A report released by Faith in Public Life exposes a campaign by conservative Catholics to undermine the American bishops’ leading anti-poverty initiative, in part because of connections that grant recipients have with LGBT advocacy groups.
The report shows how ideologically-driven critics are influencing the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) to move away from any group connected to a pro-LGBT organization. While attacks by ideologically-driven critics are not new, this report displays in full the deteriorating impact they are having. These critics engage in what is being labeled ‘Catholic McCarthyism’ as they seek out tangential connections to advocacy on causes the Catholic hierarchy opposes to then pin on CCHD.
David Gibson of Religion News Services reports on Faith in Public Life’s study, offering a synopsis of the conservative attacks and their effects:
“Critics also accuse the program of working with non-Catholic groups that undermine battles against abortion and gay rights that they say should dominate the bishops’ agenda.
“A number of bishops and some parishes have halted or discouraged CCHD collections in their dioceses after hearing charges – almost all of which have proven unfounded – that the CCHD funds groups that promote same-sex marriage or reproductive rights..
“[After 2011 reforms] the anti-CCHD campaign continued, and it has succeeded in having a number of grants rescinded by arguing that some recipients worked with organizations that do not always endorse or promote the church’s teaching on sexuality.”
CCHD supporters argue against limiting funding to Catholic activities and those in line with the hierarchy’s opposition to abortion and marriage equality, noting the broad range of issues the Church advocates and acts for in secular society. One defender of the program is former USCCB president Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, whom Gibson writes about at dotCommonweal:
“As Fiorenza says in the report, the Catholic Church has always worked with groups that it may not agree with completely, but as long as the church wasn’t directly supporting or endorsing that group’s objectionable goal, there wasn’t a problem. He fears that is changing, to the detriment of the church and the country:
” ‘At a time when poverty is growing and people are hurting we should not withdraw from our commitment to helping the poor. Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.’ “
Critiquing LGBT advocacy may be a smokescreen for those who oppose CCHD’s activities which are primarily focused on anti-poverty efforts. An article at U.S. Catholic analyzes what might be underlying the obsession with sexuality:
“Reading through the arguments against CCHD, you’ll find that there isn’t just a concern about ‘anti-Catholic’ activities but a general skepticism surrounding ‘community organizing,’ which has somehow gotten a bad reputation in Catholic circles…
“The work of CCHD-funded groups…aims to empower people to change their situations…If we change the structures that are keeping people on the margins of society, that requires admitting that there’s something wrong with those structures that we have failed to address…
“The criticism of government assistance and social welfare programs for the poor is well documented. But I wonder if…they’d rather see the church stay out of social justice even if it means fewer people would actually need that government assistance to stay on their feet. Maybe all of this digging for possible connections or associations that would discredit CCHD and its grant recipients is less about a concern for keeping the church pure and more about just not helping the poor.”
David Gibson seemingly concurs with this assessment, and notes the breadth of support for Faith in Public Life’s report within church leadership. It rises above partisan back and forth as a genuine statement by Catholics defending the Church’s social teachings against those who would do away with social justice completely. Many express hope that these attacks against CCHD and the Church’s systemic anti-poverty efforts generally will weaken with Pope Francis’ new tone. Archbishop Fiorenza, Gibson writes, is:
“…hopeful that Francis’ priority on identifying the church with the poor would make an impression of some of the bishops who have bought into the criticisms of the CCHD.
“ ‘I’m confident that if Pope Francis knew about the CCHD program he would say, “God bless the American bishops!” for doing what they can to help the poor,” Fiorenza told me.
“I recommend reading the FPL report as well as Francis’ daily homilies. It seems he doesn’t go a day without preaching about social justice. Gay marriage and our favorite American topics, not so much.”
Hopefully, those criticizing the US bishops’ main anti-poverty effort will be honest about their intentions and stop using the LGBT community as hostages in this debate. Taking a cue from Pope Francis’ different tone, a little less focus on marriage and a little more focus on the poor might be a healthy step forward.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry