Who is Saul Alinsky?

Therese Bussen

Gradual infiltration of ideas so as to shape culture without its members even realizing it: This is what one man in the 20th century set out to do — and at the time, he even did it with the initial help of the Catholic Church.

The man was Saul Alinsky, a Chicago man born as a Jew who later became agnostic. He studied criminology at the University of Chicago, where he got involved with the mafia. He went on to become the founder of modern community organizing, and began that work with a vision of care for the poor, implementing his strategies in the Diocese of Chicago. His ideologies and community organizing strategies would go on to influence the social and political movements of today.

Father and son duo Richard and Stephen Payne of Arcadia Films co-produced the documentary A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing on the life of Alinsky and just how far “his tentacles spread” into the philosophical inner-workings of our country — infiltrating the Catholic Church and sowing seeds of the political polarization we see so widespread now.

“He was really central to the profound upheavals within the Church in the care of the poor,” said Richard. “His whole vision of reality breaks the fundamental principles of Catholic moral teaching, which is that the end does not justify the means.”

The documentary film A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, which chronicles the life and influence of Saul Alinsky, will be the focus of this year’s Gospel of Life Conference Oct. 21. The film’s producers, Richard and Stephen Payne, will speak at the event.

Alinsky’s approach, according to Richard, is one that is gnostic, a heresy that says you’re saved by your ideas.

“The Church in Chicago bought into that and supported his work and it had a profound impact in the 1960s on the Church’s project for the poor. He had developed nation-wide affiliates and community organizers,” Richard said.

“He had great influence on organizations,” Stephen said. “[Many modern movements] are funded by Alinskian-trained individuals, people who stoke the flames of violence…it stokes anxiety and frustration in poorer communities.”

“Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they studied Alinksy. She knew him and she thought he didn’t go far enough. The tentacles [of Alinsky] are quite vast,” he added.

Alinsky didn’t come up with it all on his own, though. Richard explained that “several movements shaped his life historically” and influenced his Marxist ideology.

“In 1919, Lenin developed the Marxist institute, which moved away from the overt brutal forms of Marxism (Soviets or Nazism) to an underground movement,” Richard said. “The Frankfurt School played an essential role in the sexual revolution; they drew on Freud’s pansexualism and merged in the late ’30s and ’40s with movements that would later create the gender revolution.

We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved. The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“In the movement of the Frankfurt School, they bought the idea of gradualism, that it will take a long time to infiltrate [culture]. They were violently anti-Catholic,” Richard continued. “The Fabian Society in England, a movement that was initiated in the 19th century, [is another] — their symbol is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which means moving under public awareness and cloaking things by redefining the language. These movements came into the country in a post-World War II period, where people were strangely influenced more and more by European movements.”

These movements deeply influenced Alinsky, who in turn impacted the modern movements and ideologies of today.

“It’s fundamentally a gnostic movement, where people are saved by ideas, and there’s the oppressors and the oppressed, and they’re attacked by force, and it usually ends up in violence,” Richard said. “It’s based on this engagement of a confrontation of oppressor and oppressed, that’s so fundamental. It’s created the polarization we see now.”

Their film lays these historical facts out in the lens of the Catholic worldview, and they’ve created a follow-up 10-minute short film that goes into more depth about the modern movements today and how they came from Alinskian thought.

But hope is not lost, Richard and Stephen said.

“We show at the end of the film the parable of the Wolf of Gubbio, the wolf that terrorized a town. And St. Francis [of Assisi] comes into town and he tames the wolf, and he brings him back to town, where he’s loved,” Stephen said. “The key is that. [We have to] see Christ in the poor, not using the poor as a means to an end.”

“The whole film is based on Matthew 7, that ‘underneath is a ravenous wolf’ — but we discern this by fruits,” Richard added. “That’s where we go with the film, we point out where the fruits lie.”

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing aired in September of 2016 on EWTN, won multiple film awards and continues to air on the Catholic network occasionally. It can also be watched online at alinskyfilm.com and is available for rent or as a download for purchase.

Richard and Stephen Payne will speak extensively on Saul Alinsky, show a trailer of their film, and reveal an exclusive follow-up short film on A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing at the Gospel of Life Conference, taking place at St. Thomas More Parish on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. The event includes Mass and lunch, and other speakers including Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life and Father Daniel Ciucci.

Early-bird registration costs $50 and closes Oct. 18; the student rate is $15, and walk-ins cost $55, but with no lunch provided. Registration is capped at 500 attendees.

For more information or to register, visit gospeloflifeco.org.

