Proposed guidelines meant to safeguard Church's respect for life

WASHINGTON—In mid-September, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) Administrative Board will vote on proposed guideline changes that tighten criteria for projects receiving funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the U.S. bishops' domestic anti-poverty program. Revisions to the moral guidelines restrict funding for projects or programs sponsored by organizations involved in any activity that is not in accord with Church teaching about the “sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.”


The guidelines indicate that CCHD will consider projects that “demonstrate respect for the human person” and “will not consider projects or organizations which promote or support abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, or any other affront to human life and dignity.”

The CCHD established by the bishops in 1970 has given more than $100 million in grants and loans to more than 3,000 projects that supporters say help poor people help themselves. Critics of the CCHD say its funding has reached groups that oppose Church teaching. Current and proposed guidelines require that projects and programs receiving CCHD funding are in conformity with Catholic teaching. The revisions require recipients of CCHD funding to sign a statement agreeing to adhere to the principles detailed in the guidelines.

Guideline revisions were unveiled at the U.S. bishops' June 19 meeting in Pittsburgh.

Do those changes reflect an existing problem or are the modifications just a safeguard? Officials at the national CCHD office in Washington, D.C. won't comment until after the administrative board's vote, said Bill Ryan, a USCC spokesman. A panel of approximately 50 bishops is scheduled to meet Sept. 15-17. Some details can be gleaned from a June report to the bishops from the CCHD task force that wrote the guidelines. The report said modifications “affirmed the basic integrity of the 1972 guidelines … [that] had served CCHD very well.” The original guidelines were drafted by Philadelphia's John Cardinal Krol while he was president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and USCC.

Task force members were in agreement that “reformulation of guidelines might be warranted at this particular time … especially in light of the more complex social realities which CCHD might encounter,” the report said. Furthermore, according to a Catholic News Service (CNS) report on the June meeting, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., chairman of the bishops' CCHD Committee, told bishops that the Campaign “doesn't fund organizations, it funds projects.” He said that CCHD “has never knowingly funded any project contrary to Catholic teaching.”

Those statements have been repeated throughout CCHD's history in response to accusations about its allocation of monies. Guideline modifications may have been motivated by concern that funds were misused or to avoid such situations in the future, said Mark Brumley, who coordinated CCHD activities while director of the Office for Social Ministries for the Diocese of San Diego from 1991 to 1995.

“We tried to carefully screen the local recipients of local grants so they were not involved in activities contrary to the Catholic Church,” said Brumley, now managing editor of Catholic Dossier and The Catholic Faith magazines.

Project screening at the diocesan level precluded projects in conflict with Church teaching, said Kent Peters, current director of the San Diego Office for Social Ministries, who also served in that capacity in the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., from 1989 to 1997.

“There was never any doubt that organizations in any way violated Church moral teaching,” he said. “That didn't mean everyone in the group was in line. With the new guidelines, organizations can't be involved in anything contrary. There is a little bit of flexibility. [For example,] a homeless project [could be] funded by coalitions of groups [that could include] the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Cautious Support

Critics of CCHD endorsed the guideline changes, but stated that problems still exist.

“The bishops are to be commended for addressing this issue. It has been a point of contention,” said Father Robert Sirico, director of the Acton Institute, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based think tank.

Father Sirico lauded the task force's decision to consult with Father Augustine Di Noia OP, director of the NCCB's Office of Doctrine and Pastoral Practices.

“Some reflection needs to be given on the ways things are done,” he said.

The idea of proposed modifications met with mixed reactions from Terrence Scanlon, president of Capital Research Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank that studies the philanthropy of nonprofit organizations. CCHD has been the subject of critical reports in the center's Organization Trends publication since 1988.

“Hopefully, it will be an improvement. The fact that the bishops are looking at this is good,” he said.

However, Scanlon believes there are loopholes in the new guidelines. One is that applicants have to adhere to Church teaching in project administration only, but not in other activities.

“With the track record of CCHD, that could be a problem,” he said.

Father Richard Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine, called the proposed guidelines “a very encouraging turn of events.” He and other critics maintained that there is still a risk of fungibility, that CCHD grants issued to an organization could indirectly support efforts contrary to Church teaching.

