The U.S.-based International Organization for the Family (IOF)1 is the supporting organization of the World Congress of Families (WCF), a notorious international get-together of mostly Christian fundamentalists united in their opposition against reproductive and LGBTIQ rights.
The IOF is the direct successor, or rather a rebranding, of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, an ultraconservative U.S. think-tank and advocacy group founded in 1997 in staunch opposition to abortion, divorce, and homosexuality, promoting instead the "child-rich, married parent" family.2 The Howard Center itself broke off from the Rockford Institute of the late John A. Howard, a Reagan confidant and prominent paleoconservative, which Howard founded in 1976 "out of concern about the social movements of the 1960s," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.3
The same year as the Howard Center was established, in 1997, the WCF was created as an ecumenical platform to bring together religious fundamentalists predominantly from Christian denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Mormon etc.) under the inconspicuous sounding banner of the "family." While the Howard Center kept a low profile, the WCF has evolved into a well-known right-wing super-group that regularly meets on grand-scale conferences, each time in a different capital.
The Howard Center in Rockford, Illinois.
For the most part of its existence the Howard Center was presided over by the Lutheran anti-choice and anti-feminist hardliner Allan C. Carlson, a longtime protégé of John Howard, who died in 2015. Between 2014 and 2016, when Earl Douglas Clark was president of the Howard Center, the organization experienced an influx of mostly Catholic operatives from CitizenGo, an internationally operating Christian Right online platform founded in 2013, including Ignacio Arsuaga (Spain), Luca Volontè (Italy), Brian S. Brown (US) and Aleksey Komov (Russia), precipitating the organizational restructuring into the International Organization for the Family.
In 2016, Brian Brown, an American Catholic Right activist, became president of the Howard Center, and in December that year announced a rebranding/expansion of the Howard Center into the IOF. Since 2018 the Howard Center is officially doing business as the International Organization for the Family, which is headquartered at the premises of the (former) Howard Center in Rockford, Illinois.4
FOIA Research has analyzed the form 990 filings of the Howard Center and the International Organization for the Family published by ProPublica5 as well as archived versions of the Howard Center and IOF websites. The chart below shows who held leading positions in the organizations in the period from 2000 until today.
Chart listing the names specified in the Howard Center's 990 forms.
The international planning committee of the WCF gives a good insight into the key players of the network. FOIA Research has collected the names of those involved in the planning committee of several WCF iterations. Although the composition of the planning committee is in constant flux, the organizations that its members belong to remain more or less the same, and are predominantly from the U.S. Among those who have participated in the planning committee more than once are: Ignacio Arsuaga, Brian Brown, Allan Brown, Janice Crouse, Don Feder, Farooq Hassan, Jesus Hernandez, Marie-Claire Hernandez, John A. Howard, Lawrence Jacobs, Thomas Jacobson, Gwendolyn Landolt, Fernando Milanes, Tom Minnery, Dorothy Patterson, Austin Ruse, Wiliam Saunders, Christine de Vollmer and Peter Westmore.
Chart listing the names of WCF's Planning Committee members over the years.
The speaker lists of past WCF iterations also provide an insight into the overall structure and composition of the organization. FOIA Research has gathered the names of the speakers from various WCF iterations. These lists are not exhaustive since many more, and often important, people were involved in panel discussions, which only in some cases have been added to the chart. However, the chart provides an overview of who has appeared repeatedly on speaker lists over the years.
Chart listing the names of WCF's speakers over the years.
Overall, among the U.S. organizations who have been involved in the WCF, the most important are Alliance Defending Freedom (form. Alliance Defense Fund), Brigham Young University (Mormons), Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Heritage Foundation, Home School Legal Defense Association, Human Life International, Population Research Institute, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and United Families International.
The recurring foreign organizations are predominantly located in Australia, Latin America (particularly Mexico & Venezuela), Russia, Canada, Spain, Poland, Italy (Vatican), Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. This unequal distribution seems to be the result of several factors: a) a racist focus on Western (White) countries, whose generally declining demographies have been a point of great contention for many WCF hardliners; b) anti-choice and anti-LGBTIQ organizations being generally more frequent in majorly Catholic countries; and c) since the WCF takes place in a different country each time, new contacts to country-specific organizations are made, some of which subsequently become WCF staples.
Among the Latin American and Spanish organizations, the most prominent are CitizenGo (Spain), Familias Y Sociedad (Mexico), HazteOir (Spain), Latin American Alliance for Families (Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia), Red Familia (Mexico) and Tradition, Family & Property.
Also several Vatican-affiliated entities have been involved, such as the now defunct Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
John A. Howard
The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society was created in 1997 by Allan C. Carlson under the auspices of his mentor, the late John Addison Howard (1921-2015), namesake of the organization.3 The Howard Center was a split-off from the now defunct Rockford Institute,6 "a think tank associated with paleoconservatism that Howard started in 1976 out of concern about the social movements of the 1960s," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.3 From 1960 to 1977, Howard had been president of Rockford College (since 2013 Rockford University), and in the college's organizational framework started the conservative Rockford College Institute, which in early 1980 became independent and dropped “College” from its name.6
According to the "Inventory of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society"7 :
In February 1980, The Rockford College Institute received its charter from the State of Illinois. Now independent of Rockford College, the name was changed to The Rockford Institute and moved off campus to 928 North Main Street. The first Board of Directors was established in September 1980 and included Robert Krieble, Ed Meyer, Clyde Sluhan, Fred Wacker, John Howard with Clayton Gaylord as chair. Allan Carlson joined the staff in July 1981 as Executive Vice President.
