The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, the diocese in which I was born, has enacted an elegant and simple solution to a quite serious problem faced by dioceses around the country. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has done a lot of good for the poor in this country, but also funded a lot of groups which are directly opposed to Catholic teaching. It has become an albatross of sorts, with some camps calling for an end to all CCHD funding, and others urging us to turn a blind eye to the pro-choice and pro-gay marriage groups taking our tithe money (yes, unfortunately, you read that right).
Here was the Diocese’s solution: cut CCHD funding for political “community organizing groups” operating within the diocese’s bounds, but keep CCHD funding for economic development grants which directly benefit the poor. This solution is mindful of both the poor and the Church’s teachings, and it preserves the flow of money which has done the most good, and which has directly and obviously helped the poor.
If you’re not familiar with the controversy, every year, we hear reports of CCHD stabbing the Church in the back, by supporting pro-choice and pro-gay marriage groups. This received attention during the Proposition 8 court battle — while the Catholic Church was proclaiming that marriage is between a man and a woman, and thus supported Prop 8, CCHD was simultaneously funding groups opposing the Catholic stance in court. In March, the CCHD used the Stations of the Cross to praise, and pray for, the work of twelve different groups. Already, this was a pretty obnoxious politicization of the solemn Stations, but it turns out that five of the twelve were actively promoting things contrary to the Faith (namely, abortion and gay marriage).
So what’s going on, and what can be done about it? Well, it turns out that the problem is with the way the CCHD is structure. It gives out grants to two kinds of groups:
- Economic Development Grants: These grants are usually given to “community-based organizations and businesses that create just workplaces, provide good jobs and develop assets for low-income people that are owned by families and communities.” In other words, recipients are directly helping the poor by providing them jobs, helping them generate assets, and so forth. These grants are great.
- Community Organizing Grants: In contrast to the economic development grants, the community organizing grants are directly political. In CCHD’s own words: “The Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s community organizing grants program is focused on supporting low-income led community organizations that bring individuals together and train them to identify and challenge policies and structures in their communities that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.” Additionally, recipients must show their ability and willingness to fight for “institutional change,” which CCHD defines as “Modification of existing laws and/or policies” or “Establishment of participatory and just social structures and/or redistribution of decision-making powers so that people living in poverty can be involved in policy-making that affects their lives.“
The community organizing grants, as you can guess, are incredibly problematic. First, it’s the USCCB trying to dictate (through third-parties) specific economic policy which the government should enact. The idea of the USCCB trying to write economic policy is laughable, given its lack of economic expertise: it is really prepared to argue that Keynesian economics make more since then the Austrian school, or that there are fundamental flaws with supply-side economics, etc.? No, of course not. But it’s also troubling in that this organizing is being done by non-Catholic, secular groups. This intermingling of Church money with secular money for political purposes (even valid ones) should give us pause. If the cause is just, why doesn’t the Church just do it directly? Farming it out to non-Catholic groups has a tendency to get ugly quickly, as the groups are less efficient and more likely to promote morally problematic agendas.
But third, economic policies are prudential judgments. Don’t get me wrong: economic decisions are moral decisions, and policies which systematically disfavor or oppress the poor cry out to Heaven for justice. We in the Church should listen and follow our Lord’s command to care for the poor, and a majority-Christian society should reflect a care and a love for the poor. But how we care for the poor is something which Catholics can and do disagree upon. Determining how much role the government should try and play in actively helping the poor (instead of just getting out of the way) is a political question on which the Church doesn’t directly answer. To the extent She does answer, it seems to be contrary to what CCHD has concluded: namely, the principle of subsidiarity says that charity should be exercised at the most local level possible, so it doesn’t become faceless economic redistribution.
Now, all of the three reasons above are reasons the Church should always be hesitant about embarking on political-economic reforms through third parties. But there’s a fourth reason, particular to the modern age. Most of the groups who do advocate the wealth redistribution approach favored by CCHD are liberal groups (like unions) who advocate for other liberal causes, like abortion-on-demand and gay marriage. So the risk of giving to groups who oppose the Church on moral issues is very real. In response, CCHD has what seems to be an intentionally weak rule, requiring only that “The activity for which funding is requested must conform to the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church.” So if Planned Parenthood requested money to help out poor women, and the money itself didn’t go to pay for abortions, the CCHD could theoretically give money to Planned Parenthood, and just pretend that money isn’t fungible.
Given all of these problems, the prudent thing to do, indeed, the most Catholic thing to do, seems to be to step away from the community organizing grants. If we need to advocate for local, regional, or national legislative changes, our parishes, dioceses, or the USCCB itself are quite capable of doing so. And doing the advocacy ourselves has the dual benefits of increased transparency and consistency with Catholic moral teachings. But there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater: the economic development grants which build up poor communities, and help individuals directly and in tangible ways are activities which are edifying to the soul and which are in keeping with our Gospel mandate. The Diocese of KC-St. Joe has fortunately recognized this, and ably separated the wheat from the chaff.