For many years now, Catholics across America have been asked by their local parishes to contribute to a variety of causes, mostly to help the less fortunate. As Catholics we are called to live the gospel and to practice the corporal works of mercy. This includes aiding those who are in need of basic necessities: from food and shelter to clothing and education. The Catholic Church is indeed the largest charitable organization on the planet.
While many Catholic charitable activities have done and continue to do good work on behalf of the poor, there are a number of specific efforts that have raised some concerns. Most infamous of these is the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). How, exactly, is it spending Catholics’ dollars?
While the CCHD has certainly faced extensive criticism, it has also had many defenders. On the USCCB’s website for the CCHD, its mission is described as follows:
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is the domestic anti-poverty, social justice program of the U.S.Catholic bishops. Its 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.
While this sounds ideal in theory, the CCHD’s mission has simply not been adhered to. In its 40-plus year history, the CCHD has funded many organizations and activities that are at best questionable and at worst downright reprehensible. Indeed, through the CCHD annual November collection, American Catholics have funded efforts promoting “reproductive justice”, (i.e., abortion) and “marriage equality” (gay “marriage”), among other causes.
Many concerned Catholics have challenged the USCCB and the CCHD to either reform the organization or stop the collection altogether. Thus far, the USCCB and CCHD have defiantly defended their efforts, painting their critics as partisan, xenophobic, and even racist. Sadly, because the CCHD has assisted some groups that specifically work to assist undocumented immigrants, some more politically conservative Catholics tend to let their political interests trump their Catholic obligations in regard to human dignity. Some Catholics dislike this aspect of the CCHD’s activities and for the record, the USCCB has never advocated that immigration laws be violated. The worst part is that some of the left-leaning CCHD-funded organizations tend to swallow up many of the traditional Catholic immigrants and lead them down the wrong path to secular leftism.
Some efforts have been made by the CCHD to placate its critics by offering token revisions of its funding guidelines, but these reforms have turned out to be no more than smoke and mirrors. It would be a worthwhile effort for all Catholics to do their homework and question their pastors, bishops and the CCHD itself about what is truly going on with this collection. I also strongly encourage the clergy and the laity to go directly to the organizations which have received funding from the CCHD and ask them what it is they do, how they do it, who they network with and ultimately how exactly is it that they are helping the poor break the cycle of poverty. Only then can you know the truth about the CCHD.
Chicago Reform Efforts
In Chicago a few dedicated members of the clergy and laity, attempted to reform the CCHD at the place of its birth. There were some victories. In 2010, the Chicago CCHD awarded grants to pro-life warrior Joe Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action League, the Women’s Center of Chicago and Aid for Women. This wasn’t an attempt to convert a social justice collection into a pro-life collection, but to educate others about the simple truth Pope John Paul II said so eloquently; “If the right to life is not defended decisively as a condition for all other rights of the person, all other references to human rights remain deceitful and illusory.”
It must be emphasized that authentic Catholic social justice is a good thing and empowering people to fight their own battles is certainly an effective tool for positive change. However, the CCHD tends to keep associating itself with organizations that directly oppose non-negotiable Catholic teachings or are closely linked within networks that tend to support blatant anti-life and anti-Catholic activities.
The monies collected every third weekend in November across all or most Catholic parishes in America are distributed as follows. Twenty-five percent of every local collection remains in the participating diocese or archdiocese. The remaining seventy-five percent is sent to the national CCHD office located at the USCCB’s national headquarters in Washington D.C. The national CCHD then distributes larger national grants mainly at its discretion.
At the Chicago CCHD, it was proposed and agreed that the local office was going to keep seventy-five percent in Chicago and only send the national organization twenty-five percent. This was a way of telling the national CCHD that trust had been breached with contributions from Chicago’s Catholics. After one of Chicago’s auxiliary bishops who sat on the national bishops’ council for CCHD protested, Chicago was forced to split its local collection fifty-fifty with the national CCHD.
This past year, the only pro-life grant awarded in Chicago was an in-house grant to the Archdiocesan Respect Life Office. Not surprisingly, the Rev. Larry Dowling, one of the priests who fervently opposed the Chicago reform efforts and also the president of ARISE (Dowling’s ecumenical faith and labor organization), has been awarded a whopping $20,000 grant.
Terminology and Language of the CCHD
Every Catholic who has had any doubts about the CCHD should familiarize himself with the social justice-speak of the CCHD. Let’s break it down here.
Social justice is a pairing of words that individually are pretty straightforward, but together they have caused much disagreement among Catholics. “Social” refers to human beings and their interactions with each other, which are pretty much unavoidable. The word “justice” seems uncontroversial, unless we disagree over what constitutes justice. And many groups funded by the CCHD have a profoundly different understanding of justice from the Church’s.
Another oft-used term is empowerment. This means to give power to someone who previously has not had any. “Empowerment” is typical community organizing jargon from the streets of Chicago. Chicago is home to the birth of community organizing via its godfather Saul Alinsky.
How exactly does the CCHD claim to empower people in a community? The CCHD is a great believer in the “hand-up” theory over the less empowering “hand-out” approach. CCHD frowns upon funding direct service organizations because it does not see this as a way to empower an individual, but simply as yet another form of charity. Many critics of the CCHD have a hard time understanding this concept, but if the CCHD remained faithful to Catholic moral teaching, there would nothing wrong with its efforts to empower people.