Howard had been a prominent exponent of paleoconservatism, a right-wing current emerging in the U.S., stressing American nationalism, Christian ethics, regionalism, and traditionalist conservatism. The terms neoconservative and paleoconservative were coined following the outbreak of the Vietnam War and a divide in American conservatism between the interventionists and the isolationists. According to the international relations scholar Michael Foley, "paleoconservatives press for restrictions on immigration, a rollback of multicultural programs and large-scale demographic change, the decentralization of federal policy, the restoration of controls upon free trade, a greater emphasis upon economic nationalism and non-interventionism in the conduct of American foreign policy."8 The historian George Hawley states that paleoconservatism is today an exhausted force in American politics, but that for a time it represented the most serious right-wing threat to the mainstream conservative movement.9
Allan C. Carlson
From 1986 onward, Carlson served as president of Howard's Rockford Institute. Carlson had a Lutheran background, and had served as a member of the Lutheran Council in America's Government Affairs Office from 1975–1978 and in 1979, he became a lecturer and assistant-to-the-president at the Lutheran Gettysburg College. Due to his reputation as an anti-choice and anti-feminist hardliner, in 1988 Carlson was appointed to the National Commission on Children by Ronald Reagan.10
Allan C. Carlson addressing the Budapest Demographic Forum in 2017
Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society
In 1997, Howard and Carlson broke off from the Rockford Institute to form the Howard Center,6 which incorporated the institute's Center on Religion and Society, and took over the publication of The Religion and Society Report and The Family In America: A Journal of Public Policy (now called The Natural Family11 ).6 The Rockford Institute continued operating until early 2019, when it merged with The Charlemagne Institute.
World Congress of Families
Logo of the World Congress of Families, organized by the Howard Center.
The same year as the Howard Center was established, in 1997, it created the World Congress of Families,7 a international, largely Christian, right-wing coalition opposing same-sex marriage, abortion, and euthanasia, with a clear anti-feminist and anti-LGBTIQ bias. Over the years, the WCF has evolved into a veritable super-group that regularly meets on grand-scale conferences, each time in a different capital. Affiliated organizations can apply to host the WCF in a given year, thus every time putting the spotlight on a different country and its domestic anti-choice networks. A "Selection Committee" then considers these applications. A "Planning Committee" is responsible for the organization of the international congresses, while the "Management Committee" has ultimate oversight. So far 13 large-scale international congresses as well as various regional meetings have been organized.
|I||Prague, Czech Republic||1997|
|III||Mexico City, Mexico||2004|
|V||Amsterdam, Kingdom of the Netherlands||2009|
|VIII||Moscow, Russia||2014 (Cancelled)|
|IX||Salt Lake City, United States||2015|
Anatoly Antonov, former professor of family sociology and demography at Moscow State University.
Already before the Howard Center was established, the first steps towards the creation of the World Congress of Families had been taken. The idea to create the WCF emerged in January 1995, when Allan Carlson traveled to Moscow on the invitation of the sociologist Anatoly Antonov, professor of family sociology and demography at Moscow State University. "During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Antonov was involved in a Russian-American project of family sociologists, initiated by the University of Minnesota," however was put off by the "democratic" leaning of the scholars involved, and subsequently reached out to Carlson.12 Two years later, Carlson and Antonov were both involved in setting up the WCF as an ecumenical platform to bring together religious fundamentalists from various, mostly Christian, denominations under the inconspicuous sounding banner of the "family." There exists a copy of Carlson's 1995 travel report to Moscow13 :
Allan Carlson's 1995 travel report to Moscow
A 2020 journal article by Katarina Stoeckl sheds some light on the genesis of the WCF14 :
In his travel diary ... Carlson gave a day-by-day account of his stay in Moscow, of the people he met, the topics discussed, and the agreements made. Antonov introduced Carlson to many people in Moscow, to academics, intellectuals, and politicians. He made him visit Moscow State University’s Sociology Department and its Centre for Population Study, where the American guest received a warm welcome at the Russian Academy of
Education’s Research Institute for the Family (Institut Sem’i i Vospitaniia Rossiiskaia Akademiia Obrazovaniia) directed by Sergei V. Darmodekhin. ... Darmodekhin invited Carlson to enter into a collaboration with the Moscow Research Institute for the Family. The Russian host had prepared a draft cooperation agreement between the institute and the Howard Center. The agreement included, according to Carlson’s diary, the preparation of joint publications and translations in the area of family sociology, the development of a joint research project, the exchange of material and information, and the nomination of Carlson to the academic board of the Russian Research Institute for the Family.
