Remembering Michael Schwartz – a prophet and a friend

Oklahoma City – In the 1980s, I worked at the Free Congress Foundation, a “think tank” in Washington, D.C. Also at Free Congress in the same era was a fellow named Michael Schwartz. 
Recent news of sexual scandal involving a retired Cardinal of the Catholic Church in America took my mind back to the days when Schwartz played the part of prophet, speaking unpopular words without fear or regret. 

Mike was among the most unforgettable men I ever met – honorable, passionate, caring and principled. 
He was also, for all the years I worked with him, a Democrat. His childhood  family life was pretty dreadful, including an alcoholic and abusive father, yet he became a model husband and father himself.
While growing up in Philadelphia, Mike was a fan of a couple of fellow Democrats — both Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey (governor of Pennsylvania, 1987-1995) and Hubert Humphrey (U.S. vice president, 1965-69; twice a member of the U.S. Senate). 
As those kinds of Democrats left the national stage, Mike Schwartz really stood out, but in my work life, he always fit in. He did not become a Republican until 2010, or thereabouts. 

For most of the years we saw each other regularly, I was focused on legal policy issues (researching, writing and commenting from a conservative perspective) and on journalism. (I was editor of a monthly political newsletter focused on the politics of direct democracy – which  incorporated all views, and to which people from across the spectrum contributed news stories as “stringers.”)

Mike grappled, from a broadly-defined conservative perspective, with Catholic Church issues.
He was a completely faithful, decent and righteous Roman Catholic, and a co-founder of the March for Life, held every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. 
His work led him to blunt but careful, relentless and dedicated scrutiny of clergy sexual misbehavior, including the scandal of priestly pedophila. He spoke out frequently on documented instances of clerical misbehavior and egregious wrongdoing. 
As that work peaked in the 1980s, Mike drew wide attention for comments at a press conference,  begging Church officials to act quickly to address wrongdoing and, if necessary, to separate offending clerics from their priestly functions. 

Later, Mike for many years worked for Tom Coburn, both during the Muskogee Republican’s time in the U.S. House and his service in the U.S. Senate, including hitches as Coburn’s chief of staff. (A proud graduate of the University of Dallas, class of 1972, Schwartz was no stranger to the American southwest.)
Mike overlapped in the Coburn eyars with a bright and then-young conservative policy guy from Oklahoma named Greg Treat, who will soon be President Pro Tempore of the state Senate. 

The following recollections are taken from my tribute to Mike after his death five years ago. His health had steadily declined after a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Treat had kindly briefed me on Mike’s status. Still, news of his death brought to me tears, and prayers of Thanksgiving for his noble  example. 
References made in the remainder of this tribute are to events back in the 1980s. …  

“Mike focused on Catholic Church issues, notably including the clergy sexual abuse scandal that was then percolating just beneath the surface of public awareness.
“He embodied courage in speaking truth to power when, in a press conference at the National Press Club, he called on leaders of the Church in America to grapple with clergy sexual misbehavior sooner rather than later.

“He argued for forceful action both as a matter of morality and of prudence. Mike said, prophetically, the wrongdoing would, as more people became aware of it, shock the consciences of the American Catholic faithful and shred support for leaders who had averted their eyes from the scandal.

“For his devotion to the Church and to common sense, he was denounced by some church officials at the time for even raising the issue. If more of those men had heeded his words, God knows the difference it would have made.
“Mike was more like an Isaiah than a Jeremiah. He was stern when needed, but over all – like Humphrey – a happy warrior.” 

Note: The full text of Pat McGuigan’s tribute to Mike Schwartz is here: