California Catholic Conference – a history

“Episcopal conferences were not instituted for the pastoral government of a nation, nor to substitute (for) the diocesan bishops as a kind of superior or parallel government….”
– Vatican working paper, Apostolos Suos, 1988

How did the California bishops promote the Christian vision in public life before the setting up of the bureaucracy known as the California Catholic Conference of Bishops? The conference, sometimes called the CCC, was established in 1971 or 1972, depending on the source. But Catholic bishops had been active politically in the state for some time.


Three political battles in the 1950s and 1960s help tell the story.

1. Taxation of Catholic schools, 1953-1958 Since 1879, when the California constitution was revised, religious schools were not exempt from paying taxes. In the case of the Los Angeles archdiocese, which was the fastest-growing see the in the U.S. after 1948, Archbishop James Francis McIntyre saw the tax burden tripling. In March, 1951 under McIntyre’s influence, 57 of the 80 members of the California Assembly co-authored a bill exempting from taxation private non-profit elementary and high schools including those operated by religious organizations. It passed both houses. According to McIntyre’s biography by Monsignor Francis Weber, the archbishop “personally or through an agent contacted every single legislator.” Governor Earl Warren signed the bill on May 3, 1951.


A group called the California Taxpayers Alliance succeeded in forcing a referendum (requiring a vote of the people on a law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor) on the school tax exemption bill for the ballot of November, 1952. The alliance was soon joined by the Scottish Rite Masons and the National Educational Association.  The referendum was called Proposition 3.

According to Weber, “McIntyre left nothing to chance. Though he deputized Auxiliary Bishop McGucken to look after day-to-day activities, he personally put in place an organizational structure that eventually touched the lives of Californians as nothing had before…. The archbishop himself contacted dozens of pivotal persons. After finding their phone numbers, he would call and ask for an appointment. He was only turned down once and that by a person who refused to believe that it was the archbishop on the phone….

Flyers distributed by Catholic schools

A Speakers’ Bureau was set up by the Archdiocesan Union of Holy Name Societies; a series of outdoor billboards was placed at strategic places, and mailings were sent to hundreds of thousands of homes…. Against the advice of every one of his counselors, McIntyre called Judge William Hervy, the admitted ‘boss’ of the Scottish Rite Masons in Los Angeles and asked for a meeting. He asked Hervy ‘if he had any suggestions in the way of keeping the referendum from becoming a religious issue….’”

The vote in November was close – 2,441,005 Yes votes on Proposition 3 (in favor of keeping the tax exemption for religious schools) to 2,363,528 No votes.


Catholic school opponents did not give up. After court challenges to the tax exemption did not work, a group called Californians for Public Schools filed an initiative, which went on the ballot in November, 1958. Cardinal McIntyre and his allies went to work again. Monsignor William North, who was put in charge of archdiocesan efforts, issued a 76-page speakers manual. McIntyre sent a personal letter and fact sheet to thousands of people and a series of letters to local priests to keep them aware of the campaign. Proposition 16, as the measure against religious school tax exemption was called, went down 2-1.

2. The Fair Housing Act, 1964. Proposition 14 was a California state proposition to nullify the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which provided that landlords could not deny housing because of ethnicity, sex, marital status, physical handicap or familial status. Nine of California’s 14 total number of bishops, including Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles, made no commitment on Proposition 14; five bishops openly urged a No vote, including the ordinaries of San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, Sacramento, and Santa Rosa. Proposition 14 passed by a margin of almost two to one.

According to Monsignor Weber, “when asked whether it was hypocritical for the Church to bring political pressure to protect the right to life while refusing to take a stand on such issues as the Rumford Fair Housing Act, the cardinal had his secretary point out ‘the vast difference between the taking of an innocent life and the sagacity of a political action of undetermined principle.’”


3. The Therapeutic Abortion Act, 1967. State Senator Anthony Beilenson introduced the Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1967 to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or when a doctor deemed the birth was likely to impair the physical or mental health of the mother or when there was “substantial risk” that the child would be deformed.

According to Lou Cannon’s Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power, the Catholic Church worked hard against the bill. Cannon quoted the San Francisco Examiner: “’Most of the incoming mail at the capitol was inspired by Catholic priests who asked, from their pulpits, that their parishioners write to legislators urging defeat of the bill. In many cases pre-printed envelopes and other aids were provided.’” Cannon cited state senator George Danielson, a Los Angeles Democrat, who “announced he was reluctantly voting against the abortion bill. ‘I just can’t go against 5,000 votes from my district.’”


