(RNS) Conservative activists are threatening the social justice mission of the Catholic Church just when the country needs it most, a new report charges, by attacking the church’s flagship anti-poverty program with 21st-century style “Catholic McCarthyism.”

Workers at Southwest Creations Collaborative in Albuquerque, N.M., learn delicate sewing skills, financial literacy and English, which is partially funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development The women-owned company charges 25 cents an hour for child care. RNS file photo by Ken Touchton.

Workers at Southwest Creations Collaborative in Albuquerque, N.M., learn delicate sewing skills, financial literacy and English, which is partially funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development The women-owned company charges 25 cents an hour for child care. RNS file photo by Ken Touchton.


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The report, released Tuesday (June 11), says the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is hamstrung by conservative purists who make it impossible for the church to join with other programs or agencies to combat the systematic causes of poverty.

“A small but well-financed network has emerged as a relentless opponent of the bishops’ social justice campaign, which has long been recognized as one of the most influential funders of grassroots community organizing,” writes John Gehring, who authored the 24-page report for Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based lobby of religious progressives.

What may be most significant about the report is that it has won strong public backing from prominent bishops and church leaders, including two former presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With a new pope who has made a priority of championing the poor — even if it means linking arms with nonbelievers — defenders of CCHD and social justice are finding an assertiveness that was missing during the more hardline papacies of Benedict XVI and even John Paul II.

“I’m confident that if Pope Francis knew about the CCHD program he would say, ‘God bless the American bishops!’ for doing what they can to help the poor,” said retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, a former USCCB president, before heading to this week’s closed-door meeting of the nation’s bishops.

The CCHD distributed $9 million in grants to community groups and social action initiatives last year, but in recent years the program has drawn renewed fire from church conservatives who say its programs favor liberal economic policies.

Critics also accuse the program of working with non-Catholic groups that undermine battles against abortion and gay rights that they say should dominate the bishops’ agenda.

A number of bishops and some parishes have halted or discouraged CCHD collections in their dioceses after hearing charges – almost all of which have proven unfounded – that the CCHD funds groups that promote same-sex marriage or reproductive rights.

“Using guilt by association and other tactics from the McCarthy-era playbook,” Gehring writes, “these activists are part of an increasingly aggressive movement of Catholic culture warriors who view themselves as fighting for a smaller, ‘purer’ church.”

The decades-long tug of war over the CCHD closely tracks the fissures that are dividing the Catholic Church – splits between political liberals and conservatives; and between those who want to engage the world and those who want to rally a tradition-minded core against a secularizing society.

On a larger scale, the fight over CCHD reflects a longstanding divide over whether a few litmus-test issues — most of which do not include social justice concerns — can or should define what it means to be a Catholic in America.

The two former USCCB heads — Fiorenza and retired Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash. — were joined by eight other bishops and a who’s who of more than 30 Catholic social justice activists, including former USCCB officials, two past CCHD executive directors, and several well-known priests and nuns.

“At a time when poverty is growing and people are hurting, we should not withdraw from our commitment to helping the poor,” Fiorenza, who headed the USCCB from 1998-2001, is quoted as saying in the report. “Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.”

The bishops’ meeting in San Diego will be the first gathering of the U.S. hierarchy since Francis’ election, and Fiorenza said he hoped that their awareness of the pontiff’s priorities would encourage bishops who have opposed the CCHD “to take another look.”

‘I’m really tired of being defensive’

The CCHD was begun in 1970 and is supported by an annual collection in the nation’s parishes. It was hailed by John Paul II for “removing the causes of poverty and not merely the evil effects of injustice.”

But conservatives always chafed at the program’s liberal-sounding approach and they ramped up their criticism and activism in the wake of the 2008 election of President Obama, who worked with CCHD-backed groups as a community organizer in Chicago.

In 2009, a coalition called “Reform CCHD Now” was formed by the American Life League, one of the most vocal anti-abortion lobbies, and it has spearheaded the opposition by raising questions about groups that receive CCHD grants.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for “Reform CCHD Now” said the group stood by its charges that CCHD continues to fund grantees that are “involved directly in the promotion of contraception, abortion and homosexual activism.”

