Every November just before Thanksgiving, American Catholics dig into their pockets to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a nationwide program that raises funds to attack poverty in local communities. Their millions of small donations have made the Campaign the nation’s largest private funder of locally controlled anti-poverty programs, disbursing more than $250 million to some 3,500 community programs over the past three decades. Last year, CCHD’s annual collection raked in a record $14 million.
The Campaign’s influence as a philanthropic organization goes deeper than its giving power: a recent study found that its grants often act as seed money to attract donations from other organizations—as much as six dollars for every dollar in Campaign grants.
The collection goes quietly in most parishes, and generally a quarter of the money donated stays in the local diocese. Most Catholics in the pew, however, are unaware that CCHD has recently been enmeshed in controversy over criticism from both sides of the political spectrum—including conservative charges that the organization has funded anti-Catholic activities, and liberal concerns that the group is abandoning the poor.
A History of Controversy
Conservatives have raised criticisms against CCHD (which until last year was known simply as the “The Campaign for Human Development”) almost since the moment of its founding, noting its propensity to fund left-wing community organizations that draw from the philosophy of 1960s radical revolutionary Saul Alinsky.
The author of Rules for Radicals (who once famously wrote “The hell with charity; the only thing you’re going to get is what you’re strong enough to get”) is the guiding spirit behind many of the organizations that CCHD has funded over the years, including the Industrial Areas Foundation and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (better known by its acronym, ACORN).
Such organizations do little actual service work, preferring instead to concentrate on effecting “systemic change.” CCHD does not even allow funds to be dedicated to “direct service projects” such as health clinics or homeless shelters for the poor. Appalled as they are by the status quo, those who operate CCHD prefer to support groups seeking, in the Campaign’s own words, “institutional change.”
As explained in the Campaign’s funding application, worthy projects include those “developed by poverty groups which work toward systemic change, economic strength and political power. . ..” The guidelines provide such helpful examples as “multi-issue community organization[s]” that focus on problems such as “housing, jobs, education, toxics, voter registration, etc.”
The bar on direct services, however, is total. An organization advocating for specific anti-poverty initiatives such as housing cannot receive funding for the construction of affordable units, even though CCHD will fund the group’s “organizing costs.” It will come as no surprise that this focus on advocacy instead of actual services has led CCHD to fund left-wing organizations that seek to block welfare reform, redistribute income, and build networks of left-wing advocates.
More critically, from a Catholic perspective, detractors of CCHD going back to the early 1970s have claimed that the organization funded groups that advance specifically anti-Catholic positions on issues like abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality. Such early criticism prompted the adoption of CCHD’s 1972 “Moral Guidelines for Funding.”
Under the 1972 guidelines, an organization whose mission did not explicitly run counter to Catholic doctrine could receive funding even if some of its programs advanced positions that contradicted church teaching, as long as the funds were not used to support the offending programs. In addition, the Campaign maintained strict guidelines as to how CCHD funds were budgeted, deposited, and spent, as well as requiring quarterly status reports, frequent on-site visits, and the consent of the local bishop before money is spent in his diocese.
Meet the New Guidelines
But the criticism did not end there, and came to a head once more at a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Spring of 1998, when the bishops requested changes in the Campaign’s funding application and Moral Guidelines.
CCHD had circulated a paper in advance of the meeting maintaining that it “fully upholds our Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death” and adding that the projects it supports “must be in conformity with the moral guidelines of the Catholic Church.” The paper did not, however, fully answer critics’ concerns about the so-called “fungibility” question, or whether Campaign funds merely freed up other monies to be used on projects not in line with Catholic teaching. (Donors know how difficult it can be to build firewalls around specific budget items, but the niceties of accounting shouldn’t be used to obscure the fact that grants are sometimes used for purposes with which the donors fundamentally disagree.)
Two principal changes followed from the bishops’ conference. The first change—adding the word “Catholic” to the organization’s title—“strengthened the Campaign’s Catholic identity and sponsorship and is a faithful linkage with our history,” according to Bishop Ricardo Ramírez, chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ CCHD Committee.
The second set of changes, to the Moral Guidelines and funding application, sought to close the fungibility loophole. No longer could CCHD provide any funding to a group that advocated anti-Catholic positions on “abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, or any other affront to human life and dignity.”
Did they ever? Conservatives and liberals are left to argue the point. Further complicating matters, CCHD maintains that the changes are not changes at all, but simply a “restatement” of established policy. “The Bishop’s Committee has been looking to express our opposition to abortion in new ways,” explains a spokesperson at the Campaign’s national offices in Washington.
Still, CCHD did summarily revoke a grant to the Center for Third World Organizing—which critics had singled out as an example of the organization’s support for projects in questionable accordance with Catholic social teaching—after the new language was adopted, although the executive director of CCHD denies that conservative pressure had anything to do with it.
And while the Campaign’s leadership maintains that the language changes nothing, a host of its grant recipients and constituents apparently beg to differ.
An article in Colorlines, a magazine published by the group “Race, Culture, and Action,” blasts “religious conservatives” for attempting to turn CCHD “into a wedge against progressive organizers who connect race, class, and gender in their work.” According to Colorlines, the “new CCHD guidelines will. . . drive a wedge between groups organizing in poor communities. . . and the primarily pro-choice and women’s rights groups.”
The director of the Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, who received the Campaign’s 1997 Development of People award, reacted defiantly to the new guidelines, maintaining that an organization’s position on abortion is “a question of self-determination.” Conservative critics maintain that such reactions undermine the Campaign’s assurances that it has never funded groups that support abortion: if CCHD fundees themselves can draw the connection between Campaign projects and support for abortion, why can’t Campaign leaders?
Live or Memorex?
In the final analysis, are the new guidelines a new direction for an organization with a history of funding left-wing and anti-Catholic projects? Or are they a mere restatement of old principles, as the Campaign suggests? Or perhaps cosmetic changes designed to mollify conservatives?
The changes do make it more difficult for an organization that supports abortion to receive CCHD funding, and there are encouraging signs that the guidelines are affecting the makeup of the groups CCHD funds, including the revocation of funding for the Center for Third World Organizing and a new $40,000 grant to Not Dead Yet, an organization of disabled activists that fights euthanasia and “assisted suicide.”
Beyond that, little is certain about the future of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, except its continuing ability to attract big donations from American Catholics, and fervent critiques from both sides of the political spectrum.
Justin Torres is senior staff writer for the Conservative News Service.