(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.
“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.