Rob Gasper also rejected the accusation that the “Reform CCHD Now” coalition is pursuing a “guilt by association” approach. Rather, he said, “if a CCHD grantee joins a coalition that has as one of its operational goals the promotion of items against Catholic teaching, then that grantee is guilty by participation.”

A 2011 memo from two bishops who oversee the CCHD for the hierarchy said all but one of the many accusations against the CCHD were unfounded and they denounced “the repeated accusations of those with clear ideological and ecclesial agendas.”

But the anti-CCHD campaign continued, and it has succeeded in having a number of grants rescinded by arguing that some recipients worked with organizations that do not always endorse or promote the church’s teaching on sexuality.

In 2012, for example, Companeros, a small nonprofit in rural Colorado that helps immigrants, lost CCHD funds amounting to half of its budget because of its association with a statewide immigrant rights coalition that included a gay and lesbian advocacy group. Companeros itself does not work on gay rights.

Also, in the past year alone, five affiliates of the Gamaliel Foundation, one of the nation’s largest faith-based networks, lost CCHD funds because of charges, which it rejects, that Gamaliel is an “organization promoting homosexuality” and supporting abortion rights.

“I’m really tired of being defensive,” David Liners, who heads a Gamaliel affiliate in Wisconsin, says in the report. “Just the act of being defensive gives credence to these people. As a Catholic, I find all of this unspeakably painful.”

The coalition has also gained traction with the growing political conservatism of the U.S. hierarchy and its staff in Washington. Several bishops have halted the annual CCHD fund drives or have raised so many hurdles for funding that only select, church-run groups can qualify.

That has undermined the program’s effectiveness and led some church officials to resign in protest, the report says.

“Many of these critics are bomb throwers who believe that by destroying the credibility of those working for social justice they will somehow enhance the pro-life agenda,” Tom Allio, who retired as Social Action Director for the Diocese of Cleveland, is quoted as saying. “Nothing could be further from the truth. They want to make social justice and faith-based organizing dirty words.”

KRE/YS END GIBSON

47 Comments

    • Sanity? While walking backwards? If this pope brings sanity into the church he will be assasinated. Twisted rationale, skewed reason, nonsensical beliefs and a lot of Jingoism IS the Catholic Church.

  1. Stephen Phelan

    “With a new pope who has made a priority of championing the poor — even if it means linking arms with nonbelievers — defenders of CCHD and social justice are finding an assertiveness that was missing during the more hardline papacies of Benedict XVI and even John Paul II.”

    It’s this kind of disingenuous framing of the Church’s response to the poor that divides people. Pope Francis also said that the Church is not a charitable NGO, and that her response to the poor cannot be merely secular. He is entirely in agreement with his predecessors about the unity of the Church’s social and moral doctrine, and has a beautiful, spontaneous and natural way of demonstrating his love of the poor. How unfair, and telling, it is that the author characterizes his predecessors’ pontificates as “hardline.”

  2. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    There are certainly very many genuinely Catholic groups working with the poor, the needy, or the afflicted which desperately need funds. Studies show nothing helps uplift poor children in the inner large cities more than Catholic schools –yet many are closing for lack of funds.
    Since there are so many Catholic groups which need help, I wonder what is the purpose of funding secular groups which may have questionable other activities beyond helping lifting people from poverty or helping people survive poverty.

      • Actually there are a LOT of Catholic groups doing what CCHD purports to be doing. They just don’t operate with the clangor and promotion that CCHD gets. Just for one effective group (around the world), check on the activities of the St’ Vincent dePaul Society……..not too much publicity there, is there? That’s because they shun publicity, choosing to use funds to actually HELP people. There are a lot of others, but like STVP, they operate below the :”sight” line, and are consequently dismissed by casual observers.

  3. At best it is disingenuous to use the old rag moniker of “mcarthyism” to describe the just challenges CCHD must face in dealing with mediocre decisions relating to past activities. It is a detraction from legitimate description of their affiliations and compatriots in the claimed battle in lifting up the poor. While working with nonbelievers can be a noble thing but CCHD’s affiliations have been far worse. Defensiveness is not a shield against criticism. The truth is. Please CCHD, face it.

