Matt C. Abbott
November 13, 2009
Church officials, critics clash over Catholic Campaign for Human Development
By Matt C. Abbott

The latest in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development controversy...

    'Letter from the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Peace and Justice and the Campaign for Human Development:

    'The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is the domestic social justice, antipoverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its goal is to break the cycle of poverty through empowerment initiatives and justice education. Throughout its 40-year history, CCHD has given thousands of people in the Archdiocese of Chicago the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and live in dignity.

    'Recently, CCHD has come under attack from certain groups whose motivations and objectives are rooted in partisan politics, rather than faithfulness to Catholic teaching and concern for the poor. These groups have gone so far as to call for the elimination of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, making erroneous and inflammatory statements about the program, its supporters, and the projects it funds. Despite efforts on the part of the CCHD staff to reach out to these critics and respond to their concerns, anti-CCHD rhetoric has only become more fervent and hateful, and the time has come to rally in defense of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

    'As members of the Catholic community and followers of Christ, we are impelled to protect the poor and vulnerable of our society. We are called to pursue not only charity but justice, and to 'set at liberty the oppressed.' (Lk 4:18) Those who are trying to destroy the Catholic Campaign for Human Development deny the legitimate and pressing need for a faithful response to poverty in our communities. We must not allow the deceitful cries of these detractors, whose partisan agendas supersede their faith, to weaken our commitment to living out the message of Christ and the ideals of Catholic Social Teaching.

    'On November 21-22, the annual collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will take place in parishes across the Archdiocese of Chicago. The money collected during that weekend will go directly to funding projects in impoverished communities throughout the city. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we counter the lies being spread about CCHD. Take a stand against injustice; break the cycle of poverty; support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development!

    'In Christ's love,

    'Rey Flores, Program Director, Catholic Campaign for Human Development

    'Nicole Wooldridge, Program Assistant, Catholic Campaign for Human Development

    'Nicholas Lund-Molfese, Director, Office for Peace and Justice

    'Adrienne Curry, Program Director, Catholic Relief Services

    'Carol Smith, Program Assistant, Catholic Relief Services'

I asked two organizations American Life League and Human Life International if they might have a response to the above letter.

Michael Hichborn, a researcher and spokesman for American Life League, issued the following statement (slightly edited):


    'In response to the recent statement issued by the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Peace and Justice and the Campaign for Human Development, I wish to make the following points:

    '1. The charge that criticisms of the CCHD are rooted in partisan politics is patently false. The criticisms are rooted in the fact that organizations being funded by the CCHD have been, and still are, involved in activities and in promoting philosophies that completely contradict Church teaching. These activities and philosophies include the promotion of birth control, same-sex marriage, abortion and, in some instances, even prostitution.

    'While we commend the CCHD for defunding the most blatant of these organizations (Young Workers United and the Chinese Progressive Association), we wish to know how such organizations received funding to begin with and why it took a public campaign such as ours to finally get the CCHD's attention and to get it to correct the problem.

    'We also wish to know why no less than 11 other such organizations continue to receive CCHD funds. These groups include L.A. Community Action Network, Women's Community Revitalization Project, San Francisco Organizing Project, Preble Street, Faith in Community, People Organized for Westside Renewal, Coalition L.A., Justice Overcoming Boundaries in San Diego County, Nuestra Casa, San Francisco Organizing Project, Time for Change Foundation (a.k.a. All of Us or None).

    '2. If we have made statements regarding the pro-contraception, pro-abortion and pro-homosexual activities and philosophies of groups funded by the CCHD that are 'erroneous and inflammatory,' then we would like a full and detailed explanation regarding each and every group we profile on our Web site: www.all.org/cchd

    '3. The CCHD has never attempted to contact American Life League regarding our campaign. In fact, American Life League sent a letter with documentation to Bishop Morin regarding one of the organizations being funded by the CCHD and never received a response.

    '4. American Life League does not deny 'the legitimate and pressing need for a faithful response to poverty in our communities.' In fact, such a statement is extremely hypocritical given that organizations such as ACORN (which the CCHD defunded because of its involvement in embezzlement), the Industrial Areas Foundation, People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) and Direct Action and Research Training (DART) which collectively receive the vast majority of CCHD funds do nothing to provide relief to the impoverished and are, in reality, merely political organizing groups designed to bring about political change.

    'For example, IAF's own Web site states:

      'The leaders and organizers of the Industrial Areas Foundation build organizations whose primary purpose is power the ability to act and whose chief product is social change. They continue to practice what the Founding Fathers preached: the ongoing attempt to make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness everyday realities for more and more Americans. The IAF is non-ideological and strictly non-partisan, but proudly, publicly, and persistently political....' [emphasis added]

    'And just to drive this point home, it should be noted that the "CCHD Community Organizing Grants Criteria and Guidelines" Web page stipulates:

      'The following general classifications do not meet CCHD criteria and/or guidelines for community organizing grants:

        'Organizations with primary focus on direct service (e.g., daycare centers, recreation programs, community centers, scholarships, subsidies, counseling programs, referral services, cultural enrichment programs, direct clinical services, emergency shelters and other services, refugee resettlement programs, etc.)' [emphasis added]

      '5. There is nothing deceptive about the documented information provided on our Web site; the facts speak for themselves. We are curious as to why the CCHD is attempting to do damage control by giving reassurances and engaging in ad-hominem attacks without addressing or refuting the very specific cases we have presented.'

