WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty arm, should “resist efforts that isolate Catholic-funded organizations from effective coalitions that are improving the lives of low-income citizens,” according to a new report examining threats to CCHD’s funding.
The report also assailed what were called, in the words of the head of one CCHD-funded group that had its grant pulled, the “witch hunt” tactics by CCHD’s opponents. The report was published June 11 by Faith in Public Life, which bills itself as “a strategy center for the faith community advancing faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.”
“Lay Catholics concerned about protecting the church’s social justice witness in public life should redouble their commitment to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development through donations, letters of support to bishops and volunteering,” said one recommendation in the report.
The report is titled “Be Not Afraid?: Guilt by Association, Catholic McCarthyism and Growing Threats to the U.S. Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Mission.”
It accuses such groups as the American Life League and the Reform CCHD Now Coalition of “creating a culture of fear around community organizing,” based on interviews with community development experts, nonprofit directors and national philanthropic leaders.
The 10,000-word report was endorsed by, among others, two former presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, six retired U.S. bishops, a former USCCB associate general secretary, two former CCHD directors and seven former CCHD employees. Eighteen organizations, 17 Catholic and one interfaith, also endorsed the report. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn, N.Y., endorsed the report before he died June 7, and the report is dedicated to his memory.
“Be Not Afraid?” offered several case studies of groups that had their CCHD funding pulled after the grant had already been awarded, often for having a coalition partner that adopted a political position contrary to Catholic teaching but is not germane to the funded organization’s work.
The Minneapolis-based Land Stewardship Project, founded in 1982, trains new farmers, challenges large-scale factory farms that have poor records on labor rights, and advocates for more sustainable local agriculture. It has received CCHD grants since the late 1980s, and $190,000 since 2007. But after getting a $48,000 grant last year, it was told to resign its membership in two organizations that did not endorse the Minnesota bishops’ efforts for an amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage or its grant would be yanked.
According to the report, the American Life League had compiled a dossier noting the connections between the nonprofits, posted it online and sent it to Minnesota bishops and to CCHD officials in Washington. Project director Mark Shultz, according to the report, “believes the American Life League’s ‘witch hunt’ tactics created an atmosphere of fear and paranoia that cast doubt about (its) fidelity to Catholic teaching despite its long history of working with CCHD.”
The grant was pulled after the Land Stewardship Project refused to resign its membership. After word spread of the revocation, other donations more than made up for the forfeited grant money.
Companeros, an immigrant rights organization in the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., had its CCHD grant — more than half of the organization’s revenue — pulled after it was found to be part of a coalition that included One Colorado, a homosexual rights group. Like the Land Stewardship Project, it received donations that more than equaled the lost CCHD funding.
But Companeros director Nicole Mosher told Faith in Public Life that she worries about the organization’s future without the “anchor” of CCHD funding.
CCHD’s current director, Ralph McCloud, told Catholic News Service that the 2010 CCHD “review and renewal” process meant to address shortcomings some saw in its grant funding was “an opportunity for CCHD to look entirely at some of the mechanisms and some of the safeguards to see whether there needs to be any tweaking and changing. I think it was time after 40 years.”
The collection started in 1970, raising $8 million. The 2011 collection, the latest for which figures are available, raised $9.8 million.
The sticking point for CCHD critics appears to be with some of the coalition partners of organizations that get funding from the agency. But “most of the folks, if not all of the funded groups, understand where the Catholic Church comes in,” McCloud told CNS. “They respect that. They’ve made in some ways conscious efforts to be in compliance and they make sure they would never accidentally cross the line. I think it’s given us an opportunity to share that those teaching and those beliefs in a bolder way.”
Some bishops have opted out of the nationwide CCHD collection, preferring instead to conduct their own drives. “Each diocese is different,” McCloud said. “There are no two that are alike. … But we’re open to conversation with anyone” about having them rejoin CCHD.
Michael Hichborn, director of the American Life League’s Defend the Faith project, described the project as “assisting bishops across the country defend the Catholic Church from attacks both from without as well as from within.” He said the report seems “to have a thing on CCHD guidelines on coalitions. We simply applied those guidelines. So if they have a complaint about the guidelines, I don’t know why they’re pointing a finger at us about that.”
Hichborn also dismissed as “totally inaccurate” the “witch hunt” characterization in “Be Not Afraid?” “First of all, we’re not looking for witches, we’re not looking for bad organizations just because” the group wants to, he said. “We’re looking for organizations that receive money that are working directly against the Catholic Church.”
“Unfortunately, there are some folks who really don’t understand it,” McCloud told CNS, referring to the agency’s mission. “There are others who have yet to experience it in a way, and appreciate the way the CCHD has over the years and over the decades worked with groups in low-income communities, to hear firsthand what some of the needs are.”
“It seems like the most zealous guardians of Catholic identity are so busy playing purity police that they miss the larger essence,” said John Gehring, who wrote the Faith in Public Life report. Those groups, he added, should focus on “the spirit of the law more than about the letter of the law.”