But not only the Research Institute for the Family was interested in cooperation with Carlson; a Russian Orthodox actor also ‘wanted to talk “business”’. Carlson reported on a meeting with Ivan Shevchenko, who was introduced to him as an artist, chairman of the Orthodox Brotherhood of Scientists and Specialists ‘Tabor’ (Pravoslavnoe bratstvo uchenykh i spetsialistov ‘Favor’), and a former candidate to the Duma (the lower house of the Russian Parliament). Upon meeting with Shevchenko, Carlson felt reminded ‘of a young Solzhenitsyn’. It appears to have been during this meeting with Shevchenko that Carlson developed the idea of organising a World Congress of Families. He had, he explained in his diary, been thinking about working to convene ‘a conference of fairly compatible “pro family” groups from across the globe, to serve as a kind of informal Congress of Families with the purposes of (1) defining the common pressures on families in modern countries, vis-a-vis state and economy, and (2) drafting an “appeal” or “declaration” to the governments of the world including common demands’. He promised to start to organise such an event by mid-1996. The first World Congress of Families took place in Prague in 1997 with the active participation of Shevchenko and Antonov.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the WCF was a result of a meeting between Carlson, Antonov and Viktor Medkov.15 While the WCF apparently started out from a fruitful connection between American and Russian anti-choice hardliners, it was clearly the American side which took all the steps to institutionalize and take control of the WCF. Participation of Russian organizations in the WCF is overall not as frequent and consistent as that of other organizations which came to support the congress. Over the years, Russian WCF emissaries from the following organizations and entities have been recorded:
- Charity Fund for Protection of Family, Motherhood and Childhood
- Demographic Research Institute (Moscow)
- Patriarchal Commission for Family and Motherhood
- St. Andrew The Firstcalled Foundation (Switzerland), including the Sanctity of Motherhood program
- Department of Sociology, Moscow Lomonosov State University
- Russian Orthodox Brotherhood of Scientists and Specialists
- Russian State Social University
Anatoly Antonov stayed actively involved in the WCF until around 2009. His legacy continued when Aleksey Komov became a key Russian WCF emissary, whose doctoral thesis Antonov had supervised in the early 2010s at the Department of Sociology of the Lomonosov Moscow State University.16
World Congress of Families I, Prague
The First World Congress of Families was held March 19-22, 1997, in Prague, Czech Republic. The WCF could rely on the institutional experience of the Rockford Institute, and from the start was connected to a host of arch-reactionary organizations and key figures in the anti-choice orbit. The first WCF was sponsored and hosted by the Howard Center, in conjunction with the following organizations17 :
Co-chairs for the First World Congress of Families included:
A full list of speakers of the Prague congress is available here.18
Christine de Vollmer
Besides Carlson, from those dignitaries listed as WCF I co-chairs, the Venezuelan Christine de Vollmer came to have the most long-lasting influence on the WCF. She has attended almost every iteration of the WCF, and was a member of the Planning Committee of several WCF congresses. De Vollmer is the president of the Latin American Alliance for the Family (Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia) and has served with the Holy See Delegation at the United Nations.19 Vollmer is a founding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and was a member of the Vatican-based Pontifical Council for the Family (1981-2016).20
Christine de Vollmer at the World Congress of Families X, Tbilisi, in 2016.
Affiliates of the Pontifical Council for the Family have been heavily represented at WCF congresses, including Cardinal-Bishop Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, Carlos Simon, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, Nicolás Jouve, Monsignor Carlos Simón Vazquez and Babette Francis. Its former president, Alfonso Lopez Trujillo (1935-2008), had participated in three WCF iterations before he died in 2008. Under Pope Francis, in 2016, the Pontifical Council was dissolved and its functions were absorbed by the newly created Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, which so far has not appeared in the context of the WCF.
World Congress of Families II, Geneva
From November 14 to 17, 1999, the second iteration of the WCF took place in Geneva, Switzerland. Compared to the first congress, the number of speakers had doubled.21 For that year no listing of the Planning Committee exists. The congress was convened by the Howard Center in conjunction with the Mormon-led NGO Family Voice, founded in 1997,22 which in 1999, the year of the congress, rebranded to World Family Policy Center.23 The World Family Policy Center, defunct since 2008, was based at the equally Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young University.
According to the WCF II website:24
The first planning meeting for the second World Congress of Families was held in Rome, Italy, throughout May 1998. Twenty six women and men from the six inhabited continents gathered to draft and issue “A Call from the Families of the World,” the rally cry for a second gathering. ... Adherents to the world’s great religions took part, including Roman Catholics, Evangelical and Mainline Protestants, Latter-day Saints, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, and Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
Joined in full partnership with NGO Family Voice of Brigham Young University, under the able leadership of distinguished law professor Richard G. Wilkins, The Howard Center convened and administered the World Congress of Families II held November 14-17, 1999, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
Richard G. Wilkins (died 2012), the co-convener of the 1999 congress, was a key Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) operative.25 Back then, he was the director of NGO Family Voice/World Family Policy Center and served as Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, also seated at the Mormon Brigham Young University. In 2007, Wilkins joined the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development (aka Doha Institute) as director, financed by the "Qatar Foundation, which belongs to the royal family of Qatar," and appeared as a WCF co-sponsor that year.26
In its early years, the Howard Center and the WCF had a strong Mormon footprint. One of the Howard Center's early board members was Dallin H. Oaks, a high-ranking Mormon leader (President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as well as the Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young University have appeared as co-convening organizations of the WCF in the past, and many of its members populated the speaker lists of the WCF (among them James Harper, Kathleen Bahr, Terrance Olson, Bruce Hafen, Craig Hart, David Dollahite, Lynn Wardle, Richard G. Wilkins, Lloyd D. Newell etc.). Given that Mormons have large families, their support for the Howard Center and the WCF comes to no surprise.
Convening organizations of the 1999 World Congress of Families.
From 2001 through 2019, 990 forms of the Howard Center are available, published by ProPublica.27 In the early years, the following names appear as staples on the board of trustees: Elder Dallin Oaks, Hon. William Dannemeyer, Milton Rosenberg, Ellen Hill, Paul Logli, George Marlin, Norman McClelland, Warren Rothwell, Paul Vitz, William Nelson, Janet Salomon, Byron Calhoun and David Peterson.