When the bill was heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bishop Alden Bell of Sacramento said it sanctioned legalized murder. “The unborn child, however brief its existence, is clearly identified by science even in embryonic form as belonging to the human family….It has the right to live.”

Governor Reagan himself was conflicted. He spoke with Cardinal McIntyre at a weekend meeting in Los Angeles arranged by his old campaign firm, Spencer-Roberts, who had been hired by the Catholic Church to lobby against the bill.

He asked his longtime adviser and Cabinet secretary Bill Clark — a devout Catholic who had contemplated the priesthood — for counsel. “Bill, I’ve got to know more — theologically, philosophically, medically.”


After the bill passed the Senate, the Catholic Church’s lobbyist, William Burke, conferred with Stu Spencer and Reagan aide Phil Battaglia, and Reagan discovered new loopholes. But Reagan finally capitulated to Republican pro-abortion pressure and signed the bill.

According to Lou Cannon, “In his heart Reagan agreed with Cardinal McIntyre, not Dr. Davis (Nancy Reagan’s pro-abortion father) and he really wanted to veto the Therapeutic Abortion Act. Instead he subordinated his personal feelings to the commitment he had made to Republican legislators to sign the bill….Reagan [told me] he would never have signed the bill if he had been more experienced as governor.”

Reagan and Clark

According to the Cardinal McIntyre biographer Monsignor Weber, the cardinal did not sit still during the time leading up to Reagan’s decision. McIntyre wrote letters to the clergy, wrote articles in the Tidings (the archdiocesan paper), sponsored the establishment of a Right-to-Life League, urged a letter-writing campaign, contacted George Hearst to get support of the L.A. Herald-Examiner after the L.A. Times endorsed the abortion bill, contacted individual members of the legislature,  and enlisted larger Catholic organizations to lobby the governor.

McIntyre wrote the legislators that “no man has the right to legislate the taking of life, and particularly of the innocent and unborn…[such an action] resembles the action of Herod and the Holy Innocents in the Sacred Scriptures.”

Next week: Part 2 – The gay agenda, euthanasia, abortion

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  1. Rod McKuen says:

    Ronald Reagan was remarried after divorce, and popular among reporters for telling “the best dirty jokes”.

    • Reagan lived in an adulterous relationship for over 50 years, but no one in our Church seems to have ever had a problem with that — at least not that I ever heard about.

      No wonder we have lost all public credibility on issues related to marriage.

      • Steve Phoenix says:

        Reagan did not “live in an adulterous relationship for over 50 years.” What nonsense. Reagan, first of all, was a member of the Disciples of Christ Church, which has no prohibition against re-marriage. It is true that when he was finalizing his divorce with Jane Wyman (Jane Wyman filed for divorce in 1948), and before it was a final decree in 1949, he was involved with then-Nancy Davis. But first of all, Reagan was not Catholic and therefore not forbidden to remarry. He could not marry legally Nancy Davis until the lengthy California divorce case was concluded. Even if we apply some bizarre Catholic calculus to him that his first marriage was “canonically valid”, and decree him “living in sin” with Nancy Reagan, he never claimed to be a holier-than-thou Catholic as some of our post-writers seem.
        As for the claim that Reagan “was popular…for telling dirty jokes”, Edmund Morris, his biographer makes the case for just the opposite of the man. Both of these are unbased calumnies and people should know better.

        • Mark from PA says:

          Thank you for your explanation, Steve. I think Dave was out of line with his comments. As you have mentioned, Ronald Reagan was not a Catholic.

          • Anyone baptized is Catholic, because most protestant baptisms are sacraments, and there is only one holy catholic and apostolic church. Ask yourself, was Reagan more faithful to Christ than the likes of Pelosi?

        • Reagan attended a Presbyterian church in Bel Air. Perhaps he attended various churches. His marriage issues were not ajudicated by any bishop or tribunal of the Catholic Church. Looks like the 30 years with his wife Nancy pretty much validated the parting of ways with Jane. Ask yourselves if St Augustine was Catholic, since he had a common law wife for a while and thus was living in sin according to some critics.

        • What does this have to do with “Catholic calculus”?

          “He {Jesus} said to them, ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’ (Mk 10:11-12)

          The prohibition against divorce and remarriage is not just some sort of rule made up by the Catholic Church, it’s a command from the Lord.

      • Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka says:

        Was he ever Catholic? I do not think Reagan was ever Catholic.

        • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

          Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka,

          Reagan’s first wife was Catholic, but he never converted; however I know that he at one time had placed a Green Scapular in his wallet, and he very much regretted not vetoing that Bielenson Bill.

