(RNS) Fundraising for the flagship anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops is slowly recovering after being battered by the recession and sharp attacks on its mission.

Officials at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development said that when 2012 collections are tallied after June 30, the program will match or slightly exceed last year’s mark of about $9.5 million. While that is still significantly down from the $12 million that the nationwide campaign was netting a few years ago, the upward trend is reassuring.

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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“We are pretty optimistic,” said Ralph McCloud, director of the CCHD. McCloud said he was still cautious, given the uncertain nature of the economy, but added that “if things keep going the way they have been, we could see a bit of an upswing.”

That would be good news for a program that in recent years has been known as much for controversy as it has for joining with other groups to fight endemic poverty — the reason it was created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1970.

A report from a progressive religious lobby, Faith in Public Life, earlier this month detailed efforts in recent years by conservative activists to try to undermine the CCHD by accusing the program of giving grants to groups whose members endorsed family planning policies or gay rights.

The report charged critics with practicing a guilt-by-association “Catholic McCarthyism.” The fact that more than 40 prominent bishops and other Catholic leaders endorsed the report was an indicator of how persistent attacks have frustrated the CCHD’s supporters.

A few dioceses, led by conservative bishops, halted the annual CCHD collections in some years and individual parishes also bypassed the collection that is the basis of the campaign’s fundraising.

The USCCB says it has investigated all the charges and found only rare lapses, and it has also tightened up its grant-making policies in order to reassure donors.

But the CCHD’s critics, led by the American Life League, a vocal anti-abortion group, say they are unconvinced and will keep up the pressure.

“CCHD grantees are indeed members of pro-abortion and pro-homosexual coalitions, and such membership is necessary to advance abortion and homosexuality in American society,” the ALL’s Michael Hichborn wrote in a rejoinder to the FPL report.

How much the attacks by ALL and an affiliated group, Reform CCHD Now, contributed to the decline in fundraising is difficult to assess, McCloud said.

Attacks on the CCHD were ramped up in 2009 following the election of Barack Obama as president, but they also coincided with the deepening recession, which hurt charitable donations across the board.

The criticism “may have had some part in the decline, but I think the fact that the CCHD is supported as well as it is means that it isn’t impacting it to a huge degree,” McCloud said.

Still, the nearly 20 percent decline in donations to the CCHD since 2007 appears to be significantly steeper than the average drop-off registered at all charities during the recession, and the rebound has so far not come close to compensating for the shortfall.

Moreover, collections to the Retirement Fund for Religious, which solicits donations to cover pension obligations for elderly nuns and brothers, did not suffer much of a decline during the recession. The collection for retired religious men and women took in $28.1 million in 2009, for example, and just over $29 million in 2012.

After the retired religious collection, the CCHD campaign is the largest national collection undertaken annually by the U.S. hierarchy.

4 Comments

  1. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    One of the best ways families break the circle of poverty is to send their children to Catholic schools. Yet many of those schools-especially in the large cities–where the need is greatest are closing one by one-mostly for financial reasons. 9.5 million dollars would save a lot of children.
    It seems almost criminal to use money for, in some cases, seemingly politicized grants, that could be better used for Catholic education in poverty stricken urban areas to really break the grip of ignorance and poverty.
    That is what saved Catholics from poverty in past waves of immigrants–not grants producing dubious results.

  2. We used to contribute to CCHD, but no longer.

    Part of our contributions go, as Deacon John B. noted, to put our great grandchildren through Catholic school. A good bit of the est stays here, in our parish, and goes to the Saint Vincent dePaul Society, the “quiet” charity that does so much good for needy folk in our own community.

    “Nebulous” programs are okay to support if you have unlimited funds, as seems to be expected of us by the USCCB. Unfortunately, CCHD does not have much to show for the use of donated funds, while Catholic Charities, on the other hand, provides substantial relief for areas hit by disaster. For example, after Katrina, the Mississippi coast could NOT have rebuilt homes as fast as we did without Catholic Charities, plus the contributions of money and people from many parishes, dioceses, and other church groups.

    Thanks, but, no thanks, CCHD. We’ll put our scarce resources where we see them work.

  3. Mike Andrews

    I don’t trust the CCHD. Why should I? The CCHD is a magnet for professional secular social activists who do not share my values. I withhold from the annual collection and encourage others in my diocese to do the same.

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