Photo: Associated Press

COMING UP: Q&A: Cardinal Stafford: “The Eucharist has been the center of my life”

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On the dawn of his 60th anniversary of priestly ordination, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, archbishop emeritus of Denver, reflects on the origins and fruits of his vocation. He will celebrate a Mass in thanksgiving with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m.

DC: What were your desires as a young man and how did God call you to the priesthood?            

Cardinal Stafford: Images of God arose very early in my life. From my parents’ encounter with Jesus in the confessional, concrete impressions developed into images. Those images spoke to me of God’s holiness and beauty. I understood that He was great and forgiving.

Reality became complex with more birthdays. The brutality of the 20th century… insinuated itself into my world-view. I was bewildered by the horror of that era… A few years later I also discovered St. Augustine’s joy in reflecting upon the beauty of the Creator of the world in his Confessions… I learned that the love of Christ transforms our unloveliness into God’s beauty.

Both the beauty of the Ancient One and the rub of evil have coexisted in my faith and experience. Jesus’s invitation, “The laborers are few”, resonated in my soul.  The fact that the priestly vocation is totally given over to the “ministry of reconciliation” became the North Star of my life.

Archbishop J. Francis Stafford blesses the altar of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Aurora, Colo. (Photo by Denver Catholic Register)

DC: What practices have helped you remain faithful to your vocation during these 60 years?

Cardinal Stafford: When awakening each morning, I recite a single verse from Psalm 51, “Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.” Three times it is repeated. Thereafter, the grace of God sets the day on the right track. It becomes a song of praise to God. With hard practice it daily gathers momentum. It places front and center the most beautiful mystery of the Christian faith: The Triune God. The love and beauty of the Most Holy Trinity light up the whole day even when God appears more distant than near.

The psalmist has been a great catechist. He has taught me that human beings are doxological (people of praise) by nature especially in the Dark Night – not only as individuals, but also within community… Doxological prayer has led me to appreciate why St. Augustine wrote, “The goal of all Christian watchfulness and all Christian progress is a pious and sober understanding of the Trinity.”

Cardinal James Stafford holds a relic of St. Teresa of Calcutta during a Mass celebrating her feast day at St. Joseph’s Parish on September 5, 2016, in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DC: What have been some of the challenges and highlights of your priesthood?

Cardinal Stafford: The challenges: Christians in Europe and North America are struggling with the “juggernaut” of secularization… Generally, its roots are found in the fact that most Europeans and Americans today find themselves thrust into the universe without any foundation for living. Most imagine themselves in a free-fall through space with unintelligible entrances and exits. The challenge is how to confront this unprecedented reality. The pastoral solutions have seldom been forthcoming.

The highlights of my priesthood: Visiting the home-bound. They are the hidden pillars of every local Church. Beyond the home-bound, I have always felt that Colorado’s response to the invitation to celebrate the 1993 World Youth Day was the measure beyond all measure. In other words, the event was from God… [and] God was delighted with Coloradans.

Pope John Paul II thanks Cardinal Stafford for his leadership in organizing World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. (Photo by Denver Catholic Register)

DC: Who have been your greatest role models and how have they impacted your vocation?

Cardinal Stafford: My mother and father have been my greatest Christian role models. Their love and friendship were life-long and mutual. The two were the best of friends. Their life together, ten years after their marriage, was tested severely… [Tuberculosis] struck [my mother] with extreme severity.

She required prolonged hospitalization that included three major surgical operations over a period of nearly three years. Throughout that time her faith, courage and love remained ever-present signs along the road. My father’s love for his wife never faltered during her hospitalization… His presence to her was reassuring, quiet, and unassuming.  The grace of the sacrament of marriage sustained both of them and was an enormously important witness for me.

Cardinal Stafford celebrates Mass during World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. (Photo by James Baca/Denver Catholic Register)

DC: Reflecting on your priestly experience, what practices are essential to the Catholic priest of the New Evangelization?

Cardinal Stafford: The Eucharist has been the center of my life… Over the years, I learned that priestly celibacy was related to the eschatological nature of the Eucharist.  In 390 AD bishops at the Council of Carthage underlined this connection, “That holy bishops and priests of God…. observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us endeavor to keep.”

I’ve reflected for over four decades over the forthrightness of their statement. I still ask myself why the ancient bishops chose the phrase “in all simplicity.”  Their choice was related to the priest’s acting “in the person of Christ”. That’s Eucharistic and the Eucharist is doxological. Their assertion that clerical celibacy had apostolic origins surprised me.

Finally, a lay friend taught me one of the greatest graces of these sixty years, “Gratitude for the gift is shown only by allowing it to make one fruitful,” from Meister Eckhart. That is my prayer in celebrating my 60th anniversary of priestly ordination.