World Congress of Families III, Mexico
The third WCF congress took place in Mexico in 2004. The event was convened by the Howard Center and Red Familia.28 The Mexican Red Familia ("Family Network"), founded in 1999, has been an important partner of the WCF. In 2007, it co-sponsored the WCF IV in Warsaw29 and appeared as official WCF partner in 2012.30 Red Familia operatives that have participated in WCF events over the years include Fernando Milanes, Jesus Hernandez, Marie-Claire Hernandez and Enrique Gomez Serrano. For 2014 a list of the planning committee exists, which, compared to later WCF iterations, was rather large and diverse:
World Congress of Families III Planning Committee 31
In 2004, Lawrence "Larry" Jacobs joined the Howard Center as Vice-President and stayed on in that position until 2013. Jacobs rejoined the International Organization for the Family in 2017 and 2018 as Managing Director of the World Congress of Families. Jacobs has two Master's degrees from Yale University (1990-92) in Economics and Natural Resource Policy and a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from Allegheny College.32 From June 1992 to September 2000, he worked for Procter and Gamble. Before his stint at the Howard Center, from November 2000 to August 2003, Jacobs was the President and CEO of Healthy Beginnings, "a medical practice and healthcare ministry that worked with more than 18 pro-life pregnancy centers in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio."32
Viktor Orbán (second from left), Brian Brown (center), Allan Carlson (second from right) and Larry Jacobs (right) at the second iteration of the Budapest Demographic Forum in 2018.
2007 - World Congress of Families IV, Warsaw
The fourth WCF iteration took place in May 2007 in Warsaw, Poland, under the patronage of then Polish President Lech Kaczynski. The 2007 meeting started off with a letter from the President to the organizers and participants to the Congress, read out by Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka from the Presidential Chancellery.33
The meeting was to be addressed by Ellen Sauerbrey, at the time head of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, which provoked a letter from 19 Members of the European Parliament demanding that she should not go.34
Co-sponsors of the event included "the American Family Association, Concerned Women For America, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation and the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes the 'intelligent design' concept of the universe's origins and questions Charles Darwin's theory of evolution," according to the right-wing Fox News.34
Below the organizations involved in the "International Organizing Committee" and the sponsors of the WCF IV:
International Organizing Committee Of World Congress Of Families IV35 :
Alliance for the Right to Life (France)
Bradley Foundation (USA)
Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (USA)
Catholic Family Association of Austria (Austria)
Concerned Women for America (USA)
Doha Research Institute for Family & Development (Qatar)
Don Feder Associates (USA)
European Federation for the Family (Switzerland)
European Network Institute for Family Policies (Spain)
Familias Y Sociedad (Mexico)
Family First Foundation (USA)
Family Research Council (USA)
Focus on the Family (USA)
Heritage Foundation (USA)
International Campaign for the Family (USA)
Beverly LaHaye Institute (USA)
Latin American Alliance for Families (Venezuela)
Martine Institut für Demographie, Allgemeinwohl und Familie (Germany)
Moscow Lomonosov State University (Russia)
Pakistan Family Forum (Pakistan)
Peggy Religious Freedom Coalition (USA)
The GFC Foundation (USA)
The Family Caucus (USA)
The Heritage Foundation (USA)
The Howard Center (USA)
The International Campaign for the Family (USA)
United Families International (USA)
University of Virginia, Sociology Department (USA)
Voice of the Family in Africa (Kenya)
World Family Policy Center (USA)
List of Sponsors36 :
American Family Association
2009 - World Congress of Families V, Amsterdam
The fifth iteration of the WCF congress took place in Amsterdam from August 10-12, 2009. The 2009 get-together in Amsterdam kicked off a controversy in the Dutch Parliament, since the government minister André Rouvoet addressed the WCF congress despite requests from other Dutch Parliamentarians that he should not participate.37
Although the politics of the Dutch organizing committee was deemed "unacceptable" to the American organizers, the congress had some immediate effects on the direction of the Dutch Christian Reformed Party (SGP). According to an article in the Public Eye magazine38 :
During the conference Austin Ruse twittered, “Lots of off stage excitement at the WCF. The local organizing committees are not American conservatives and they produced an unacceptable … Document that we had to get killed. A new document was produced by Allan Carlson [founder and longtime international secretary of the WCF] that will be released today.” Ruse and others bullied their agenda into the WCF’s final document, congratulating themselves that “in the end, the Congress was a success.” Not because it brought two opposing sides together, but because the event succeeded in inching Dutch public discourse to the right. Indeed, the research department of the Dutch Christian Reformed Party (SGP), a WCF participant, recommended that Dutch family policy legalize marriage only for a man and a woman, impose stricter restrictions on divorce, and take away the rights of gay couples to adopt.
A Catholic News Agency article lists some of the high-profile attendees of the congress39 :
The Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands is scheduled to speak at the event. ... Participants at the conference include the president of the Pakistan Family Forum, the Archbishop of Utrecht, a representative of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, and a bishop of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia. Monsignor Carlos Simón Vazquez, a sub-secretary of the Pontifical Council on the Family, will also speak.
Congress participants from the U.S. include Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute; president of the Population Research Institute Steven W. Mosher; and Dr. Allan Carlson, WCF founder and president of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.
An article by the Christian Telegraph details minutely who had been involved in the Selection Committee and the Management Committee of the 2009 WCF40 :
Last week, the Selection Committee for World Congress of Families V met in Washington, D.C. and unanimously recommended Amsterdam as the site for the next Congress. Their recommendation was accepted by the WCF Management Committee. The dates of WCF V are August 10-12, 2009, reports World Congress of Families. ...
The 16-member Selection Committee was composed of: Ignacio Arsuaga (HazteOir.org, Spain), Chuck Donovan (Family Research Council), Don Feder (World Congress of Families), Farooq Hassan (Pakistan Family Forum), Jesus Hernandez (The Family Network, Mexico), Marie-Claire Hernandez (Family & Society, Mexico), Randy Hicks (Georgia Family Council), Robert Knight (Culture and Media Institute, Media Research Center), Ewa Kowalewska (Human Life International, Europe), Gwendolyn Landolt (REAL Women of Canada), Yuri Mantilla (Focus on the Family), Dorothy Patterson (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Austin Ruse (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), Mary Ellen Smoot, Jennifer Swim (GFC Foundation) and Father Jaroslaw Szymczak (Institute of Family Studies, Poland). The meeting was chaired by Gwen Landolt (Real Women of Canada).
