Following a string of accusations and controversy surrounding the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops have undertaken a full review of their anti-poverty organization, resulting in both a recommitment to its mission and several changes to strengthen its practices. 

CCHD, an initiative that funds local organizations working to address the root causes of poverty, came under fire last year when several of its grant recipients were linked to efforts promoting abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Grassroots group Bellarmine Veritas Ministry released a detailed report of cases in which CCHD-funded organizations had participated in activities contrary to Catholic teaching and, along with other Catholic groups, formed a coalition calling for a complete overhaul of the organization. 

CCHD responded with its own investigation, with five out of its 270 funded groups having their grants rescinded for violating the agreement not to engage in practices conflicting with Church teaching. But as the controversy continued, with the Reform CCHD Now coalition accusing a total of 67 grant recipients of wrongdoing and several bishops announcing they would not take up the annual CCHD collection, the bishops called for a thorough review of the campaign. 

Renewed mission 

Ralph McCloud, director of CCHD, told Our Sunday Visitor that the 11-month examination of CCHD’s practices helped to identify both areas of success and weakness. 

“Some of the work was tremendous, but we uncovered ways we could do things a little bit better to help us be truer to the mission, as well as ways we might be able to confront poverty with the realities of 2010,” he said. 

The extensive review led to the Oct. 26 release of a 15-page document, “The Review and Renewal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development,” which reaffirms the bishops’ commitment to combating poverty but adds new layers of protection to ensure grant recipients adhere to Church teaching. 

In a media conference call announcing the document’s release, Bishop Roger P. Morin of Biloxi, Miss., chairman of the bishops’ CCHD subcommittee, and John Carr, executive director of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, said that there was no consideration given to shutting down CCHD, despite calls from some critics to do so. Instead, the new document aims to strengthen the ties between CCHD’s mission and the work of the Church, including greater collaboration with other offices of the bishops’ conference and a preference for grant applicants whose work includes Catholic participation. 

“Far from abandoning CCHD, there is an effort to make sure it fully reflects our Catholic principles, abides by Catholic social and moral teaching, and engages in and includes the work of the Cath-olic community,” Carr said. “But its work is, in many ways, needed more than ever.” 

Added safeguards 

The new provisions include enlisting the aid of a moral theologian to advise CCHD on ethical considerations and establishing an independent review board. The CCHD office will also work more closely with diocesan directors to help them screen applicants. 

CCHD has also withheld its 2010 grants until the grant agreement is revised and the new provisions are in place as an added way to ensure that all recipients comply with the newly strengthened guidelines. 

Bishop Morin acknowledged and apologized for past mistakes, but said there will be a “more diligent effort” to prevent such issues going forward. He added that there will be no “trade-offs” in which a group that does positive work in alleviating poverty will be given a grant even though their agenda in some way conflicts with Catholic principles. 

“You either are in with and totally committed to what it is that the Church teaches and preaches socially and morally, or you’re not in and you’re not eligible for funding,” Bishop Morin said. 

Carr admitted that there is no guarantee a grant recipient will not break the agreement they have made to receive funding, but said CCHD will be more proactive in identifying and addressing such instances. 

“If some group were to violate what they pledged to CCHD and the requirements of CCHD, that would be investigated and acted upon immediately,” he said. “So pastors and people can be reassured that their money is being used for the mission of CCHD and not for something else.” 

One area of possible confusion, however, arises from the involvement of CCHD grantees in larger coalitions, resulting in situations where a grant recipient and a group that opposes Church teaching are jointly working toward a common goal. Carr said that the determining factors in such cases will be the overall agenda of the coalition, the CCHD grant recipient’s involvement in setting that agenda and who the primary decision makers in the coalition are, with the review board being utilized to judge complicated cases. 

But according to Bishop Morin, simply working alongside a group that doesn’t agree with Catholic teaching will not disqualify an organization from receiving CCHD funding. 

“It is going to take some very close vetting and examination of the memberships of coalitions, but I think precluding or eliminating the possibility for doing good work because there is sometimes a conclusion that there is guilt by association can be detrimental to the good work that we’re trying to do,” he said.

Critics silenced? 

CCHD’s critics, however, are not yet convinced that the new measures will solve the problems. Rob Gasper, founder of Bellarmine Veritas Ministry, told OSV that while the report is a positive step, the effectiveness of the new provisions will not be apparent until the 2010 grant recipient list is released. 

But since the list won’t be available until after the annual CCHD collection this month, Gasper said there is still cause for concern. 

“It creates a situation where there is a lack of transparency,” he said. “While we are hopeful that the grantees will reflect the more stringent guidelines, Catholics have no way of measuring how the reforms are working out in practice without knowing which groups are receiving funds.” 

Scott Alessi writes from New Jersey.

Key Changes (sidebar)

Some of the major changes to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in the bishops’ report include: 

◗ A rewritten pre-application, application and grant agreement enumerating specific positions that exclude groups from receiving funding, such as support of same-sex marriage or involvement in pro-choice advocacy efforts. 

◗ An ongoing consulting relationship with a moral theologian and the establishment of an independent review board, consisting of four to six members, who will offer ethical guidance on funding choices. 

◗ The establishment of a new staff position to focus specifically on the Catholic identity of CCHD. 

◗ A preference for grant applicants who have some Catholic involvement in their programs. 

◗ A more direct link between CCHD and the other priorities of the bishops’ conference, including increased collaboration in the areas of pro-life activities, cultural diversity, family life and others. 

◗ Stronger diocesan partnerships and more training and assistance for local diocesan CCHD directors.