WASHINGTON — Catholic Charities’ acceptance of a $100 million contract from the Obama administration opens the agency up to compromise, some Catholics say.

The deal also could present problems in the future, especially if the agency is forced to adapt federal standards for employment and benefits for its staff.

Even more troubling for some is the appearance of the charity’s complicity with President Obama’s health-care reform agenda, which pro-lifers are warning will fund abortion and discourage treatment for elderly whose lives are deemed not worth saving.

Catholic Charities applied for the contract in December 2008. The funding is not for direct natural disaster relief services, but specifically case management services, allowing the agency to provide immediate services in the days after natural disasters take place, permitting the agency to follow up on cases for as long as 18 months. The focus is on the rebuilding process, providing for long-term and limited immediate needs for victims.

Father Larry Snyder, the agency’s president, told Catholic News Service that the contract is “recognition that Catholic Charities has a real expertise of helping people get back on their feet.”

Father Snyder was unavailable for comment, but spokesman Roger Conner pointed out the organization’s statement that they do not support any health-care reform that promotes the funding of abortion.

But the amount of money coming from the government is dangerous, according to Michael O’Dea, director and founder of Christus Medicus, a group devoted to bringing all Catholic dioceses together under a national Catholic insurance program.

“Catholic Charities does a lot of good,” he said. “They need money. But I would prefer that the money would come from the generosity of the Catholic community. When you take government money, the government can start telling you what to do. Then, they may have the money for a while, but they can lose it. I would like to see them get out in the public arena and start demanding that this health-care reform not cover abortion.”

Political Use

Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, a think tank devoted to applying Christian values to the free market, is also concerned about Catholic Charities being too influenced by the government, but he is even more troubled about how the government might use this contract as a public relations tool to get a pass from Catholics.

“The political party in power can give its support of Catholic Charities so it can make the case ‘We’re not as bad as people say we are,’ even though they’re the most pro-abortion administration in human history. They can say, ‘We’re not that bad because we gave $100 million to Catholic Charities to do good work.’ Don’t think for a minute they are not going to use this politically. That’s why the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good or the Catholic Democrats are already sending out e-mails touting this [health-care reform]. Remember, all they need is three or four percentage points from the conservative Christian community. If they can make this case, that somehow they are not as bad as everyone thinks they are, they’ve got it.”

Father Sirico sees another financial problem.

“The other problem is that Catholic agencies, or even private agencies, should not become dependent upon the government, because it changes their focus to the donor and transforms them into becoming lobbyists for various forms of government largesse rather than involving people within the Church for doing that.”

Is it possible that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic and an unapologetic defender of abortion rights, wanted Catholic Charities to get the contract to generate good will for Obama’s agenda among Catholics?

Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that the grant won by Catholic Charities was applied for in December and that Sebelius had no role in awarding it to Catholic Charities.

“That decision was made by a panel,” Wolfe said. “Every time we have contracts for grants, we have panelists who are experts in that area, and they are selected based on those criteria. They’re not political appointees.”

Columnist Christopher Manion, former staff director to the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-S.C., begs to differ. “The secretary of HHS approved it,” Manion pointed out. “If the panel had given it to someone else, she could have changed the decision. … She could have given it to Catholic Charities. The fact that a panel was involved is tougher, because there was $100 million at stake. They aren’t just going to go up to Father Snyder and say, ‘Hey we’re going to give you 100 million bucks!’ No, they will say, ‘We’re going to put out a grant application proposal, and it will be so detailed that no one will fit its description except you.’

“The bureaucracy does that all the time. But make no mistake: She could have nixed it. Every Cabinet secretary has that power.”

Robert Kumpel writes

from Valdosta, Georgia.