Five countries made formal bids to host World Congress of Families V – Nigeria, the Netherlands, Latvia, Bolivia and Russia. All were represented by delegations led by the following: Theresa Okafor (Nigeria, Chief Executive, Life League), Simon Polinder (Holland, Chairman, Local Organizing Committee, Amsterdam), Marika Bertule (Latvia, Founder, Family Association) – Miguel Moreno (Bolivia, Leadership Institute, Trinity Foundation) and Lech Kowalewski, representing Fr. Maxim Obukhov (President, National Russian Pro-Life Movement).
Dr. Allan C. Carlson, WCF International Secretary, ... was present at the meeting as a facilitator ...
While unanimously proposing Amsterdam as the site of WCF V, the Selection Committee also resolved that a prep-con (preparatory conference) should be held in Nigeria before WCF V and that the Amsterdam Congress include a panel reporting on the Nigeria meeting. ...
The Management Committee, which has ultimate oversight of the Congress, consists of Carlson, Janice Crouse (Senior Fellow, Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America), Paul Mero (President, Sutherland Institute), William Saunders (Senior Fellow & Human Rights Counsel, Family Research Council) and Christine Vollmer (President, Latin American Alliance for Families).
World Congress of Families Newsletter from August/September 2009, containing a report on the WCF V in Amsterdam
2010 - Sanctity of Motherhood Forum / Russia
In 2010, Larry Jacobs was invited to Russia to advise Russian Orthodox leaders in setting up Christian right coalitions that unite Orthodox with Protestant Evangelical and Roman Catholic groups opposing legalized abortion. In 2010, Jacobs attended the Sanctity of Motherhood Forum, held in Moscow in November 2010, which drew several hundred participants from all over Russia. According to a WCF newsletter, "The Forum was addressed by Larry Jacobs, one of only two non-Russian speakers. Some of the provisions of the Final Resolution adopted by the Forum, were included in the recommendations to the State Council chaired by the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Medvedev.”41
According to the WCF Russia website it was a foundation of the Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin, the Saint Andrew the Firstcalled Foundation, which since 2007 "has been implementing a program 'The sanctity of Motherhood,'" chaired by his wife Natalya Yakunina.42 According to aforementioned WCF newsletter:41
Natalya V. Yakunina is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Pan-Russian Program "Sanctity of Motherhood.” The Program was launched in 2006, is inter-regional in scope and is aimed at strengthening the family, helping mothers and children, promoting natural family values in Russian society, and development of interaction between society, the Church and the state in strengthening the institution of the natural family. The principal components of the Sanctity of Motherhood Program are: counseling pregnant women intending to have an abortion (aimed at encouraging the continuation of the pregnancy), youth work in the field of social service (designed to teach young people to live in civil society and fostering a responsible attitude toward their own lives), interaction with the media (to develop media/community policies), promoting in the media a family friendly code of conduct, and social advertising campaigns that promotes large families and family values in general. At the VIII session of the World Public Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations" (October 7-11, 2010), Natalya led the section on "The Family: Origins and Future of Civilizations,” where a number of WCF leaders spoke.
In 2011, the WCF co-organized several regional meetings and congresses. According to PR Newswire43 :
This year , World Congress of Families will co-convene the following regional events: The Third Riga Family Forum (May 13, in Latvia), Marriage and Family Conference (May 18-22, Sydney, Australia ), The Future of The Family In Coalition Britain (June 29), The Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind (June 29-30) and International Law Conference On Women and Children (July 14-15, Lagos, Nigeria).
Moscow Demographic Summit
Following initial planning in 2010,44 the WCF sponsored the July 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit, which formulated a communique calling on governments to develop "a pro-family demographic policy and to adopt a special international pro-family strategy and action plan aimed at consolidating family and marriage, protecting human life from conception to natural death, increasing birth rates, and averting the menace of depopulation."45
According to an archived WCF press release44 :
From Nov. 25 to Dec. 2, World Congress of Families Managing Director Larry Jacobs was in Moscow speaking at the Sanctity of Motherhood Conference and other events.
In the course of his trip, Jacobs spoke about the natural family, promoted the World Congress of Families, strategized with the Russian pro-life movement, and inspected the facilities and plans for the WCF “Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind” (tentatively scheduled for July 12-14, 2011).
Jacobs addressed two major conferences, lectured to faculty and students at Lomonosov Moscow State University, met with administrators and faculty at the Russia State Social University, conducted interviews (three for print and one for TV/video) and held 24 different meetings in and around Moscow during five days.
A project of the pro-life Center of National Glory and the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation, the Sanctity of Motherhood Conference was held at the Christ the Savior Cathedral near the Kremlin in Moscow. Jacobs was invited to speak by Mrs. Natalia Yakunina, the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of The Sanctity of Motherhood All-Russia Program implemented by the Center of National Glory and the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation.
Both the Center of National Glory and the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation were founded by Vladimir Yakunin (President of the Russian National Railways) who is an active supporter of the Orthodox pro-family movement within Russia. Mr. Yakunin, is also one of the organizers of the Rhodes Meeting of the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations, which WCF participated in this year.
Among those participating in opening ceremony of the Sanctity of Motherhood conference was Russian First Lady, Svetlana Medvedeva. Other speakers included Orthodox Bishop Panteleimon, Professor Anatoly Antonov of Lomonosov Moscow State University and E.B. Mizulina, the principal pro-life leader in the Russian Parliament, who heads up the Duma’s Committee on Family Affairs and authored the first pro-life law in modern Russia. ...