    • I think the term “McCarthyism” is fair. The accusations are not against the groups themselves but their associates. The problem of McCarthyism was that instead of going after actual Communists, it tarred people and groups with Communism for distant and indirect relations with left wing groups. This is what is happening here.

      • The use of the “mcarthyism” label is CCHD’s use as a shield against legitimate criticism. If one is guilty or there is an appearance of guilt, deflect it with a good offense. True reform does not need a defense. If the service is truly for the poor rather than politics, then such a label would not serve. The label is not charitable. What is needed is reform, complete reform, and not a strategic defense, in response to problems with the granting process and their affiliates.

  4. Jo the Housewife

    Yes, CCHD is the funding dog of PROGRESSIVE community organizing, the one that helped get Obamacare passed, so thank you CCHD for your help getting the HHS mandate slapped on us. USCCB must be mighty proud. Why don’t you list all the bishops who you claim SUPPORT this, because I have my own list of pastors who WILL NOT collect for you. You have mis-led the parishioners for 40 years. You will be exposed, and if you truly think you are right in funding PROGRESSIVE CAUSES like abortion, Obamacare, same-sex marriage, you are in the wrong Church—plenty of protestants will welcome you, like Mr. Wallis. JUDGES 21:25

      • And our sister in Christ, Sebilius, orders health insurers to cover Planned Parenthood in Obamacare exchanges. So? I’m glad you can afford it. I can’t.

        Let’s roll that James Okeefe/Hannah Giles acorn footage again.

        • The Obamacare Exchanges leave it to the private market as to what health care providers a person can use. Why do you think the government should tell people what doctor to go to?

    • RIGHT ON! My sentiments exactly. Oh, except for this phrase: “A small but well-financed network has emerged as a relentless opponent of the bishops’ social justice campaign, which has long been recognized as one of the most influential funders of grassroots community organizing.” Totally NOT TRUE. We are small but we are NOT well-financed!

    • Real Catholic

      You said it right! Any associations that pretend to help the poor and then in the back door fund abortions is no help at all.
      Plenty of great organizations that truly help!

  5. Rebecca Gonzales

    Talk about pain within the church! Those who disagree that CCHD is above reproach also feel pain. There is enough injustice to go around, even amongst those who defend their social justice activities as being progressive. Social justice activities are generally intolerant of prolife groups or inhumane pain and violence against babies in the womb. And for this they are funded handsomely by CCHD. Not so for pro life activism. Yes I know — let’s cover this neglect by saying that working to help the poor is

    • “Social justice activities[sic] are generally intolerant of prolife”

      I am pro-life and pro-social justice. I am involved in some social justice groups where most other people particpating are pro-choice, but they tolerate me. I left a Right to Life group because the leadership screamed at me because I said I believed workers have the right to join a union. In my experience it is the RTLers who are partisan and intolerant.

      • I am prolife and pro-social justice, not the kind that chases after left-wing politics and government solutions, but the kind that enables people to build their lives and families, in a wealth-building, resource [in a responsible environmental manner] using, free market manner–backed by a strongly independent judiciary that secures inviolable rights of life, liberty, and property, recognizing that life is good and that poor and disadvantaged people need help from both the community and from other families, and in government closest to the people. It doesn’t seek left or right wing politics but true charity and good will.

        • In order to secure our inherent right to Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness that has been endowed to us from God, and is thus unalienable, one must begin by recognizing that the purpose of our unalienable rights is what God intended.

  6. mortimer zilch

    Whoah dude, the People have called you out! “McCarthyism” didn’t fly, in fact, that ploy fell out of the sky like a rock. So did your use of “hardline” to describe the Popes previous to Francis. Oh, please, I think the People have got this right.

  7. There are a lot of government agencies that help the poor, including many other denominations. The Roman church needs to keep its school and hospitals open. Charity begins at home, and right now the Church seems to focus on the issue of poverty as a diversionary tactic from getting a lot of other more important issues resolved.

