Will the Catholic Campaign for Human Development Keep Its Promises?

Deal W. Hudson
November 1, 2010

Last week, the USCCB issued its “Review and Renewal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.” The document contains a series of recommendations to reform CCHD grant awards in response to alarming disclosures that financial support was going to groups that supported abortion and same-sex marriage.

Five groups were defunded, but dozens more have been designated as problematic by the Reform CCHD Now Coalition. Whether any of these groups have been funded for 2010 remains to be seen; publication of the list of this year’s grantees is now several months late.

Evidently, the 2010 CCHD grantees cannot be announced until the bishops approve the reform recommendations and the grantees’ sign contracts promising not to advocate positions at odds with the Catholic Church. The bishops will meet in Baltimore November 15-19 where they will decide whether the CCHD can keep its promises, as contained in the “Review and Renewal” document.

As I reported after the media call with Bishop Roger Morin, chair of the USCCB subcommittee on CCHD; John Carr, head of Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the USCCB; and Ralph McCloud, head of the CCHD, it appears that those in charge of the report have made a serious effort to respond to the critics.

Having read the document in full, I share some of the concerns of others who have reviewed it. The success of “Review and Renewal” will depend entirely on the success of enforcing its guidelines. The guidelines themselves, however, have not changed. CCHD should never have given grants to groups supporting abortion and same-sex marriage. If the research done by the Reform CCHD Now Coalition had never been done, the offending groups would presumably still be receiving Catholic support.

What the recommendations contain is an admission that CCHD has been too lax regarding the coalition relationships of the groups receiving grants:

CCHD will not fund groups that are members of coalitions which have, as part of their organizational purpose or coalition agenda, positions or actions that contradict fundamental Catholic moral and social teaching.

Perhaps this will put an end to the accusation that CCHD critics have used a “guilt by association” strategy to make false accusations about CCHD and some of its grantees. The CCHD can no longer ignore the networks connecting groups with other questionable community organizations and activism.

Bishop Morin and John Carr both elaborated on the problem of coalitions during the media call. Bishop Morin took a much more conciliatory tone than the one he used when the CCHD scandal broke last fall, when he said, “Personally I think [the claims] are totally ridiculous.” And Carr seemed to have put aside any concern that he was the object of a personal attack.

Thus, one thing is absolutely clear: Unless the leadership of CCHD has undergone a serious about-face on the problems plaguing the bishops’ “war on poverty,” then mistakes will continue.

The “Review and Renewal” document itself contains some troubling language suggesting that the CCHD leadership’s attitude toward its critics has not fundamentally changed:

From its first days, there have been some criticisms about CCHD’s goals, guidelines, and grantees. This criticism has become more visible with the wider use of internet communication and as polarization has increased in society and in the Church… CCHD deeply regrets that in this past year five groups (out of 270) violated CCHD requirements and lost all CCHD funding because they acted in conflict with Catholic teaching. We apologize for the violations of CCHD policies by these groups and for the damage and confusion they have caused.

This statement is notable for several reasons, most importantly the insistence that the problems at CCHD were not systemic but limited to five unfortunate cases. The research of the Reform CCHD Now Coalition has so far revealed potential problems with 67 of the 270 grantees (about 25 percent).

There is also the implication that loose cannons on the Internet were to blame for creating “polarization” in their reporting on CCHD. Rather than thanking the researchers whose hours of hard work ended the financial support of groups promoting abortion and same-sex marriage, the report implies both incompetence and darker motives.

Many Catholics worry that the reform proposals will change nothing; groups actively promoting an anti-Catholic agenda will continue to receive funding. They see the problems arising from the nature of the groups CCHD prefers to support.

CCHD’s mission is “to address the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled, self-help organizations and through transformative education.” The CCHD Web site states that a preferred vehicle for accomplishing that mission is the funding of “community organizing groups.” Nothing in the “Review and Renewal” documents suggests that emphasis will change.

One bishop has already come to the conclusion that community-organizing groups are a too high risk to receive Catholic funding. Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph decided to exclude these groups from future funding:

Many organizing groups began to develop a partisan edge to their work. What is more, many organizing groups began to advocate for causes that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, most notably in the areas of abortion, same sex marriage, and health care reform.

Bishop Finn’s diocese will only provide grants to groups promoting economic development: “We have found that economic development is an effective tool in combating poverty and in developing authentic community throughout the diocese.”

When the bishops meet to consider the CCHD reforms in a few weeks, all will share a commitment to seek ways in which the Church can directly alleviate poverty. Many will wonder, however – as do many Catholics – whether the CCHD and its leadership have addressed the core, systemic reasons for the support of anti-Catholic groups.

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