Father Neuhaus said, “I think CCHD got into an awkward position. If they give money to one project, it frees [funds] for other programs.”

Over the years, CCHD officials have responded to those accusations as Bishop Ramirez did at the June meeting. In CNS articles, they have refuted charges that the Campaign funded family planning clinics. The Register researched those charges for more than a month, following leads and asking CCHD critics about direct funding of clinics. No concrete evidence of that direct funding was uncovered.

Supporters of the Campaign say some criticisms of CCHD aren't credible. Cited among those was a booklet from Wanderer publications. One CCHD director said the book contained “half-truths” that took time to refute.

“We waste our time putting out nonexistent fires,” he said.

Brumley, however, indicated that while the publication cites factual data about the Campaign, the criticisms seem to stem from a differing philosophy about Catholic social teaching.

The Register looked into allegations made in the July 2 issue of The Wanderer. The article about the June bishops'meeting included the statement that, “Triumph magazine produced evidence that $300,000 in CCHD money was allocated to 16 clinics involved in abortion, contraception, or sterilization programs.” Triumph was not listed in media directories. The Register contacted Triumph Books, a Christian publishing company in New York. They had no knowledge of the magazine.

When The Wanderer was contacted, a woman who answered the inquiry sought to know the writer of the article. When told the story had no byline, she said, “We don't know who wrote it; someone sent it in.”

When asked how to contact Triumph magazine about the $300,000 in funding, she said, “They're out of business. I guess that solves your problem.”

The magazine closed 20 years ago, according to a staffer at Capital Research Center.

Furthermore, in its July 2 article, The Wanderer alleged, “based on documents filed with the U.S. government, the Claretian Medical Center in Chicago used [CCHD] funds to start up family planning clinics in Hispanic neighborhoods to provide contraceptives as well as sterilization and abortion referrals.”

The archdiocese in 1978 funded part of the salary for a nurse practitioner for a medical center started by the Claretian order, said Jim Lund, co-director for the Chicago archdiocesan Office for Peace and Justice. The archdiocese under John Cardinal Cody did not follow national guidelines when issuing local grants.

The Center was established in an area where the closure of steel mills resulted in the loss of services including primary care. The government document referred to the application from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for construction of the clinic. The document included the question about where people would be referred for contraceptive counseling. The question had to do with referrals and was not thought to be an issue because the clinic served senior citizens, said Lund. He added that since 1980, the archdiocese has followed national guidelines for local projects.

Campaign History

Another criticism of the CCHD is the political nature of funded projects. CCHD supporters point out that the Campaign is not a direct service charity — and that funded projects are in accord with Church social teaching. To understand that debate, one must look back at the Campaign's history. U.S. bishops founded the CCHD in 1970 as an anti-poverty and social justice program. The Campaign's goal was to address the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled, self-help organizations, and through education.

The national CCHD office would work with local dioceses, and the Campaign would be supported by an annual collection, traditionally held the week before Thanksgiving. Most of the collection is applied to national grants, with 25% of donations remaining in the diocese and applied to smaller projects. The first annual collection in 1970 raised a total of $8.5 million, according to the USCC communications office.

The CCHD indicates that the national share of 1996's collection was $10.2 million — 75% of the $13.6 million total. The remaining 25% stays in the dioceses. Figures for the 1997 total were not complete because 15 dioceses have yet to send their contributions. (Not all dioceses schedule collections at Thanksgiving.) However, the Register learned that the total is expected to be $14 million.

Last year, the Campaign awarded $8 million in national grants that were distributed to 256 self-help projects in 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

The highest (final) total on record is $13 million in 1993, with about $3.3 million remaining in dioceses, according to a 1994 announcement by Bishop James Garland of Marquette, Mich., then-chairman of the bishops' CCHD committee. That same year, critics blasted the issuance of a $100,000 grant (made in 1993) to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), a group that seeks to direct charitable giving. That direction was to “liberal nonprofits, including pro-abortion groups,” according to the October 1994 issue of Organization Trends. The publication cited a 1990 NCRP report titled Rightwing Attacks on Corporate Giving, saying it focused on a “campaign of harassment” by pro-lifers against corporate funders of Planned Parenthood.

