National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
 

?Sign Up Here For Weekly E-mail

 1 Archives  | NCRonline.org 

 Washington Notebook

August 19, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 29

Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent

Washington 
Correspondent
jfeuerherd@natcath.org
 

"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."

A spokesperson for Crisis magazine

 

Deal Hudson resigns as RNC outreach chair

By Joe Feuerherd

Deal Hudson, chair of the Republican National Committee's "Catholic Outreach" effort, resigned that post Aug. 18, citing a forthcoming article in a "liberal Catholic publication" which, Hudson said, would reveal "allegations from over a decade ago involving a female student at the college [Fordham University] where I then taught."

Hudson, a frequent White House visitor and confidant of Bush political strategist Karl Rove, is publisher of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic monthly.

Hudson, writing on National Review Online, said those allegations are "being dug up for political reasons in an attempt to undermine the causes I have fought for: the defense of Church teachings on life, the priesthood, the authority of the pope, and the need for faithful Catholic participation in politics."

"I think it best that I no longer play a role as an adviser in this year's campaign," Hudson said in the article, titled "The Price of Politics: Getting ahead of a potential distraction."

Hudson said a reporter from the publication interviewed him earlier this year and that "none of the questions was personal; the questioning was all political, all about my support for President Bush."

He continued: "Then people began telling me that this reporter was calling former employees and acquaintances and asking them for information about my personal life. Apparently this reporter was not content with a fair debate of the merits of substantive issues, where of course, there could be honest disagreement. His target was now going to be my life, my past, and apparently any mistakes that he could uncover to embarrass me."

***

Also by Joe Feuerherd

Read Joe Feuerherd's profile of Deal Hudson, The Real Deal, on NCRonline.org and in the Aug. 27 issue of National Catholic Reporter.

The "liberal Catholic publication" Hudson refers to is NCR. I am the reporter.

Some of what Hudson says is accurate.

On March 26 I met with Hudson in his DuPont Circle office. From my perspective, it was a long overdue get-together. I'd been meaning to profile the man who had successfully placed himself at the center of things both Catholic and political in the nation's capitol since I became NCR Washington Correspondent in September 2002.

Just prior to our sit-down interview, Hudson had played a key role in the forced departure of Ono Ekeh, a low level employee at the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for African-American Catholics. Ekeh hosted a "Catholics for Kerry" Internet forum and, consequently, was not suitable for employment by the bishops, Hudson said in his widely distributed e-mail column.

I called Hudson and talked to him about Ekeh's departure. Politics aside, I asked, did he 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 me, "then you have to take the consequences of your public utterances and your public actions."

Hudson liked the story. On March 24 he sent me a short e-mail, "good job on this report," it read.

Prior to that brouhaha, in September 2003, Hudson hosted a meeting of the bishops' conference administrative committee -- some of the top players in the U.S. hierarchy -- and approximately 40 leading conservative Catholic lay people. That gathering was called in response to a previous meeting those bishops held with a group, led by investment banker Geoffrey Boisi, that Hudson said was full of "dissidents."

Meanwhile, Hudson was well-known as the Catholic go-to guy at the Bush White House. As chair of the Republican National Committee's Catholic Outreach effort, he participated in weekly phone calls with White House political staff, had input on appointments and personnel, and was a frequent visitor to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was not a great leap to conclude that this was someone NCR readers should know something about.

When we sat down on that rainy Friday morning we had a high-minded conversation focused on the policies and politics of the Bush Administration and Hudson's influence in matters of both church and state. Interview completed, I planned to make a few phone calls -- the perfunctory due diligence a reporter undertakes when working on such a story -- and write the piece. I promised it to my editor for the next issue of the paper.

But as I started to make those phone calls, red flags flew. Few of Hudson's ideological soul mates -- people who'd known him at least since he came to Crisis in 1995 -- would speak for attribution. Cautiously, however, they said unflattering things.

Hmm.

These were conservative Catholics -- people who agreed with Hudson about such things as "the defense of Church teachings on life, the priesthood, the authority of the pope, and the need for faithful Catholic participation in politics." Hints, and sometimes more, were dropped about his past and his present. Check out why he gave up a tenured position in Fordham's philosophy department, several sources suggested.

More calls. More of the same.

I called my editor and told him I'd need more time -- perhaps a lot more time -- to complete the story.

So, between other stories and assignments, I kept at it. I talked to members of the Baptist youth group in Atlanta where he'd been a minister more than three decades ago. He was remembered fondly there as a dynamic and charismatic presence. I spoke to former colleagues at Mercer University, where Hudson had chaired the Philosophy Department, and was told of a courageous battle he had undertaken with the administration there. Others had less flattering recollections.

And so on and so on. Over four-and-a-half months I conducted more than two dozen full-fledged interviews and had at least that many more casual conversations.

And then I flew to Portland, Maine, to meet with Cara Poppas.

An 18-year-old Fordham freshman in 1994, Poppas had been in-and-out of foster homes from the age of seven. The fourth of nine children, her mother an alcoholic and her father a troubled and disabled Vietnam veteran, Poppas had survived poverty and traumas.

In early February 1994, 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 in May 1994. "He knew I was 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. Hudson invited her, she said, to join him and a group of NYU students at a bar in the West Village. Later that night, Hudson and Poppas engaged in a sexual encounter that is recounted graphically in a four-page description she provided Fordham University. Her memo is reported on in detail in the story elsewhere on this Web site.

Approximately two months later Poppas confided the 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 (now the university's president). McShane was sympathetic and understanding, Poppas recalled. 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."

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 which was later dismissed) and Hudson.

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. And she also agreed to keep the settlement confidential.

E-mail Alerts
To receive an e-mail notice when Washington Notebook is posted every week, Click on the link at the top right of this page to send the column to a friend or colleague.
In response to NCR inquiries about his relationship with Poppas, Hudson, through a Crisis spokesperson, said: "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."

***

On five separate occasions between Aug. 9 and Aug. 16 -- by phone and e-mail -- I requested another face-to-face interview with Hudson. Told that he was traveling, I offered to fly to wherever he was to conduct the interview. He declined, responding only through his spokesperson. He said he would not respond to what he referred to as "rumors" and asked that the questions and the supporting documentation be forwarded to him. I sent him the documentation by fax. He sent a two-line response, declined to speak with us further, and shortly thereafter published a statement in National Review Online.

***

In my 20 years as a writer and journalist I've written what could fairly be termed "favorable stories" about such conservative Catholics as Cardinal John O'Connor, Opus Dei's Fr. C. John McCloskey, Patrick J. Buchanan, and Jim Towey, director of the Bush Administration Office of Faith Based Initiatives. The notion that this story was somehow politically motivated is incorrect. I went where the story led me.

The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is jfeuerherd@natcath.org

 
Top of Page   | Home 
Copyright © 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280