free shots of tequila.”

Would Poppas care to join him?

“I was very reluctant,” wrote Poppas, who, at age 18, was still three years shy of the legal drinking age. “I knew I would be the youngest, as well as the newcomer to their frequent gatherings,” she wrote. “He promised not to tell the others my age. I decided to go.”

Poppas arrived at approximately 6 p.m.

“Five of us sat around the table, Dr. Hudson definitely controlling the conversation. … Dan (young man from the NYU class) was told to be ready with a lighter to light any lady’s cigarette when she wanted to smoke … Jay (another young man from the NYU class) had to make sure all glasses remained full from the marguerite [sic] pitcher.”

The party progressed. More people arrived. The festive crowd played Bingo -- a Tortilla Flats Tuesday night tradition. “Being that our group consisted of about 10 people, we won most often. Shots of tequila would be brought in rounds to our winning table. We kept winning, and rounds of shots kept being brought.”

“As we grew more and more drunk, stranger and stranger things began to occur,” wrote Poppas. Hudson had his arms around two NYU students, said Poppas. “Dr. Hudson was heavily French kissing both girls, alternating from one to the other … ”

One of the NYU students, wrote Poppas, suggested “body shots” -- where “a girl places the salt on her neck, and the lime in her breasts. Then, the guy tastes the salt from the neck, takes the shot, and eats the lime from the girl’s cleavage. Dr. Hudson performed a body shot with [one of the NYU students].”

The group left the bar around midnight.

Arms locked, drunk and staggering, they dispersed. Hudson and Poppas took a cab to the Metro North train station, headed, she thought, back to Fordham.

“I was completely in Dr. Hudson’s hands,” recalled Poppas. “Not only was I unable to stand up, I had no idea as to how to get home.”

In the taxi “Dr. Hudson began pulling me close,” according to Poppas.

“On the train, he began to feel my breasts outside my sweater and coat. We missed the Fordham stop (I’m not sure whether on purpose or not). We went to his house, he put me in his car, and he went up to tell his wife he was bringing a student back to Fordham.”

Once in the car, said Poppas, “Dr. Hudson told me to lay my head on his lap, suggesting fellatio when he unzipped his zipper. I did both. I sat up and said ‘Hold on a second, wait just a minute…’ He replied ‘Yes, let’s wait till we get to my office.’ ”

At Fordham, “He took me into his office, laid his long coat down, and laid me down on top of it. He began touching me, unzipping my jeans and pulling up my shirt. I was just glad to be laying down, I could barely feel my body.”

Hudson performed a sexual act on Poppas. He asked her to reciprocate, which she did. “Then he took me to Sesqui, my dorm,” recalled Poppas.

The next day, Poppas continued, Hudson telephoned and asked her to lunch. He took her to McDonald’s in the South Bronx.

“He told me … not to tell anyone, which I promised to. In my eyes, I was the one who had done wrong. I was the one who had acted disgustingly.”

Following the short Easter break, Poppas -- ashamed, angry, and confused -- returned to her usual seat at the front of Hudson’s class, having told no one about the Fat Tuesday incident.

The class, recalled Poppas’ friend and classmate Colleen Freda, was reading Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome, a sexually explicit novel. Freda thought it strange, if harmless, that Hudson wanted the students to read particularly graphic passages aloud in class, she told NCR. Poppas, however, thought Hudson was sending not-so-subtle messages right at her.

Poppas stopped attending Hudson’s class and, for that matter, most of her other classes. She spent hours curled up in her bed -- not confiding the reason for her downward spiral to Freda or other friends, she told NCR. Hudson, said Poppas, was trying to contact her -- calling on the phone, sending notes back to the dorm. Poppas hid.

Eventually, Poppas confided the “Fat Tuesday” episode to a faculty member who advised her to inform Fordham’s administration about Hudson’s conduct.