Despite the criticism, 1997 funding projections cited above seem to indicate that financial support has not waned permanently.

The piece compared pro-life activists to Nazis. Bishop Garland's response to charges against the Campaign was reported in a Nov. 3, 1994 CNS article. The bishop said NCRP sought funding for a specific project — to make community foundations more responsive to the needs of the poor in spending foundation money.

In the past, CCHD funding recipients have included organizations that help low-income people create jobs, fight crime, reform schools, improve working conditions, and find affordable housing. This year, the word “Catholic” was added to the Campaign name. Although CCHD officials won't comment, there is an explanation about the name change in the Campaign's summer newsletter, Helping People Help Themselves.

Father Robert Vitillo, CCHD's executive director, wrote that the change was recommended by the bishops' Conference Committee.

“People of all faiths know of the work … but are often not aware that it is an integral part of the Catholic Church's social mission…. The addition of the word ‘Catholic’ is also a faithful link with our history,” the newsletter states.

Campaign critics also wondered about a link between funding and organizations with a liberal agenda. Three critics interviewed for this article (Fathers Neuhaus and Sirico, and Mr. Scanlon) maintained there is a “leftist” bias at the CCHD staff level. They say that bias is reflected in groups that receive grants. A long-time recipient, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has been criticized by Organization Trends for activities that included protesting U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party's Contract with America.

Enabling The Poor

A broader criticism of CCHD comes from a misunderstanding of how the Campaign works, said former San Diego diocesan director Brumley.

“It's not a direct service organization to feed or clothe the poor,” he said. “[It funds] projects to enable the poor to help themselves.”

CCHD money funded a San Diego project to organize domestic care workers to rally for better working conditions from their employer, the state of California. Higher wages and more training were among the demands.

San Diego's Peters said, “It created a very negative work environment. The state was treating each one like an independent contractor; a private employer couldn't do that. Some folks think unions are a bad thing, but if you look at Catholic social teaching, sometimes it's accepted.”

The people in the pews need to know that the Campaign is not a direct service program, added Brumley.

“People need to be informed,” he said. “When I give, do I realize I give to help people help themselves even if it's political?”

That political involvement is described in Campaign material that reads, “funded groups have been instrumental in securing passage of federal and state legislation on such issues as child support, family and medical leave, community reinvestment, and housing.”

It remains to be seen whether criticisms of the Campaign will affect the annual collection, scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 21-22.

The October 1997 issue of Organization Trends stated that two dioceses refused to participate in the Campaign. But the motives for declining appear to be unrelated to CCHD's approach to funding projects. Marty Wind, spokesman for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, confirmed that the now-retired Bishop Rene Gracida dropped the collection during the late 1980s. The decision had to do with the decision to fund a local ministry, according to Wind. Bishop Gracida retired in April 1997, and Bishop Roberto Gonzalez, a Franciscan, was installed as ordinary. Bishop Gonzalez reinstated the CCHD collection for this year.

While Organization Trends correctly indicated that the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., did not participate in the Campaign, that could change, said Deacon John Murphy, director of the Allentown diocesan Office of Information.

“Since its founding in 1961, the Diocese of Allentown has believed that the most cost effective and spiritually productive use of its funds has been to primarily support diocesan-related agencies and pastoral outreach programs,” he said.

“The number of national and annual collections was reduced; however, now that we have a new ordinary [Bishop Edward Cullen, installed Feb. 8], these matters in addition to many others will have to be reviewed as he determines his priorities,” said Deacon Murphy.

While the USCC board prepares to review the proposed moral guidelines, debate continues about the viability of the CCHD. San Diego's Peters said some resistance could be attributed to the fact that certain programs for low income people could appear at odds with people paying salaries. Such programs could be perceived as “anti-business,” but the programs work at the community level by building coalitions of liberals and conservatives.

“CCHD has a way of bringing people to the table,” he said.

Father Neuhaus wonders if the guidelines are sufficient to remedy what he perceived as problems.

“Something like CCHD is an important expression of Catholic social teaching. Whether CCHD can do that or is weakened by mistakes (remains to be seen). It may require a new initiative or CCHD may become what it was meant to be,” he said.

Liz Swain writes from San Diego.

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