After the opening plenary presentations, Jacobs met with Ewa Kowalewska (Human Life International, Europe), Father Maxim Obukhov (Head of Pro-Life Centers, Russian Orthodox Church), Galina Zajceva (Russian Pro-Life Leader), Igor Beloborodov (Demography and Pro-Life Orthodox Leader) and Professor Anatoly Antonov (Lomonosov MSU).
Jacobs also met with Father Dimitry Smirnov, spiritual leader of the Russian pro-life and pro-family movement during last 20 years and head of the Synodal department of the Russian Orthodox Church, who expressed unqualified support for the World Congress of Families and the upcoming WCF Moscow Demographic Summit.
Commenting on the importance of his participation in the conference, Jacobs said: “This was the first official WCF trip to Moscow since Allan Carlson’s visit in 1995. We were delighted by the support we found there. Russian pro-life/pro-family forces are eager to cooperate with their counterparts in the West. Given its traditional support for faith and family, Russia will play an increasingly important part in the international struggle to preserve the natural family. We’re looking forward to our first-ever Demographic Summit: Family and The Future of Humankind in Moscow next year.” ...
Jacobs also spoke at the "VI all-Russia Scientific Conference - Pitirim Sorokin Annual Sociology Forum” organized by the Sociology faculty of MSU, Russian Sociology Association RoSA and “Pitirim Sorokin/Nikolai Kondratieff International Institute” . Pitirim Sorokin was [a] Russian-American sociologist who founded the Department of Sociology at Harvard University. He also held meetings with Dr. Vladimir Dobrenkov – the Dean of the Sociology faculty of MSU, and with other famous Russian intellectuals, writers and philosophers - who expressed their full support to the pro-Family activities of the World Congress of Families.
According to a report by Deutschlandfunk, Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov (1951-2020), whom Larry Jacobs had met in Moscow, lanced the inclusion of Aleksey Komov in the WCF, who subsequently became a key Russian WCF emissary46 :
[After the 2008 financial crisis] We [Komov and his wife Irina Shamolina] became Russian Orthodox and went to Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, head of the Patriarch's Commission on Family and Protection of Motherhood. We asked him: How can we help? He said: There is a certain organization, the 'World Congress of Families'. Talk to them, maybe you can work together. So that's what we did.
Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov (1951-2020)
The Russian Aleksey Komov is an ultraconservative anti-choice and anti-LGBTIQ activist, who has been involved in a variety of Christian (Orthodox) fundamentalist organizations and initiatives in Russia and abroad. Komov is best known for his association with the ultra-Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, an ally of Vladimir Putin who has been sanctioned by Canada and the U.S. for funding Russian aggression in Ukraine.47 Malofeev's Tsargard TV channel and Katehon think tank have been offering a platform for Russian, but also European far-right figures, notably the Russian fascist ideologue Alexander Dugin. Furthermore, Komov acts as a foreign projects manager at Malofeev's Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation, and had been a board member of Malofeev's Safe Internet League, a Russian non-governmental organization created to censor information on the Internet.48
Left to right: Alexey Komov, Pat Fagan, Don Feder, Allan Carlson, Vladimir Yakunin, Larry Jacobs and Natalya Yakunina during the Moscow Demographic Summit in 2011.
In the early 2010s, Komov had enrolled in a postgraduate program at IMEMO (The Institute of World Economy and International Relations) working on a PhD thesis on "Demographic modeling in Russia of the 21st century” at the Faculty of Sociology of the Lomonosov Moscow State University under the guidance of Prof. Anatoly I. Antonov, who had been involved in the creation of the WCF. Komov is a key Russian operative in the WCF network, which ran its own Russian website49 associated with Komov.50 According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPCL), the WCF was "increasing its presence in Russia around 2011," and had hired Komov for the job.51 Komov seems to be very active in Italy, where he not only appears as honorary president of the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association (Associazione Culturale Lombardia Russia, LRCA), a Russian-Italian business platform, but can also be frequently spotted in the orbit of the Italian far-right Lega party.51 According to historian Anton Shekhovtsov, the LCRA was essential to Lega's breathtaking successes in the recent years.52
In January 2012, Robert W. Patterson resigned from his job as an aide in Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare after Governor Tom Corbett's administration rejected a request to allow him to continue as editor of the Howard Center's journal, The Family in America. His column had proposed that "birth-control pills suppress women's sexual pleasure" and suggested "condom use deprives women of 'remarkable chemicals' in semen that elevate their mood and self-esteem."53
World Congress of Families VI, Madrid
In May 2012, Ignacio Arsuaga's HazteOír and the Howard Center organized the 6th edition of the World Congress of Families in Madrid. Co-convening organizations were the Alliance Defending Freedom (form. Alliance Defense Fund), the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) and Focus on the Family.
According to a press message from 2011:43
At a recent meeting of the International Selection Committee, Madrid was unanimously recommended as the site of World Congress of Families VI – May 25-27, 2012. The Selection Committee met in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), and was hosted by SWBTS President Paige Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, also a member of the Committee.
For that year there exists no list of the Planning Committee, only of an Academic Committee:54
World Congress of Families VI Academic Committee
Some of the World Congress of Families "Partners" in 2012.
2013 - World Congress of Families VII, Sydney
The 7th iteration of the WCF took place from May 15-18, 2013, in Sydney, Australia, during which Ignacio Arsuaga was awarded the title “Man of the year in defense of the natural family.” According to the program, the Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin took part in a panel discussion “Faith, Family and Civilisation,” alongside Paige Patterson, USA, and Rabbi Shimon Cowen, Australia.55
Logo of Tradition, Family, Property.