  8. “Man does not live on bread alone but on every Word that comes from the Mouth of God.” -Jesus The Christ

    “As the Family goes, so goes the Nation.” – Pope John Paul II

  9. I think you show your true colors when you refer to American Life League as “one of the most vocal anti-abortion lobbies” ,like its a diry word or bad organization to be trying to stop the murder of 50 million babies. Also using the word anti-abortion makes it seem you look down on Pro-Life organizations or have disdain for them.
    You can’t be any poorer than not even being allowed to live. Which is more important. Getting a chance to LIVE or giving out sandwiches. Some of the ‘socail justice types care nothing for the salvation of the poor only giving out material things. Mother Theresa said she was not a social worker. Yet she did more for the poor they anyone. You can feed a person bread all day but if they don’t find Jesus as Savior they could still not gain salvation. Which should Catholics be concerned about. the Gospel is not material social justice. it is Salvation throught thte Blood of Jesus to give eternal life. I am the Bread of Life said Jesus. you are only looking for me because you ate the bread and were filled.
    Man does not live by bread alone he also said. It these organizations would try to preach the gospel as well Orthodox Catholics would not be so leary of your works. No one is justified by God by their works alone. Yet this is the gospel you seem to preach. A partial gospel, This is what the reformation was about wasn’t it. No wonder so many Protestants think Catholics believe they are saved by good works alone. That’s all you types talk about. No mention of Jesus or prayer same the goverment orgs.

        • owlafaye,

          About 4 million babies are born in the United States each year. That totals to about 160 million in the 40 years since abortion became legal. If your tiny little head can grasp that then you can understand how the number of 50 million abortions is reasonable. 50 million abortions out of 210 million pregnacies is 23%. These figures basically match those provided by the Center for Disease Control.

          Your 1 in 3 calculation of 50 million abortions from a population of 150 million women shows you have no understanding of statistics. Your estimate is based on a snapshot in time and does not account for 40 years of time. Nor does it adjust for women who have not reached the age where they can conceive or are too old to conceive nor women who could never conceive. One other factor to consider is that a woman can have more than one abortion. I could provide several other factors to be considered but these make my point.

          If you are going to insult people at least know what you are talking about. It seems the only one hallucinating (the correct spelling) is you.

  10. The Bishops have been soliciting funds for CCHD on the ostensible basis that the monies donated will be used to promote the Catholic duty to aid the poor. It has been a fraud since the beginning. CCHD was started by Saul Alinski adherents to get Catholics to fund an anti-Catholic secular agenda to obtain political power on the patently false grounds that political power was the answer to poverty. The community organizers’ greatest success has not been alleviating any poverty but electing the most anti-Catholic pro-abortion president in this country’s history. CCHD is a wing of the Democrat party promoting the secular, pagan agenda of “Gay Marriage”, abortion, radical feminism, contraception, etc.

  11. Kristian Freel

    The CCHD should give it’s $50,000 grant back to the Catholic Church after fronting the money to Empower DC; which runs a website telling young girls how to get away with prostitution and not get caught, along with drugs, etc. The website www.reformcchdnow.com spells out all of the violations and shenanigans. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that “Judas Iscariot is the patron saint of social justice” Google it and tell me why he would say such a thing.

  12. Dr. Timothy J. Williams

    The CCHD is straight from hell. They are simply a branch of the Democratic Party, in bed with Planned Parenthood and every other social evil of our age. Irregardless of what the Bishops have to say, I would never give them a dime. I now withhold all funds except for the daily operation of my local Byzantine parish and support of my immediate pastor.

  13. Balderdash. I call BS on it. The Church’s mission is salvation, the NEXT life with God. It isn’t social justice, WTF is that if not whatever those corrupt ossified pufftas want to sustain their incomes and power, or is that boy-toys? It is an illegitimate end when that is a pretext for promoting violations of Church doctrine. You remember what that is? Catechism is available online, so is the Canon law. And anyone who supports abortion or gay marriage or any such nonsense needs to have the funds choked out of them.

