CCHD under attack… Here we go again


The latest report from the Reform CCHD Now Coalition was released yesterday, and not surprisingly, they still aren't happy with the work of the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

For those who haven't been following the drama, here's a quick recap: Some individuals took it upon themselves to do internet research on CCHD and its grant recipients, then published their findings on a website, calling for a massive overhaul, or shutdown, of the program. The accusations–which pointed mainly to grant recipients being loosely linked to other groups that had promoted birth control and same-sex marriage–even included personal jabs at longtime USCCB official John Carr. Eventually, they got enough attention that the bishops agreed to review and revise CCHD's practices, leading to the release of a Review and Renewal of CCHD document last year.

The problem that some have with CCHD is that, unlike groups such as Catholic Charities or the St. Vincent de Paul Society, it takes the approach of helping the poor help themselves rather than simply handing out direct aid. Grant recipients are organizations that put the people they are serving in decision making positions, and CCHD provides financial support to help them work toward sustainable change in their communities. So for instance, a group that works on creating affordable housing in their community and is led by the people who might live in that housing would be an example of a CCHD-funded program.

CCHD has been, since day one, as transparent as possible about who they fund. Detailed reports are available online, and each grant recipient undergoes multiple levels of screening at the diocesan and national levels. Having observed the work of a diocesan review committee up close, I know that no decision on grant applications is made lightly and groups are regularly monitored by the diocesan CCHD director.

The greatest controversy surrounds the involvement of grant recipients, who need not be Catholic themselves, with larger coalitions. Using the previous example, the grant recipient that is working toward affordable housing may join a coalition focusing on that issue with other neighborhood groups, one of which might be involved in other activities that have a pro-choice agenda. But CCHD isn't funding that group, or its activiites, only the housing efforts.

When the renewal document was released, Bishop Roger Morin, then-chair of the bishops' CCHD subcommittee, remained firm in the commitment that being part of such a coalition–provided the coalition itself didn't have any conflict with Catholic teaching–would not disqualify someone from funding.

"I think precluding or eliminating the possibility for doing good work because there is sometimes a conclusion that there is guilt by association can be detrimental to the good work that we’re trying to do," he said.

But clearly, that wasn't enough for CCHD's critics, who have continued to scour the web in search of possible flaws among grant recipients. And as I learned in interviews with people on both sides of the conflict, the Reform CCHD Now folks have never personally gone to CCHD staff with their concerns. They have put countless hours into digging up information on the web, but they never offered to use that time to help CCHD screen applicants. They haven't joined their local CCHD review committees, or reached out to grant recipients to talk to them directly about their work or their coalition involvement.

This approach, to me, is the biggest problem with the critics of CCHD. They've completely overlooked Jesus' advice in the Gospel of Matthew: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church" (Matthew 18:15-17).

To the Reform CCHD Now Coalition, the first two steps Jesus outlined are apparently unimportant, and instead they skipped directly to public attacks on CCHD and its staff. And their continued determination to find fault with CCHD, even after the bishops took their advice under consideration and made changes to the program, raises even more questions about their true agenda.

Is all of their work really over concern that a church-run program could indirectly be supporting "anti-Catholic" activities? Or is it more about the fact that CCHD is working to create institutional change and empowering the poor? Or perhaps they are just uncomfortable with Catholics trying to carry out the work of the Gospel in much the same way that Jesus himself did: by not just working with the righteous, but spending time with the sinners too.