That year, a three-tiered sponsorship scheme was introduced: co-conveners (GOLD) contributed 20.000 €; sponsors (SILVER) 15.000 €; and collaborators (BRONZE) 10.000 €. As "Gold Sponsors" that year, besides the Howard Center, appeared the Australian Family Association, the Australian Christian Lobby and Bruderhof.56 Among the "Bronze Sponsors" were once more the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Focus on the Family.56 Among the exhibitors were three national sections of the arch-Catholic Tradition, Family, Property: the Australian TFP Bureau Inc; the American TFP and the French Societe Francaise pour la defense de la Tradition, Famille, Propriete - TFP.56
When in June 2013 the Russian anti-gay law was launched, Larry Jacobs commented that "The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world."57 The coalition stated "Russia, with its historic commitment to deep spirituality and morality, can be a hope for the natural family supporters from all over the world." Jacobs commented that "The Kremlin used to be a no-no for conservatives," but added "We're going to redeem that building."58
In November 2013, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) denied a meeting hosted by the Howard Center and the World Congress of Families access to a Senate meeting room. The meeting eventually went on as scheduled after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) intervened.59
World Congress of Families VIII, Moscow (cancelled)
In October 2013, the international planning committee came together, organizing the 8th iteration of the World Congress of Families summit in Moscow, scheduled for September 10 to 12, 2014.60 According to a mailing list announcement60 :
Members of the International Planning Committee for WCF VIII that attended the Moscow meeting included: Ignacio Arsuaga (HazteOir, Spain), Brian Brown (National Organization for Marriage, U.S.), Benjamin Bull (Alliance Defending Freedom, U.S.), Allan Carlson, Lawrence Jacobs and Don Feder (The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society and World Congress of Families, U.S.), Silvio Dalla Valle (Association for the Defense of Christian Values, Italy), Shelly Locke (Power of Mothers, U.S.), Bob McKoskrie (Family First, New Zealand), Tom Minnery (Focus on The Family, U.S.) Justin Murff (Christian Broadcasting Network, U.S.), Austin Ruse (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, U.S.), Steven Smoot (Family First Foundation, U.S.), Christopher Carmouche (GrassTopsUSA), Christine Vollmer (Latin American Alliance for the Family, Venezuela), Peter Westmore (Australian Family Association), Srdjan Nogo (Dveri, Serbia), Vincente Segu (Incluyendo Mexico), Fabrice Sorlin (France) and Jack Hanick (formerly with FOX News, U.S.).
However, because of the situation in the Ukraine and Crimea, planning for the conference was suspended, and the summit finally cancelled.61
Starting in 2014, operatives of the Christian Right foundation and petition platform CitizenGo began populating the Howard Center, which had formed the previous year in the World Congress of Families orbit. In May 2012, the Spanish anti-LGBTIQ hate group HazteOir had organized the 6th edition of the WCF in Madrid, a Spanish-only organization founded by the Catholic fundamentalist operative Ignacio Arsuaga in 2001, set out to fight an imputed "gender ideology."62 Subsequently Arsuaga's operations received a considerable boost, and with the newly forged contacts he went on to found CitizenGo in 2013 in Madrid, a foundation and lobby group that with the help of an online platform launches petitions worldwide to further its arch-reactionary causes. By now, CitizenGo is at the heart of a vast network of ultra-Catholic, anti-abortion, and anti-LGBTIQ NGO's and advocacy groups, and intricately linked to the far-right Spanish Vox party. The organization is also in contact with various European far-right parties, among them Alternative for Germany, Italy's Lega, and the Hungarian Fidesz party.63
Slide from a CitizenGo presentation from December 2013.
In 2014, Ignacio Arsuaga, the founder and president of HazteOir and CitizenGo, joined the Howard Center as a director, so did the American Brian S. Brown, a trustee of CitizenGo. They were joined in 2016 by the Russian Aleksey Komov and the Italian Luca Volontè as fellow trustees,64 who both sit on the board of trustees of CitizenGo as well. All four are still listed as trustees of the Howard Center, according to its latest filings (2019).65
From left to right: the condemned Luca Volontè, Mike Huckabee of the American Republican Party, the Mexican Rodrigo Iván Cortés of the National Action Party, and Ignacio Arsuaga, president of HazteOír and CitizenGo, at the March for Marriage held in Washington in 2014.
As apparent from the pictures below, IOF operatives connected to CitizenGo have been actively courting European far-right state leaders, such as Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban.
Brian S. Brown with Matteo Salvini in October 2018.
Brian Brown's (born ca. 1974) career in the scene started in 2001 as executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut,66 a state affiliate of the Christian fundamentalist Focus on the Family.67 Brown is a co-founder (2007) and current president of the IOF-affiliated National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a non-profit political organization mainly rallying against the legalization of same-sex marriage. According to an article by Catholics for Equality, "Opus Dei members founded and funded the creation of the National Organization for Marriage," whose "members range from Supreme Court justices Scalia and Thomas, to anti-gay presidential candidate Rick Santor[u]m, to NOM founders Robert George and Maggie Gallagher -- to Virginia's anti-gay crusader Ken Cuccinelli."68 Trump lawyer John Eastman has also been on NOM's board for many years. The New York Times, reported "The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, donated about $2 million to help get the National Organization for Marriage started. Mormons contributed heavily to the Proposition 8 campaign, and Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, now archbishop of San Francisco, raised money to put the initiative on the ballot."69
Brown is also the founder (2011) and Chairman of ActRight.com, which raises money and hosts petitions promoting Christian Right causes and candidates.70 Furthermore, since its inception in 2013, Brown has been involved in CitizenGo, currently serving as a board member. As of 2017, Brown was on the Council for National Policy Board of Governors, and a CNP Gold Circle member.71 72
Matteo Salvini and Ignacio Arsuaga. Picture posted by Ignacio Arsuaga on Facebook on April 1, 2019.
