The Incredible, Shrinking Catholic Church

Were it up to some Catholics, the church would become an isolationist sect that has no possibility of communicating or interacting with the non-Catholic public.  At least that is the impression given when some Catholic organizations and bishops keep de-funding and criticizing other Catholic groups because they associate with those who support marriage equality.

Father Larry Snyder

Father Larry Snyder

The latest example is the American Life League, a Catholic pro-life group which is criticizing Catholic Charities USA.  The National Catholic Reporter states:

In a video report published July 29 on its YouTube page, the American Life League accuses Catholic Charities USA “of playing the devil’s game of compromise” because its president, Fr. Larry Snyder, sits on the board of trustees of the America’s Promise Alliance, a network formed out of a 1997 summit of U.S. presidents to promote childhood success. . . .

” ‘There’s no mistaking it — the America’s Promise Alliance is promoting homosexual activism and birth control,’ said Michael Hichborn, director of the league’s Defend the Faith project, in the report.

” ‘A Catholic priest has no business compromising Catholic principles by attaching the Catholic name of his $4.6 billion charity to an organization that celebrates birth control and homosexual activism the way the America’s Promise Alliance does,’ Hichborn said of Snyder, who has served as Catholic Charities president since 2005.”

In response to these accusations, Catholic Charities has said:

“Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) follows the teachings and ethical practices of the Catholic Church and as we and other Church institutions have done for decades, we engage in coalitions focused on reducing poverty in our nation. We do this with a mutual understanding that we cannot and will not endorse the public policy statements of any coalition that are inconsistent with our teachings and ethical practices.”

The National Catholic Reporter highlighted some of the LGBT work done by America’s Promise Alliance through the program of designating “best communities”:

“Among those highlighted in the [American Life League] report were four-time recipient Houston/Harris County, Texas, which the league said won in 2010 for giving ‘a homosexual activist organization access to teens in two high schools,’ and six-time winner Bellevue, Wash., which in 2011 won in part because a youth counseling center ‘produced a homosexual propaganda film that won Best Local Film at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.’

“In the descriptions of both communities on its website, the alliance recognized each for other achievements as well: promoting literacy and academic readiness; training mentors to help struggling students stay in school; and establishing a youth court to include their voice in the juvenile justice system.”

The news article also contained other information about the American Life League:

“Earlier this year, the American Life League targeted another social justice wing of the church, the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

“In a June report, Faith in Public Life identified the American Life League as the leading organization among a predominantly conservative coalition campaigning against the anti-poverty program. The groups’ criticisms of the campaign fall along lines similar to what they say about Catholic Charities: that it partners with or funds organizations that in some way support abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Whenever I hear about groups criticizing Catholic organizations for associating with those with whom they may disagree, I am reminded of the Pharisees in the Gospel who accuse Jesus of hanging out with the “wrong” kind of people.  To be like Jesus, Catholics need to associate and work with people at all points on the political spectrum in areas where they find commonality.

While I would wish that Catholic groups would strongly support LGBT equality organizations, I recognize that not all are yet ready to do so.  But at the very least, those who do want to be connected to such organizations, should have the ability to do so.  It’s a Gospel lesson.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

2 replies
  1. davidjj
    davidjj says:

    The blog by Bishop Robert Lynch has particular import here.


    Half the fun of writing blogs is to discover a title that arouses interest, gives little away, but inspires me to share some thoughts with you, my readers. I have mentioned to other bloggers that sometimes I begin with a title and work from there rather than write and then search for a title. That is the case now. Here in Florida during this season, nothing arouses interest more than “the National Hurricane Center in Miami is monitoring a tropical disturbance moving westward over the Atlantic for potential development.” We don’t rush out to buy plywood, but we become attuned to listening during weather reports to the “Invest Number ” and then to the Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, Hurricane, etc., if and as it develops. The vast majority of our threats begin over the Sahara in northern Africa and then move across the increasingly warm waters of the mid-Atlantic. Occasionally, a system develops in the Caribbean and there is less time to prepare but tropical weather problems for us almost always move westward.