On April 28, 1994, Poppas met with Jesuit Fr. Joseph McShane, the college dean (and now the university’s president). McShane appeared sympathetic and, Poppas recalled, gave every indication that he believed her story. He told her the university would deal with Hudson once the semester concluded, said Poppas. Poppas was asked to write a detailed description of what had transpired between her and Hudson. On May 9, she submitted that document to the university counsel.

The semester concluded, Poppas met with university president Fr. Joseph O’Hare. He asked her, she recalled, how the situation could be rectified. “One of us should have to leave,” responded Poppas, “and it shouldn’t be me.” O’Hare told her, she recalled, that he would take care of the situation.

“Sexual harassment is not tolerated at Fordham University,” the school’s assistant vice president for public affairs, Elizabeth Schmalz, said in a July 2004 statement provided to NCR. “It subverts the mission of the University and threatens the well-being, educational experiences and careers of students, faculty and staff. It is especially disturbing in the context of a teacher-student relationship.”

Continued Schmalz: “Fordham followed its policy rigorously in this case and initiated an investigation into the matter upon receipt of the student’s complaint. The professor later surrendered his tenure at Fordham.”

Hudson declined NCR’s request to comment on his relationship with Poppas, saying Aug. 13 through a spokesperson that he “left Fordham to become the publisher and editor of Crisis magazine in Washington, and expressed to various [Crisis] board members his desire to move his family south and try a career outside academia.”

In response to additional questions from NCR, Hudson, in an Aug. 18 e-mail, said through an aide: “The matter about which you have inquired has been satisfactorily resolved between all parties and we have agreed that no more may be said about it.” That same day, writing on the National Review Web site Hudson released his response to this story, which was still being written.

He refused to meet with an NCR reporter to answer questions personally.

* * *

Michael Novak, an intellectual leader of Catholic neoconservatives, along with University of Notre Dame professor of medieval studies Ralph McInerny, launched Catholicism in Crisis in 1982. The publication provided a voice for conservative critics of the American hierarchy at a time when the U.S. bishops’ conference was preparing pastoral letters on war and the economy.

As the American bishops moved to the left politically, Crisis (as the name would eventually be shortened to) argued the morality of nuclear deterrence, supported Ronald Reagan’s policies in Central America, and defended U.S.-style capitalism against its critics.

Theologically, Crisis was conservative, backing Pope John Paul II and critical of those whose interpretations of the Second Vatican Council differed from those offered by Rome. Over the years, the magazine’s contributing editors and publication committee would become a who’s who of conservative Catholicism: papal biographer George Weigel, Nurturing Network president Mary Cunningham Agee, former drug czar William Bennett, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, CEO J. Peter Grace, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Thomas Melady, Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, novelist Walker Percy, former Treasury Secretary William Simon, and political activist Paul Weyrich among them.

Despite this illustrious pedigree, the magazine was near financial ruin on any number of occasions. For all his theoretical support for capitalism, Novak was no businessman. “Emergency dinners” and frantic appeals to supporters to keep the publication afloat were common. The strains of piecing together 11 issues a year had grown tiresome, he told friends, as was the constant need to raise funds to keep the small-circulation magazine afloat. (Novak declined to comment for this article).

That’s where Hudson entered the picture.

“I think I’ve got someone who can make it work,” Novak told a leading Catholic lay person in 1994. Hudson became senior editor in October 1994, editor in March 1995.

* * *

While Hudson was taking over the reigns at Crisis, Cara Poppas consulted an attorney. Arriving back at Fordham for the fall semester, she discovered that the bulk of her financial aid had been withdrawn due to poor academic performance. She was broke.

Poppas blamed her downward academic spiral on the incident with Hudson.

She filed suit against Fordham (a claim that was eventually dismissed) and Hudson. Hudson, recalled Poppas, offered $10,000 to settle his case. She refused.

In early 1996, Hudson offered to settle for $30,000, one-third of which would go immediately to her attorney, the remainder to her in quarterly installments. Poppas’ attorney suggested she take the deal. She agreed.