Ignacio Arsuaga Rato (*1973) is a Spanish lawyer and Catholic Right campaigner. He is the founder and president of the Spanish anti-LGBTIQ platform HazteOir.org ("Make Yourself Heard"), and also of the internationally operating Christian Right CitizenGO foundation and petition platform. He has been involved in the planning of the World Congress of Families since at least 2008, and in 2014 joined the Howard Center as director For many years Arsuaga has been a friend of Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish far-right party Vox,73 founded in the same year as CitizenGo (2013).
János Martonyi, Luca Volontè, and Viktor Orbán, posted on Orbán’s Facebook page on March 28, 2012.
Luca Volontè is an Italian Catholic Right activist and politician. Volontè was formerly an Italian MP (1996 to 2013), and President of the European People's Party at the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) (2010-2013). Until 2019 he was chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), a "Catholic-fundamentalist think tank"74 associated with Steve Bannon. He was a co-founder and later CEO of the Novae Terrae Foundation.75 Volontè has also been serving as trustee of the board of CitizenGo as well as of the Howard Center. In January 2021, he was sentenced to four years in prison for taking bribes from Azerbaijani politicians.76
International Organization for the Family
In 2016, Brian Brown became president of the Howard Center. With Brown at the helm, a restructuring of the Howard Center into the International Organization for the Family was initiated. Since 2018 the Howard Center is officially doing business as the International Organization for the Family, which today appears as the organizer of the WCF. As of 2022, the IOF is located at the premises of the (former) Howard Center.4 In the meantime, the Howard Center's papers have been transferred to the Northern Illinois University.77
Although Carlson had given up the rudder to Brown, he stayed with the IOF as John Howard Senior Fellow and editor of The Natural Family: An International Journal of Research and Policy, indicating that he agreed with Brown's course. Also Earl Clark remained at the IOF as the Director of UN and International Policy.
The first project of the IOF was the so-called “Cape Town Declaration,” aiming to reaffirm “the dignity of marriage as the conjugal bond of man and woman” across the globe. To that end, Luca Volontè and Brian Brown traveled to South Africa in December 2016. The occasion also served as a kickoff event for the IOF, according RightWingWatch.78
IOF's first big event, the signing of the 2016 Cape Town Declaration.
Brian Brown stated on December 9, 2016, in regards to the launching of the IOF:
We are taking the Howard Center's great work like the World Congress of Families and expanding it with the launch of the International Organization for the Family.
The legacy of Dr. John Howard will live on and continue to be honored with the creation of the John Howard Distinguished Fellowship for Family, Religion and Society. We are pleased to announce Dr. Allan C. Carlson will be the first holder of this fellowship.
The World Congress of Families will remain the key project of the International Organization for the Family, but we will be launching or growing a number of other projects to greatly expand the emerging global family movement.
Group of Friends of the Family
The IOF subsequently joined the Group of Friends of the Family, a networking platform for anti-choice groups lobbying the UN, launched in February 2015. According to a press statement, "Belarus, Egypt and Qatar organized the launch of the Group of Friends of the Family in the UN Headquarters in New York. The event was attended by representatives of 25 countries from different regions of the world, which proved themselves as supporters of the traditional family and family values."79 The group organizes an annual event titled "Uniting Nations for a Family Friendly World," bringing together anti-choice groups lobbying the UN.80 The respective website states that the event is presented by80 :
The Permanent Missions of Bangladesh, Belarus, Comoros, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Yemen, and Zimbabwe, in cooperation with Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), and Family Watch International (FWI), Concerned Women for America (CWA), Civil Society for the Family including Family Research Council, Human Life International, HazteOir.org, CitizenGo, and Derecho a Vivir.
Members of The Group of Friends of the Family as of November 2021.
The paper trail of the Howard Center / IOF stops in 2019. At the time, Brian S. Brown was listed as president of the IOF, with Ignacio Arsuaga, Aleksey Komov, Vicente Segu Marcos and Luca Volontè being trustees.65 Some of the IOF's functionaries are listed on its website and ever since 2019 remain the same:81
- Brian Brown (President)
- Joseph L. Grabowski (Executive Director)
- Earl Douglas Clark (Director of UN and International Policy)
- Allan C. Carlson (John Howard Senior Fellow & Editor of The Natural Family: An International Journal of Research and Policy)
- Nicole King (Managing Editor of The Natural Family: An International Journal of Research and Policy)
WCF XIII - Verona
The latest WCF iteration took place in 2019 in Verona, Italy.82 Italy's fascist Forza Nuova party took part, so did three prominent Italian politicians: deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini, the minister for family and disability Lorenzo Fontana (formerly deputy mayor of Verona) and education minister Marco Bussetti.83
The WCF 2019 website mentions the following co-conveners:82
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- 27990 forms of the Howard Center published by ProPublica, https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/541788267.
- 28“Mexico 2004: Convening Organizations,” World Congress of Families III, October 12, 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20041012005729/http://worldcongress.org/WCF3/wcf3_conv.htm.
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- 44 a b " Jacobs Finds Support For International Pro-family And Pro-life Movement In Moscow," World Congress of Families, December 13, 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20160303214436/http://profam.org/press/wcf.pr.101213.htm.
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- 46Gesine Dornblüth, "Netzwerk konservativer ChristenReligiöse Rechte in Russland und den USA," Deutschlandfunk, November 19, 2019, https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/netzwerk-konservativer-christen-religioese-rechte-in-100.html.
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