WASHINGTON — Around this time every year, allegations surface that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development uses much of its nearly $10 million in annual donations to fund causes with ties to a Marxist organization and pro-abortion groups such as the National Organization for Women.

So George Kocan, a Catholic from Warrenville, Ill., investigated the group to decide whether to donate.

Second Collections

“The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is far more interested in promoting a leftist, Democratic agenda of social agitation than it is with funding organizations that actually feed, clothe or house needy persons,” Kocan said of the anti-poverty organization.

But the campaign, which receives an annual second collection in churches the Sunday before Thanksgiving, denies that it funds organizations with pro-abortion or Marxist ties.

“It's completely false,” said Mary Mencarini Campbell, resource development coordinator for the campaign. “Our criteria for funding are connected to the moral traditions of the Church. Before any money goes to any program, the local bishop has to approve it.”

The campaign was started in 1970 to fund organizations that push social structural change in order to lift people from poverty, rather than give them goods, services and money for temporary relief. A typical beneficiary is Hope Street Youth Development, a project that provides leadership and employment opportunities for black teens in Wichita, Kan.

“The Catholic Church has other groups…that give actual direct assistance to people who are poor,” explained Father Robert Vitillo, executive director of the campaign. “The (U.S.) bishops designed this campaign so that Catholics could work on those situations that make and keep people poor, not just give temporary assistance to them.”

But critics say many groups funded by the campaign have close ties to the Industrial Areas Foundation — an organization founded by the late Saul Alinsky, a Marxist best known for a philosophy that encouraged the poor to effect social change through agitation, confrontation and personal attacks. Among his most famous protégés is U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, a pro-abortion feminist who wrote her college senior thesis on Alinsky's organizational tactics for social change.

“Alinsky rejected the authority of the Catholic Church and the morality that it teaches,” Kocan said.

Father Vitillo said it's true that many of some 300 organizations the campaign funds each year have ties to the Industrial Areas Foundation, but he doesn't see it as a problem. Organizations working for social change — the type the group funds — often receive training and support from the Industrial Areas Foundation, based at 55 regional hubs throughout the country, he explained. He said no money from the campaign goes directly to the foundation.

“These groups (funded by the campaign) subscribe to a methodology of helping poor people empower themselves in order to bring about change in the community,” Vitillo said. “They're not all linked to the IAF.”

G. Daniel Harden, who is on the board of directors of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, said Alinsky championed redistribution of wealth through radical means, including violence. He said one should view with skepticism organizations that are trained and influenced by the Alinsky-inspired foundation.

“Is it surprising that the CCHD funds organizations with close ties to the IAF? Not in the least,” said Harden, a professor of education law and philosophy at Washburn University of Topeka, Kan. “There is no question that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a history of working with and funding radical, left-wing organizations.”

Harden said Catholics, laity and clergy alike sometimes fail to understand majordistinctions between Catholic teachings on social justice and Marxist/Leninist doctrine that exploits class envy and promotes class warfare. He said, for example, that while Catholic doctrine respects private property rights and promotes opportunity, Marxist doctrine rejects property rights and promotes forceful redistribution.

“Many of the principles these organizations (with foundation ties) follow are very similar to the principles we have in Catholic social teaching,” Father Vitillo said. One organization routinely funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Father Vitillo said the campaign gives no money directly to the association, but funds local branches throughout the country thatcarry out the goals of the campaign.

The association's branches push for a government-mandated “living wage,” in which employers are forced to pay wages to workers based on what is deemed appropriate by government to live comfortably in any given community. The group also works for better schools and affordable housing and utilities, and fights predatory lending practices.

In 2000, the group endorsed a pro-abortion march sponsored by the National Organization for Women. Kocan said similar ties, between groups that receive campaign funding and groups that support abortion, are common. Father Vitillo said that's a stretch and argued that Kocan may be carrying guilt by association too far.

“There might be some situations where a number of organizations are working on an issue that they agree has a common need to be addressed,” Father Vitillo said. He said critics might also want to consider the fact that the campaign funds several pro-life organizations, such as Covenant House and the Gabriel Project, both pro-life ministries in Washington, D.C. If critics don't like other groups funded by the campaign, Father Vitillo said, they might want to take it up with their own bishops.

“The bishop is the teacher — the local authority on what's right and wrong in the diocese,” Father Vitillo said. “He endorses the project, or we don't fund it…. We need to depend on local diocesan review to be sure there is no direct association with organizations or involvement with projects that promote activities that are contrary to Church teachings.”

With proceeds from last year's collection, the Campaign for Human Development is distributing about $8.9 million to fund 330 projects. Each year, 25% of the money raised stays in each diocese.

“There are 1.3 million more people living in poverty this year in the United States than there were in 2003, based on census bureau data,” Campbell said. “It's support from Catholic parishioners that will let the change happen to reverse this trend.”

Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.