    Stephen Phelan, communications director for Human Life International and a spokesman for ReformCCHDNow.com, issued the following statement (slightly edited):

      'First, I can speak only for the newly-formed Reform CCHD Now coalition, not for the groups targeted by this statement, which are apparently growing more 'fervent and hateful.' As our name indicates, we're not trying to shut down the CCHD. It would be more helpful, though, if the Archdiocese of Chicago's CCHD could distinguish between what they call 'hateful' criticism and that which our partners at the Bellarmine Veritas Ministry and certain others have offered: factual reports on organizations that have been and, in some cases, continue to be funded by the national CCHD. Publicly acknowledging legitimate criticism is a sign of strength; tarring all critics with unfair charges and name-calling doesn't help anyone and certainly doesn't serve the truth.

      'Second, if there are individuals out there who are past their boiling point with the CCHD and are only capable of angry criticism, please remember that they are people too, and they often mean well. It is right to be angered by injustice, but we can't let anger drag us into despair and lack of charity. Let's pray for peace in our hearts, and for truth to win in this debate. This is, after all, about truth and charity, properly understood. Let's make our criticisms without the irony of uncharitably attacking others who misunderstand Catholic charity.

      'Finally, while the national CCHD recently (and thankfully!) defunded groups that had no business being funded by Catholics in the first place, there are more reports forthcoming on CCHD-funded groups still working against the Church. The problems have not been solved. It's our position that the problems go deeper than will be revealed by checking only CCHD grantees' positions on abortion, as if that were the only issue. There is clearly a deep philosophical and theological disconnect between the current CCHD secular management's understanding of charity and justice and an authentically Catholic view of these essential social virtues.

      'We are faithful Catholics who love our bishops and who deeply want to be obedient to the Church. But when we see that we've funded groups working against the Church, we're confused; and when we're told time after time that the problems have been solved only to find out they haven't been solved, we're saddened.

      'There's a reason why so many bishops and pastors no longer direct funds to the CCHD. Instead, they give money intended for the poor to organizations that actually serve the poor not to radical political partisan groups who always seem to find common cause with those working against the Church. It's sad that the CCHD has chosen again and again to be embarrassed into playing 'whack-a-mole' with groups revealed to be doing bad things.'

    On Nov. 10, Rey Flores sent me an e-mail saying:

      'Hi Matt Someone forwarded your article on CCHD. Being that I am the new Director at the Chicago CCHD, I welcome you to contact me should you have any questions or concerns about the CCHD in the near future. You may be surprised just how much in common we just may have. God bless you.'

    I thanked him and said that I might be contacting him in the next few days for my column.

    On Nov. 11, I sent Flores a follow-up e-mail saying:

      'I'm wondering if you might have a comment on the following two responses to your recent letter regarding certain CCHD critics. I plan to print your original letter followed by the two statements [above] the first is from a spokesman for American Life League; the second from a spokesman for Human Life International. If you don't wish to comment further, that's fine as well. I'd like to submit the column Thursday night, so if you do wish to respond, could you send me your response by Thursday evening? Thanks.'

    Flores answered by asking if he could call me or if I could call him, to which I responded, "Thanks, but my 'policy' is not to quote anyone from a telephone conversation; it has to be through e-mail."

    Flores responded:

      'Well, Matt. All I can tell you is that we are doing the best we can in Chicago and

      the proof will have to be in the pudding before any of our critics (including yourself) will believe us regarding the CCHD reformation.

      'I know it's not your 'policy' to talk to people on the phone, but I welcome anyone that has any questions or concerns to either contact me directly at 312-534-3690 or e-mail me at rflores@[NO SPAM]archchicago.org. I also invite anyone that has interest in helping bring about the necessary changes at CCHD to join our Chicago CCHD Committee. It would be so much more helpful and productive than to just point fingers and criticize.

      'Tell your readers that I am praying for all of them and to keep me in their prayers as well.'

    Mary Ann Kreitzer, president of the Catholic Media Coalition, said in an e-mail:

      'Representatives of the Catholic Media Coalition met with Rey Flores and the head of the Illinois Catholic Conference in Chicago last September. The meeting was sought by the archdiocese (Rey) and our people agreed in a good faith attempt to express our grave concerns about the fundamental problems with the CCHD. The meeting was cordial and we made it clear that we could not support the campaign as it currently operates. Both Mr. Flores and Mr. Gilligan agreed to present our concerns to Cardinal George and get back with us. They never did after repeated attempts by Catholic Citizens of Illinois, CMC's local member, to make contact.

      'Instead, Rey Flores published an erroneous statement in the diocesan paper that CCI was supporting the collection this year. (They boycotted last year.) Since then diocesan representatives have vilified and slandered anyone criticizing the collection.

      'Catholic Media Coalition regrets the tone of the discourse leveled against those raising legitimate questions about the egregious misuse of donations. In many cases they are funding leftwing political activity and actually working to advance causes diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching.'

    Pertinent links:

    American Life League

    Human Life International

    Catholic Citizens of Illinois

    Catholic Media Coalition

    Spero News

    United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

    Archdiocese of Chicago

    "Money laundering and the CCHD"

    "Catholic Campaign for Human Development in Chicago"


    © Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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