  14. David Thompson

    It’s encouraging to see this level of insanity. It just means the sooner the evil empire will self-implode, which is to the benefit of everyone. Now, how can the Southern Baptist learn from this example and replicate it in their cauldron of demons..

  15. This is ugly history repeating itself. The framers of our Constitution knew it well, and that is the why they promptly included the separation of churches and government as the very first of the five (six) limitations of our new government when they and the people of this country amended that Constitution just after they accepted the original, imperfect document. Remember, slavery continued, yet slaves were considered less than a whole person to increase to political power of their owners. Talk about voter suppression. Women could not vote. And the wealthy were favored. That was the beginning of our experiment in “democracy.” Prejudice preceded McCarthy who merely repeated it as conservative “Catholics” are trying to do once again.

    So-called religious people who can ignore the needs of others represent the most evil aspect of religion. And history discloses how very evil religion can be. So-called religious people who are so ignorant about the science and sociology of sexuality that they can be “gay bashers” are as evil as they are ignorant. Prejudice and its evil demonstrations always follow ignorance.

    The Catholic Campaign for Human Development reportedly gave $9 million to community and social action groups last year. Where did the CCHD get that money? How much of it came from the people in the pews? How much of it came from the public treasury? It doesn’t come from the clergy. Did it deserve to be called “Catholic” or was it really “public?” Those who oppose helping others oppose Jesus. They ought to form their own church and select their own pope. It’s been done before, you know.

    $100 million, ten times the CCHD payment in 2012, was paid for the sexual abuse of young people by a single diocese, Orange, CA. All of that, or the cost of premiums for insurance, came from pew warmers, But Bill Donohue and his “conservatives” deny the well-documented sex abuse and/or refuse the see the connection between clerical training–of the past, at least–and those clerical abusers.

    Question. Where does Jesus, “The Model of the Holy,” fit in all this? He certainly opposed poverty. He certainly opposed sexual abuse. He certainly opposed ignorance, limited as science was in his time. And he was hung on a cross because he opposed all such evils in McCarthy-like mobs. Remember, those mobs were the ones who screamed out, “Crucify him!.” And Pilate, the consummate politician, complied with their demand.

  16. Michael Hichborn

    Aside from the fact that this “report” was created by an organization with ties to Planned Parenthood (as if that isn’t enough in and of itself to completely discredit the report in total; see here:www.lifesitenews.com/news/retired-bishops-join-pro-planned-parenthood-group-in-call-for-catholic-fund), the “report” is full of glaring inaccuracies and omissions. For instance, the Land Stewardship Project and Companeros were NOT cut off from CCHD funding because of their membership in coalitions that had OTHER members that promoted same-sex marriage, but because they refused to leave coalitions that had themselves taken official positions supporting same-sex marriage. BIG difference!

    Additionally, the “report” freely explained our charges regarding the Gamaliel Foundation’s relationship with FIRM, but ended with the fact that we accused Gamaliel of lying about its relationship to the CCHD, failing to mention WHY we at American Life League leveled those charges to begin with. I’ll fill in the missing details for you … After Gamaliel told CCHD that they “severed all ties with FIRM in 2010″, we found documents on Gamaliel’s OWN website proving that it was on FIRM’s executive committee in 2011 (a full year AFTER the time it had allegedly “severed all ties with FIRM”). We also found a set of FIRM’s own meeting minutes showing that Gamaliel was nominated for FIRM’s executive committee for 2012. Telling CCHD that it “severed all ties with FIRM in 2010″ while housing documents on its own website proving otherwise (and then later password protecting this information so people couldn’t see the evidence we linked to) seems to constitute a lie to me. You can see the evidence for yourself at the link following. I’d LOVE an explanation for this, but hey … why let facts get in the way of a good lie? reformcchdnow.com/wp-content/uploads/VOICE-Buffalo.pdf

    This “report” is nothing short of an apologetics piece attempting to convince Catholics that they should be giving funds and prestige to organizations working for abortion and homosexuality, just because they pretend to help the poor.

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