By Scott Alessi
Caring for the poor and vulnerable in society is a key component of the Catholic Church’s moral and social teaching. The methods used by one Church organization in carrying out this teaching, however, have become a polarizing issue among some Catholics.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the social justice arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, raises money through an annual parish collection to fund local community groups fighting the root causes of poverty. Yet a recent report by the Catholic grassroots group Bellarmine Veritas Ministry has identified several CCHD grant recipients whose work has actually gone against the teachings of the Church by supporting abortion , contraceptive use and same-sex marriage.
Questions about CCHD’s funding choices first arose last year due to the national scandal involving the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), whose workers were involved in cases of alleged embezzlement, voter registration fraud and other misconduct. Although CCHD rescinded its grants to all local ACORN affiliates — making them the first of the group’s financial backers to pull their funding — it left some Catholics concerned about making CCHD donations.
Rob Gasper, founder of Bellarmine Veritas Ministry, told Our Sunday Visitor that in response to the ACORN scandal he began a thorough investigation of all of CCHD’s current grant recipients, looking specifically for instances where those groups dissented from Church teaching on life issues.
Gasper’s report claimed there were five cases in which “firm evidence” existed that a grant recipient was in violation of Church teaching, including two groups — the Chinese Progressive Association and Young Workers United — that had issued voter guides advocating for same-sex marriage.
CCHD responded to the report by noting that one of the identified groups, the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, had already been defunded by the organization and that they would closely investigate the others. A statement released by Biloxi, Miss., Bishop Roger Morin, chairman of the USCCB’s CCHD subcommittee, later confirmed that grants to the Chinese Progressive Association and Young Workers United had been retracted, while in the other two cases “the charges proved to be inaccurate or a misunderstanding had occurred.”
Gasper said that while defunding the two organizations was a positive step on CCHD’s part, he hoped for more.
“This is not satisfying to us because it leaves open the possibility that this could happen again in the future,” he said. “The fact remains that these groups were cleared for funding through the grants process. And until the grant process is reformed, that risk remains.”
Bellarmine Veritas Ministry has since partnered with Catholic pro-life organizations American Life League and Human Life International to establish a “Reform CCHD Now” coalition. They have also called upon Catholics to take a stand on the issue by placing cards in this year’s CCHD collection baskets saying they will not give money to the organization until it revises its grant procedures.
“What we’re interested in is figuring out where the flaw in the grant process is,” Gasper said. “That’s our primary goal here, to get the CCHD to reform their process, to take a deeper look into it and to investigate it so they can avoid such groups being funded again in the future.”
Organizations that wish to obtain a grant from CCHD currently undergo an extensive review process at both the local and national level, according to CCHD director Ralph McCloud. After awarding a grant, McCloud said that CCHD requires recipients to file two reports during the year, and CCHD staff perform checks to “look for compliance with Catholic teaching, accountability and transparency,” he said.
First among CCHD’s criteria for receiving a grant is that the recipient’s activities conform to the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church, including respect for the dignity of human life. Applicants must twice sign a statement during the application process stating that they will follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their funding.
Father Joseph Kerrigan, local CCHD director for the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., said that the application process is stringent. He said local CCHD representatives are responsible for keeping a watch on grant recipients.
“Being in good regular contact with a grant recipient, including site visits, is an important safeguard,” he said.
McCloud told OSV that while it is “very rare” that a grant recipient is found to be in violation of Church teaching, it is a consideration that CCHD does not take lightly.
“The folks working here in the CCHD offices share the same kind of frustrations as some of our critics,” McCloud explained. “When CCHD gets accused of doing some things that are contrary to Catholic teaching we take it very seriously and we are on the same page [as the critics] in terms of what we believe.”
He added that while there are no immediate plans for a major overhaul of the organizations’ practices, they are “always looking at ways to do things better.”
The recent criticism of CCHD’s practices is not the first time Catholics have voiced concerns about the group.
“They come from a liberationist perspective, not a Catholic perspective,” Stephanie Block, a member of the Catholic Media Coalition, an orthodoxy watchdog association of Catholic laity in media. Perhaps with the exception of ACORN, she said, “The problem isn’t one of bad people, the problem is one of bad ideas, or un-Catholic ideas.”
But McCloud said CCHD’s work is rooted in the Gospel.
“CCHD invites Catholics to participate in sharing an age-old Gospel message of loving one another by taking that Gospel message to populations that are often forgotten here in the United States,” he said.
Scott Alessi writes from New Jersey.
Founded in 1969, The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides grants to approximately 250 local, community-based organizations each year. The average size of a national CCHD grant is $30,000, and the vast majority of CCHD’s funding comes from an annual parish collection held each November (this year on Nov. 21-22).
Ralph McCloud, CCHD’s national director, told OSV that the organization’s aim is to “advance life and dignity by working to secure housing, education and employment that allows families to be strengthened and not stressed.”
Community organizing groups funded through CCHD focus on such issues as immigrants’ rights, senior citizen issues, health care, economic justice and neighborhood revitalization. A complete list of grant recipients is released by the organization each year (visit usccb.org/cchd/grants ).
According to CCHD’s guidelines, grant recipients’ efforts must be directed toward relatively large groups of people living in poverty. It is also required that the poor themselves be involved in leadership and decision-making positions in the organization seeking funding.
CCHD’s guidelines prohibit the funding of for-profit organizations, direct-service providers (such as emergency shelters or community centers), government-run agencies or any group involved in partisan political activity. Grant recipients need not be Catholic but must sign an agreement of compliance with the teachings of the Church.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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