If you were to guess that private foundations with Catholic interests spend much of their time and money on parochial schools, helping the Catholic Church welcome new immigrant families, or finding new candidates to replace aging clergy and nuns, you would be on target.
You would also be correct if you presumed that a number of these foundations in one fashion or another are supporting programs in the defense and protection of life. The belief that all human beings are made in God’s image stands as one of the core tenets of the Catholic faith and finds itself reflected in Catholic-oriented philanthropy.
You might be surprised to find a private foundation with Catholic interests like the ones just described supporting an organization that advocates abortion. In fact, in the 20 years I have worked closely with some of the largest foundations with Catholic interests, I have not found one of them doing this.
How then is it that Catholics For a Free Choice, ostensibly a religious organization, enjoys a yearly avalanche of grant support from private foundations? Supporters of CFFC include the Ford, MacArthur, Rockefeller, Public Welfare, William and Flora Hewlett, David and Lucile Packard, and Buffet foundations.
It’s difficult to draw hard and fast conclusions about CFFC’s funders, since the organization has a policy of not releasing donor information—claiming that contributors will be harassed or threatened.
A review of major grants, from sources including the Foundation Center’s grants index, shows an organization without a single major supporter whose program focus is Catholic philanthropy. Some of CFFC’s funders even state flatly that they don’t fund any religiously oriented programs.
One looks in vain at these organizations’ program areas for evidence of meaningful support of parochial schools, retired nuns, Catholic missions, religious vocations work, or parish ministry-the areas that are the meat and potatoes of Catholic philanthropy today.
What’s wrong, one may ask, with foundations supporting an organization that is only organizing conscientious dissent from Catholic religious teaching?
Arguably, nothing. The trouble is that CFFC does more than foment theological or moral dissent. It has been trying to muzzle the Catholic Church herself and has marshaled the support of its backers in order to silence the moral voice of the Holy See at the United Nations. Among other things, CFFC wants to downgrade the Catholic Church’s status as a Permanent U.N. Observer. The group’s glossy media campaign, called “See Change,” advances religious intolerance to a new level.
Larger foundations are famously allergic to the world of religion. In fact, less than 2 percent of the total $20 billion in annual giving by foundations is even remotely religious in nature.
Nonetheless, a few American foundations do tread in the world of religion. Large philanthropies including the Lilly Endowment, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Templeton Foundation all operate in religious environments. Their boards know that religion can be a cohesive and healing element in society, one that anchors America to traditional moral values, and their grants reflect this.
The foundations backing CFFC are deeply at odds with this type of constructive collaboration. By giving to CFFC, they show that their only use for religious belief is as a wedge-a means to advance an ideological agenda under the guise of religious dissent.
American foundations are free to continue to advance whatever cause they choose. We live in a liberal democracy, and, to be blunt, it’s their money. But chipping away at the trust and confidence that Americans have traditionally placed in their religious institutions is no way to advance a cause. The most likely consequence of this breed of philanthropy will be to weaken the vibrancy of our faith communities and leave us as less of a nation in consequence.
Francis Butler is president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), a Washington, D.C.-based association of private foundations.