CCHD has mostly gotten in trouble because many of its funded groups tend to see voter registration and political activity as the catalyst for breaking the cycle of poverty. While it is clear that having a voice in the political arena is a factor in bringing about change in a community, the CCHD contradicts itself because one of the funding guidelines requires applicant agencies to refrain from any political activity. It is no accident that the CCHD has indeed funded organizations blatantly involved in political activities, such as the infamous ACORN.
The term “transformative” means to change a condition, nature or function of something. In the case of the CCHD’s work, its leaders often speak of “transformative education.” And this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the transformations envisioned were in line with Catholic social teaching. The problem is that the way the CCHD educates others about transformative change and empowerment is more in line with the socialist and Marxist ideals so prevalent in community organizing. This raises a figurative, and indeed a literal, red flag.
“Subsidiarity” is a favorite word of the CCHD. Subsidiarity, simply put, entails allowing the people directly affected by an issue to make choices for themselves rather than having a larger entity control their lives. In theory, subsidiarity is a positive thing, but many of the community organizations funded by the CCHD have in fact worked against it. They in fact control a community with their social campaigns, only serving to transfer the power from the welfare state to the community organization, leaving the affected people in a community once again powerless. For a truly Catholic understanding of subsidiarity, see “The Principle of Subsidiarity,” written in 1996 by David E. Bosnich for the Acton Institute’s “Religion and Liberty.”
Ask community organizers what they actually do for a living. They will tell you that they develop leaders to fight against injustice and by doing this, they empower the poor. In reality, the mostly white, college-educated, middle-class organizers exploit the poor, enabling them to self-perpetuate their poverty. If the community organizers really did develop leaders to fight their own battles, why is it that people like Madeline Talbott from Chicago’s Action Now (formerly named ACORN) continue to be at the helm, instead of any of the hundreds of thousands of so-called leaders she and ACORN developed during the last 25 to 30 years?
The CCHD might know, since it gave ACORN hundreds of thousands of dollars in that period. Just how much money has the CCHD given to questionable causes? In New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the local CCHD collection usually raises close to a million dollars each third Sunday in November.
Typical community organizing in Chicago doesn’t go beyond the mandatory loading of rented school buses with poor African- or Latino-Americans to either street agitation protests or photo opportunities with liberal elected officials during “lobby” days. After all the cameras and reporters are gone, the blacks and Latinos all get back on the buses, all wearing their Action Now t-shirts and return the placards and signs given to them by the white organizers. Then they are given a sack lunch, and a bottle of water, and delivered promptly back to their ghettos and barrios to face the very same injustices they supposedly went to fight against.
While organizing a protest or lobby day, community and labor organizers often talk about “body count” in their planning meetings. Lead organizers demand that the street organizers turn out as many “bodies” as they can to create an illusion of power in numbers. These numbers are further broken down into racial categories so that the properly “diverse” image is captured by the media.
I’ve seen so-called “leaders” in these communities work with organizations for up to ten years and yet continue to live in the same squalor that they lived in before they first got caught up in the web of community organizing. Forgive me for being blunt, but to put it in the simplest terms, community organizing is nothing more than poverty pimping and the CCHD is a funding source fueling this tragic charade.
While the CCHD is adamant about its mission of addressing the root causes of poverty, one would be hard-pressed to find any mention in any of its literature of what the Church considers the real causes of poverty. If the CCHD is indeed working from within a Catholic worldview, why are the Church’s perspectives never included? It is apparent that the CCHD has identified these root causes from a secular perspective, which only focuses on the temporal, physical needs of the person. As Catholics, we are obligated to see the entire person, made in the image and likeness of God. The whole person is not just a physical being, but a spiritual one. While the earthly physical needs are important in this existence, the CCHD neglects to acknowledge the spiritual part of a person.
I believe that the true root cause of poverty is a lack of God in our lives. All other dysfunctions emerge because of this one. When we lack God, we lack respect for ourselves. A whole series of maladies tend to manifest themselves in a soul with no solid spiritual anchor: alcoholism, abuse, abortion, drug use, prostitution, promiscuity, violence, thievery or any other evil that you can imagine.
While I was the Director of the Chicago CCHD, I was told by some of the left-leaning clergy that we should not be talking about spiritual poverty in regard to the CCHD’s goals. If a group claims that the Catholic Church is no longer interested in helping save the souls of the poor, then something inside that group is certainly rotten.
What can we do? The first step is to educate our fellow Catholics about the CCHD and how it has used the faithful and their money to undermine our faith and the Church. While some staunch CCHD supporters ridicule its critics and accuse them of not living out the Gospel, they are dead wrong.
The American Life League and RealCatholic TV have done a tremendous job in exposing the CCHD and the deeply questionable organizations it has funded. I strongly suggest that you read ALL’s reports and watch RealCatholic TV’s videos online to get more background on the CCHD and its practices.
Better Catholic Giving
While the CCHD collection takes place this year, consider instead supporting the new effort of Better Catholic Giving. BCG is a group of Catholics that is in the process of reviewing all of the CCHD grantees with actual site visits to the CCHD-funded organizations in question. The BCG hopes to act as a mediator between the CCHD and its critics to either confirm wrong-doing or to educate all Catholics about CCHD-funded groups and what exactly they are doing to help the poor while practicing authentic Catholic Social Teaching.