TOMBALL, Texas — The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty program, was little affected by the Acorn scandal last month. Long before the video sting operation revealed some Acorn employees apparently helping people disguise illegal activities, the campaign had severed its funding to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
But now some of the campaign’s vetting and funding of “grassroots” organizations is being called into question. A Texas-based group has shown the campaign to be supporting organizations that have taken positions contrary to the Church’s.
Last November, Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, Miss., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee with oversight over the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, reported that “CCHD’s current criteria and guidelines prohibit partisan activity and funding of any group that engages in activities contrary to Catholic moral teaching, whether or not these activities are funded by CCHD.”
But now a different sort of grassroots organization — made up of ordinary, faithful Catholic laypeople from Texas — has blown the whistle on a passel of organizations getting campaign funds that are clearly pushing causes either anti-life or pro-homosexual.
The campaign has wasted no time in responding, quickly defunding two of them, and vowing investigation and action on the others.
The group, the Bellarmine Veritas Ministry, intends to keep its eye on the campaign, says its founder Rob Gasper. “We’re pleased, of course, that they’ve taken these steps,” he said. “But we’re going to go through the list of CCHD grantees again.”
Gasper, a father of five educated at Seton High School and Christendom College who now operates a Web-based business with his father-in-law, started the Bellarmine Veritas Ministry with three friends from his hometown of Tomball, Texas, only a few months ago. It launched a website and posted its report on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in August.
Last fall, when Acorn was reported to be registering voters who did not exist, Gasper, who taught apologetics and theology courses in local parishes, was being asked about “whether it was safe to give them money. So we got together to look into it.”
The group checked each campaign grantee’s website and those of organizations it was linked to or collaborating with on projects. Finally, they checked for news stories on each grantee.
Though the campaign is giving money to several organizations alleged to follow the situation ethics espoused by radical organizer Saul Alinsky, such as Gamaliel and the Industrial Areas Foundation, Gasper and his group decided to focus only on two issues: sexual morality and respect for life.
“Some might argue that Alinsky’s tactics are justifiable, but you can’t argue the right to life and sexual morality,” said Gasper.
Ralph McCloud, the campaign’s executive director, told Catholic News Service he has pulled $55,000 granted to two San Francisco groups identified by Bellarmine Veritas because both publicly opposed California’s recently successful referendum outlawing homosexual “marriage.” These were the Young Workers United (which also supported a losing referendum to legalize prostitution) and the Chinese Progressive Association.
Neither responded to requests for interviews.
Two other Bellarmine Veritas targets, McCloud said, are still being investigated: the Los Angeles Community Action Network and the Philadelphia-based Women’s Community Revitalization Project, both of which advocate abortion and same-sex “marriage,” according to Bellarmine.
McCloud, who did not return the Register’s calls, told CNS that he welcomed Bellarmine Veritas Ministry’s help. “We want to ensure that our groups are consistently following the teaching of the Church. To the degree we can get some help with that, we’re grateful for it.”
McCloud said that applicants for grants were vetted both by campaign and local diocesan committees, and “local bishops will sign off and endorse local organizations.”
But the organizations might still change direction after applying. “I think we’re working extremely diligently” to vet all applicants, he said.
The campaign was founded in 1970 as the Campaign for Human Development and gave out more than $7.7 million in grants this year. Information for applicants on its website states in several places that grantees must adhere to Catholic social teachings and respect life from conception to natural death, but does not mention Catholic sexual morality.
Bellarmine Veritas’ revelations could damage the annual collection taken in practically every parish at Thanksgiving for the campaign. Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala., replaced the collection last year with one for Latin American churches and plans to do so this year, too. Last year, he explained that by funding Acorn, the campaign might have endangered its tax-exempt status, because Acorn might have put the money to partisan uses.
Charleston, S.C., diocesan administrator, Msgr. Martin Laughlin, in the absence of a bishop, replaced the collection with one for local charities. So far, Charleston hasn’t revealed its intentions for this year.
And the bishop of Baker, Ore., Robert Vasa, told the Register he hasn’t held the collection for years, “because of my own concerns about how some of those funds are spent.” Instead, the diocese earmarks a portion of its budget for the campaign. Last year it was “a nominal amount.”
Steve Weatherbe writes
from Victoria, British Columbia.