You'll want to read this issue from cover to cover

Reading the articles we've gathered in this week's larger-than-usual issue, you'll detect a theme that actually was not as planned as it might seem: the incredible variety and quantity of good work that Catholic charities do in very challenging circumstances.

In some cases, Church social services are squeezed by local legislation, like the Colorado law that would prevent Denver's Catholic Charities -- the largest nonprofit social service provider in the region -- from favoring Catholics in hiring decisions (see Page 4).

In others, they're working in environments where conventional wisdom has it that the Church is actually an impediment because of its stance, for instance, that condoms are not the solution to HIV transmission.

Yet it's estimated that 25 percent of all people worldwide with HIV are cared for by Catholic agencies.

Among the largest is Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' foreign aid agency, which recently revised its internal guidelines on condoms in HIV prevention to ensure that its thousands of employees were aware of Church teaching and of the latest scientific evidence regarding their effectiveness (see Page 3).

Another hurdle faced these days by Catholic Relief Services, and other U.S. charities that operate overseas, is the weak dollar. Even though donors are giving more, the dollar is going a lot less far in the developing world and the agencies are having to make tough decisions about their resources (see Page 11).

Similar tough decisions are being made by Catholic charities domestically because of the stalling economy. More people today are turning to food banks to supplement their family's nutritional intake, but food-bank and pantry inventories, for a variety of factors -- including good ones like increased efficiency in farm practices and packaging -- are drying up (see Page 5).

Maybe it's a good thing that this is Lent, when re-evaluating one's level of almsgiving is liturgically appropriate. The entire middle insert of the paper this issue is dedicated to a series of articles on charitable giving, from the latest trends in giving to its biblical foundations.

There's also the remarkable story that even in the midst of this economic downturn, Americans are giving more to charity (see Page 20). Part of the reason is that nonprofits increasingly are taking a cue from for-profits in adopting greater accountability and transparency.

We hope you read this issue cover to cover. And maybe you'll be inspired to give a little more to one of the many good Catholic charities that need more help.

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-- John Norton