          God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
          Kenneth M. Fisher

          • Rhythm band says:

            Lesson, tell your daughters and sons to only marry true Catholics and anyone else is not welcome.

    • Reagan was not a “girly man”. Btw, perhaps he told “dirty jokes”, but how many of today’s bishops through their decrees and actions and inactions propagate vile behaviors such as abortion, sodomy, arrogance, hypocrisy, tyranny?

  2. Laurette Elsberry says:


    There was a time in California where bishops weren’t girlie men. They took public policy campaigns involving intrinsic evils into their own hands and protected the good of society!

    They treated intrinsic evils like they really were intrinsic evils, and they called to account those politicians who supported those intrinsic evils!

    They informed Catholics and other people of good will about these evils and about those politicians who allowed or even promoted these intrinsic evils.

    Many politicians respected and even feared properly informed voters and they voted accordingly for good legislation and against intrinsic evils.

    Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the LGBTQ advocates did not control the California Democratic Party and state government!

    Most California Catholic voters are either uninformed or mis-informed and thus continue to vote for pro-abortion, pro-Culture of Death Democratic politicians.

    May the Holy Spirit provide bishops and priests like Cardinal McIntyre, and St. Peter and the Holy Apostles and St. Paul !!!

    • Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka says:

      Did you just call our Bishops Girly Men?

    • pete salveinini says:

      Also, the Jesuit colleges in our state (and nation) required all students, including non-Catholics of whatever kind, going for a degree to take Catholic Philosophy 3 units per semester for 4 yrs. This included not only how to think philosophically but also had with reference to ethics. Countless graduates who went on to become doctors, lawyers etc, had a positive attitude to the Church’s moral teaching and would listen to what the hierarchy had to say. This requirement continued through most of the 1960’s. Then it was dropped along with much else to the point that now we see outright apostasy in full command at USF. One of those courses at USF, btw, was an additional 2unit course on Communism.

  3. “We must remember that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated;
    they have only a practical concrete function”. – Pope Benedict (“The Ratzinger Report” pg 59.)

    “No episcopal conference, as such, has a teaching mission; its documents have no weight of their own save that of the consent given to them by individual Bishops”. – Pope Benedict (“The Ratzinger Report” pg 60.)

    We must always remember that Episcopal Conferences are NOT the Magisterium of the Church.
    We are not bound by anything from an Episcopal Conference of Bishops.

    We are bound by: 1) Bible; 2) Catechism of the Church, Second Edition (from the Magisterium); 3) teachings from the Magisterium on matters of faith and morals only; 4) Our own Diocese Bishop when he is in full accord with 1 through 3 only.

    Many times various episcopal conferences stick their nose where it does not belong – in the areas that are the prudential judgment of the Laity. There are many areas where the Bishops and their advisors have no expertise and then insert their own political beliefs based upon their limited or biased knowledge.

    It is the Diocese Bishop’s main job to insure that the Faith is taught accurately to ALL the Laity within his Diocese – CCC 888
    It is the Laity’s job to be involved in politics.
    When individual Diocese Bishops do not do their teaching job adequately and accurately, the Laity may make decisions that are against Church teaching.
    When these Bishops do not handle public SCANDAL within their Diocese publically and appropriately they further incorrect thinking of the Laity – because Bishops actions speak louder than their words.)

    CCC: ” 2245 The Church, because of her commission and competence, is NOT to be confused in any way with the political community.
    She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person.
    The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen.”

    CCC: ” 2246 It is a part of the Church’s mission to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS of man or the SALVATION of SOULS requires it.
    The means, the ONLY MEANS, she may use are those which are in ACCORD with the GOSPEL and the welfare of ALL men according to the diversity of times and circumstances.”
    (caps are mine)

    • The CCC is the acronym for the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” used by the Vatican and around the world.

      The “California Catholic Bishops Conference” should be called “CCBC” to insure that all readers on the internet know what is being referred to. It is a local State Bishops Conference only.

      • It is the California Catholic Conference, not the California Catholic Bishops Conference or the California Catholic Conference of Bishops as mis-stated in the article. Almost every state has a Catholic Conference; sometimes they use a different term such as Public Policy Commisssion. They are not episcopal conferences. They are the public policy office of the bishops of the state. They are groups which make known the church’s opinions on things such as human life (including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, human cloning, capital punishment), religious freedom and marriage, immigration and how government policies effect the poor. When government leaders are called on to make decisions which have a moral element to them, the bishops are required, as pastors, to make the will of God be known.

