Catholic Campaign Scrutinized

Bishops defended the Catholic Campaign for Human Development after a new round of criticism that it funds shady community organizations.

BALTIMORE — Members of the U.S. bishops’ subcommittee overseeing the Catholic Campaign for Human Development reassured their fellow bishops and donors that “no group that opposes Catholic social or moral teaching is eligible for funding” from their domestic anti-poverty campaign.

“We pledge our ongoing efforts to ensure that all CCHD funds are used faithfully, effectively and in accord with Catholic social and moral teaching,” Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, Miss., subcommittee chairman, and the five other bishops who sit on the subcommittee said Nov. 17 in a statement to the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The campaign has come under attack from a coalition of Catholic groups pushing for a boycott of this year’s collection the weekend of Nov. 21-22. They claim some organizations that receive funding are not in line with Church teaching.

In September the campaign canceled grants to two California community-action groups totaling $55,000 in response to revelations that they maintained positions on life issues contrary to Catholic teaching and the campaign’s criteria.

The revelations came from the work of the Bellarmine Veritas Ministry. Two others named by Bellarmine were exonerated, according to Bishop Morin, in an October memo to all U.S. bishops.

Now Bellarmine, acting in concert with Human Life International and American Life League, claims to have found campaign grantees the Preble Street organization of Portland, Maine, and the San Francisco Organizing Project, both of which support immoral types of family planning while the second supports a clinic also providing emergency contraception.

Bellarmine also named seven community-action groups in California affiliated with the Mobilize the Immigrant Vote organization. Mobilize the Immigrant Vote put out a voters’ guide for recent elections backing same-sex “marriage” and opposing any requirement for minors to get parental consent for abortions.

The campaign’s executive director, Ralph McCloud, declined to comment. But several of the groups said their connection to Mobilize the Immigrant Vote was slight or nonexistent.

Reform the CCHD Now, the coalition that includes American Life League, Human Life International and other Catholic groups, called on “faithful Catholics” to boycott the collection taken up for the campaign in many U.S. parishes. The coalition produced a protest card people could place in collection baskets instead of cash.


A spokeswoman for Justice Overcomes Boundaries, a San Diego alliance of 13 community organizations, including three Catholic parishes, said Justice Overcomes Boundaries supports Mobilize the Immigrant Vote on most things but opposed the voters’ guide.

Norma Chavez-Peterson, the organization’s director, said, “We stay right away from issues that might divide us, and issues like same-sex ‘marriage’ and abortion surely would.”

Instead, churches associated with Justice Overcomes Boundaries concentrate on human-rights issues on which they can all agree.

“We told MIV we wouldn’t distribute the voters’ guide,” Chavez-Peterson said. “That wouldn’t stop our individual members from taking up opposing positions on some of those issues.”

She added that Justice Overcomes Boundaries was quite aware of the Campaign for Human Development’s requirements that its programs must not be contrary to Catholic teaching. She said the Justice Overcomes Boundaries board would discuss the issue raised by Bellarmine Veritas Ministry at a December meeting.

“I can’t say how the board will respond to the call for disaffiliating with MIV,” Chavez-Peterson said. “They help us out a lot because we are a very small organization.”

When the organization wanted to reach out to registered voters and encourage them to vote in the last election, Mobilize the Immigrant Vote helped get a voters’ list.

Julia Lerma, executive director of Faith in Community Fresno — a second group associated by Bellarmine with Mobilize the Immigrant Vote — said her group, which includes six Catholic parishes, got training from Mobilize in reaching immigrants.

“But we don’t take political positions,” she said. “We try to get people to vote, but we don’t tell them how to vote.”

Lerma added, “We would never take positions contrary to Catholic teaching. We didn’t know MIV would put our name on their website. It’s very unfortunate. If any good comes from this at all, it is that we will be more careful about where our name appears.”

Lerma said she would be taking the issue to her board soon.

Grave Risk

Erika Katske, executive director of another organization flagged by Bellarmine, the San Francisco Organizing Project, with more than a dozen Catholic churches as members or partners, is upset Bellarmine never called about the supposed link to Mobilize the Immigrant Vote.

“If they had called, I would have told them, ‘We have no connection that I know of,’” she said.

Katske said Mobilize the Immigrant Vote has admitted it put the San Francisco Organizing Project name on its website by mistake, and the San Francisco Organizing Project has asked to be removed. Moreover, the San Francisco Organizing Project did not distribute the Mobilize the Immigrant Vote voting guide.

The project’s efforts on behalf of immigrants, said Katske, “are strictly nonpartisan and have always been done in a manner consistent with Catholic social and moral teaching.”

But Bellarmine has also cited the Organizing Project because of its ties to the Mission Health Center, which provides contraception.

“We support the center because there are hundreds of poor Catholic families who depend on it for all their health needs, who can get seen by someone without worrying if they have their papers,” said Katske. “It’s a question of whether we let the perfect destroy the good.”

Bellarmine founder Rob Gasper said he was in discussion with Campaign for Human Development staff about the issue.

“I believe that CCHD is acting in good faith,” he said. “But I also believe there is still a grave risk that money given to CCHD will end up with organizations promoting views contrary to Catholic teaching.”

Gasper’s group is calling for all campaign grantees to make a public statement on where they stand on Catholic teaching, he said.

But Bishop Morin’s Nov. 17 statement was clear: “We are committed to strengthening CCHD’s review and monitoring processes to assure that all CCHD funds are used in accord with Catholic principles.”

Steve Weatherbe writes

from British Columbia.