    Unfortunately, a storm of a different kind developed in the United States recently and was headed toward Africa. It began with a group called the “Population Research Institute” which is an allegedly pro-life group and spread to a few other notoriously and consistently wrong entities who “thrive” on attacking the Church or its entities. While it was meant to inflict harm on a highly respected US Catholic charity, it took dead aim this time at Africa. From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc., etc., etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect – well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has felt the buffeting torrents of accusations in the past as has Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA). This time it was Catholic Relief Services (CRS) which was to be the significant “whipping boy/girl” for these groups. For twelve years of my priestly life I have been on the Board of Catholic Relief Services and six of those I served as President and Chairman of the Board. During my engagement we were mostly spared any of these storms, but from the time Cardinal Timothy Dolan succeeded me as Chairman, these storms have developed off the East Coast of the U.S. and moved eastward toward Africa where CRS does an amazing job of supporting and sustaining human life, even with programs of pre-natal maternal/child health care, which has helped lower the infant (in and out of the womb) death rate.

    These attacks never grow beyond a tropical depression but too much time and energy is spent by CRS and CCHD and CCUSA in responding to them. The latest components of this “Tropical Depression” were the allegation that in the nation of Madagascar CRS was actively promoting contraception, that the bishops of that country and elsewhere were displeased with CRS, and that you dear reader should not give to Catholic Relief Services because they do not adhere to Catholic teaching but send your money to them so they can develop this into a Tropical Storm and rid the Church of this organization. We’ve heard it all before, responded to it in the past, know its sources, and spend way too much energy in defense of the agency.

    So let me take each of the current seeds of the latest storm and tell you the truth. Does CRS staff or the agency in general promote contraceptives in Madagascar or anywhere else in Africa or the globe? The storm originators never identify their sources but just throw mud up into the air. CRS policy is consistent and supportive of the Church’s teaching and we have been excluded from many U.S. government programs over the years because we will not sign on to the U.S. program of condom distribution in other countries. The storm sources have yet, yet in all these years to produce a credible witness to the contrary.

    Now, how about the hierarchy of Madagascar? Do they think CRS is acting contrary to Church teaching? Are they unhappy with the presence and work of CRS in their country? Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, President of the bishops’ conference of Madagascar expressed “strong support” for CRS and said that the agency is “acting in accord with Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception or abortion.” So who do you wish to believe, an organization that will not identify either its sources of the allegations or name its own members of its Board of Directors or the arm of the Catholic church that saves lives daily throughout the world?

    Catholic Relief Services readily admits that it is not always perfect. When one has 5000 employees worldwide, is it even remotely possible that one or two of those same employees might incorrectly represent the agency’s position? Yes, it is. If one searches far enough can one find a bishop who is unhappy with CRS in their country? Yes, one can. The primary complaint I heard throughout my dozen years from bishops where we are present and serving, was, “can’t you just send us the money and let us spend it?” or “why can’t you give us money to build a headquarters building for our episcopal conference?” Patiently I would explain how we are different from the European Catholic Aid agencies because our scope is limited to disaster relief and human development through programs of microfinance, food maintenance, pre-natal medicine and HIV/AIDS interventions, etc. They also often complained about the demands of reporting required by the government of the United States if federal program monies were involved and I would quickly respond, we don’t like it either but it is the cost of doing business. When I queried would they be better off without CRS in their diocese of country they were quick, unanimous and emphatic in saying “no, stay.”

    I am convinced that many so called Pro-Life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion. We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic. Which personality did the state execute? Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment. And, this is a big one, priests don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem, like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.

    So this little storm which was headed in a way to harm CRS’s work in Africa has run into a ridge of dry air and will stall. But when the Population Research Institute or others need money from Catholics who want to believe the worst about their church, its leadership and their service agencies, then it will suck up the mud-filled moisture and try to stoke up another storm. I suspect that if he ever got this blog, Pope Francis would agree with its content. Keep on doing the good work of Christ and be an instrument of mercy to the world.

    – See more at:


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