* * *

Hudson, meanwhile, moved quickly to transform Crisis. Though the publication’s message would remain the largely the same, it took on a more professional air.

Under the tutelage of National Review publisher Edward A. Capano, Hudson learned the publishing business. The former philosophy professor had, it seemed, an untapped entrepreneurial streak.

He secured support from the right-leaning Bradley and Scaife foundations that would total more than six figures; Domino’s Pizza, owned by conservative Catholic activist Tom Monahan, signed up for 1,000 subscriptions.

Hudson further boosted circulation through improved professional direct mail solicitations and raised the magazine’s profile by hosting radio and television programs on the Eternal World Television Network. The drably designed monthly became a four-color glossy and established an Internet presence.

Fundraising was no longer a matter of last-ditch solicitations to stave off financial disaster, but a series of well planned and well-attended “partnership dinners,” golf outings, and cruises.

Hudson hosted an annual Crisis cruise -- subscribers got the opportunity to hobnob with Catholic celebrities such as Novak, Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, the Catholic League’s Donohue, former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, political consultant and former Christian coalition president Ralph Reed, and Franciscan University of Steubenville chancellor Fr. Michael Scanlan.

The number of paid staff increased from three to 10. Ownership of the publication was transferred to the Morley Institute, a nonprofit created by Hudson and named after Lucile Morley, a Hudson great aunt who encouraged his youthful interest in philosophy. Today, circulation stands at approximately 27,000, up from 6,500 when Hudson took over a decade ago, and the $1.8 million budget is nearly four times its 1994 counterpart.

Some former staff members recall an exciting and busy time.

“I think what impressed me about Deal was his ability to work quickly and very well,” recalled Gwen Purtill, an early Hudson hire who served as the magazine’s art director. “He could do in a couple of hours what it would take a lot of people days to do,” said Purtill. “We were always trying to pin him to his chair to get an answer out of him, because he was always on the go.”

Through it all, Hudson wrote. His monthly “Sed Contra” column led each issue of the magazine.

A sampling:

  • “Catholics who consider themselves moderate are being duped by the rhetorical evasions, the liberal masquerade, of postmodern dissidents.”
  • “Multiculturalism as it is being practiced promises to be more exclusionary and more prejudicial than any form of education the West has ever known.”
  • “Golf remains the only major sport to resist the thug element infiltrating our public life.”
  • “The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of 30 years ago.”

At the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandals, Hudson took on Bill Clinton.

“Over and over again, we hear on the talk shows that we shouldn’t hold the president to a ‘higher standard.’ I would argue quite the opposite. … Those who are not willing to bear the burden of these higher standards should not seek office. … After we have stripped away all idealism from offices that bind our culture together -- president, father, husband -- what will be left for us to aspire to? Who will want to sacrifice personal desires for public responsibilities?”

Of his daughter’s reactions to the scandal, Hudson wrote that “she is being imbued with the lie that a person’s private conduct makes no difference to the execution of their public responsibilities. It’s this lie, alive in our culture of death, that has shaped the character of Bill Clinton and encouraged the moral softness in all of us.”

In 1998, Hudson invested $75,000 of Crisis funds to conduct a poll on the political attitudes of American Catholics. That investment transformed him into a significant political player in Washington -- a man who had the ear of both the president and Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist.

* * *

The essential finding of the survey was that regular Mass attendees were more likely to vote Republican than those who attended less often or not at all. Such Catholics, wrote Hudson of the frequent churchgoers, “were found to be moving out of the Democratic Party, where they had long been entrenched, and instead becoming the swing voters in any given election.”

Hudson shopped the poll results around to that year’s crop of Republican presidential candidates. Only Rove took an interest. Hudson was summoned to Austin and briefed then-governor George W. Bush on the findings.