        The editor replies: The California Catholic Conference is, indeed, the public policy arm of the California bishops, but there first must be a bishops’ conference to create a public policy arm. This story — the first in a series — is about the history of the bishops’ engagement in public policy matters in California. Here is how an FAQ on the California Catholic Conference website puts it: “The California Catholic Conference is the staff office of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops. It is the official voice of the Catholic community in California’s public policy arena.”

        • It is not the California Catholic Conference. There is no such thing that includes any Bishops.
          The Bishops of the State of CA have their own political conference which only includes them – and should be referred to as: CCBC “California Catholic Bishop’s Conference” for accuracy.

          It should never be allowed to be confused with the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” from the Church Magisterium and known as the CCC throughout the entire world – including being referred to as the CCC in the footnotes of many Vatican documents.

        • “It is the official voice of the Catholic community in California’s public policy arena.” Who gave the Bishop’s staff this authority? They can not vote for me, nor does this or any other “Conference” have any teaching authority. The Catholic Church did not.

          This is a violation of Church teaching as stated in the CCC.

          Look what I just found on the internet under “California Catholic Conference” — “California Catholic Conference in Sacramento, CA is a private company categorized under Social Service and Welfare Organizations. Our records show it was established in 2001 and incorporated in California. Register for free to see additional information such as annual revenue and employment figures.”


          “SAN FRANCISCO — The California Catholic Conference and the Bishops of California announced their support of a new anti-deportation bill days before the legislation is put to a committee vote.” 2012

          This is a scandalous mess. What are these Bishops thinking Passing off some group of theirs as representing California Catholics – that’s fraud.

        • Editor, thank you for the information. When I tried to get on the website, they had been hacked by Anonymous Indonesia with an anti-Valentines day message.

    • Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka says:

      CCBC should be disbanded since its a Mahony thing

    • How is it that the Catechism “binds us” since they change it from time to time? The Magisterium does not change; therefore, the CCC is not reliably Magisterial.

      • Wrong! The last Catechism the Church put out was in 1566 and approved by Pope Pius IV.
        It was created in the last stages of the Council of Trent.

  4. In simple terms, the CCC or California Catholic Conference, is the million dollar political lobby for the bishops.

    Since its inception in 1972, it has failed repeatedly to accomplish any major legislation and has consistently provided “Catholic” cover for pro-abort, pro-homosexual “marriage” politicians like House Speaker Juan Perez.

    The CCC is a scandal and must be discontinued. Let each bishop raise his voice again, just like McIntyre did.

    • It is the job of the each Bishop to accurately teach all the people in his Diocese.

      It is the people’s job to put Church teachings into practice in the politcal arena and our daily lives.

      How many US Bishops do you know who actively and publicly encourage everyone (including Priests as well as the Laity) to read and study the CCC — which we can do at home with no excuses ?

      How many US Bishops do you know who actively and publicly handle PUBLIC scandal of “Catholics” who live within their Diocese (according to Canon Law).

      When a Bishop fails, his entire Diocese suffers. Souls are lost.

      Instead of doing their own jobs, Bishops get involved in the political arena — which is NOT their job.

  5. The role of the Bishops is to be the voice of Christ to us people, not to be the voice of us people to other people.

    The Bishops and their Staff are not competent to be involved in politics and it is not their jobs.

    This is just another serious indication of the scandal and dishonesty within the Church in CA.

    While there will be agreement on several but not all issues, Catholics will not tolerate their Bishops not doing their own jobs of teaching and taking care of scandals within their own Diocese – but interfering in the job of us Laity.

    If Bishops teach people to read and use as reference the CCC, and Bishops stop the scandals in their own Diocese – the Laity will respond in politics appropriately.

    These Bishops are going to do a tremendous harm to the credibility of Catholics, and good Bishops.

    Btw – Bishops like Blaire push their politics in CA, and then get themselves appointed to a small committee at the USCCB and repeat their same politics. Then they pretend like everything is coming from the Catholic Church.

    These Bishops are getting further and further away from the examples set by the life and words of Jesus.

  6. So how many Catholics know that the CA Bishops have appointed a civilian to represent all of us CA Catholics?
    This man was never appointed by the Magisterium.
    His name is: Edward E. “Ned” Dolejsi. He is not a Bishop or even a Priest.

  7. “It is the official voice of the Catholic community in California’s public policy arena.” It is not guaranteed by Christ, who guarantees the Church. “Official voice”: They misspelled this phrase, which is correctly spelled “crock”.


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