“These Catholics are attracted to the ideas of compassionate conservatism: work permits for immigrants, protection of the unborn, tuition vouchers for schoolchildren,” Hudson wrote later. “They want government out of Catholic institutions and evidence that the president is fighting the general moral decay they see in society. The answer is not to vacillate on these issues in the hopes of attracting greater numbers but to demonstrate that he will be a champion for life and those policies he already supports.”

Bush and Rove liked both the message and the messenger.

Hudson was named to head the Republican National Committee’s “Catholic Outreach” effort in the 2000 campaign.

* * *

With Crisis on sounder financial footing and George W. Bush and Karl Rove in the West Wing, Hudson found himself in a position of real influence. The perception that Hudson controls Catholic access to the White House is widespread, largely accurate, and the cause of considerable resentment within conservative Catholic circles.

When the new president wanted to meet with Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in early 2001, Hudson was asked to carry the invitation. Hudson was a vocal defender of the president’s Iraq policy, his comments frequently juxtaposed with Pope John Paul II’s statements of opposition to the war for reporters seeking the “Catholic take” on the march to war.

On Thursday mornings, Hudson participates in the White House’s “Catholic call” -- where a revolving door of Catholic conservatives provide telephonic feedback to Tim Goeglein, Rove’s assistant, and help the White House strategize on such “Catholic issues” as Bush’s faith-based initiative, education vouchers, judicial nominations, abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. The one constant of the weekly call, in addition to Goeglein, is Hudson.

Hudson gets credit for sponsoring a host of presidential appointments -- both substantive and ceremonial. Peter Schaumber, a Bush-appointed member of the National Labor Relations Board, was backed by Hudson. Hudson was a member of the U.S. delegation appointed to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s 25th anniversary and former Crisis development director Ann Corkery was named a U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly.

On the church front, Hudson’s public complaints last year that members of the U.S. bishops had met “secretly” with a group of “dissidents,” led the committee members to agree to a meeting of Hudson-organized conservative Catholics. That group prodded the bishops to stop honoring pro-choice Catholics through appointments to church boards and commissions. Meeting in June 2004 in Denver, the full body of bishops put that commitment in writing.

There are indications, however, that Hudson is wearing thin with his ideological brethren.

Some consider him disloyal, pointing to a November 2003 Boston Globe Magazine article in which Hudson was reportedly critical of Fr. John McCloskey, an Opus Dei priest popular in conservative circles who until recently headed the Washington archdiocese’s Catholic Information Center. “Deal Hudson does not like John McCloskey,” wrote the Globe’s Charles Pierce. “Before saying anything about him, and nothing that’s good, Hudson turns off a reporter’s tape recorder,” wrote Pierce.

There are Republicans who worry that the Bush administration is taking political advice from a neophyte. “Hudson wouldn’t know a Catholic voter if he ran one over,” says a conservative Catholic who doubts the ability of a Texas-born Protestant to relate to the culture and concerns of ethnic Catholics in such battleground states as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These concerns were expressed by the conservative American Spectator, which questioned why Bush didn’t make an appearance at the well-attended Catholic Prayer Breakfast in April, held just blocks from the White House.

“There continue to be rumblings that the White House and its Catholic surrogates fail to reach out in even small ways to Roman Catholic groups,” according to the Spectator’s “Washington Prowler” online column. “ ‘You look at states like Ohio and Pennsylvania,’ says a longtime Catholic activist in Washington, ‘and you wonder, who is speaking to the Irish Catholic, the Italian Catholic, the ethnic Catholic? It sure isn’t this White House and it sure isn’t the people they have trying to do Catholic outreach.’ ”

On Aug. 18, Hudson quit his post as an adviser to the Republican National Committee on Catholic issues. “While I have no intention of being dissuaded by personal attacks, I will not allow low-brow tactics to distract from the critically important issues in this election,” he wrote on the Web site of National Review. He was referring to this article.

It may be time for yet another transformation.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

Related Web site

For Deal Hudson’s Aug. 18 article on National Review online

Washington Notebook
For further coverage see Joe Feuerherd’s Web column, Washington Notebook at

National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 2004

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