New Orleans Someone deserves credit, and I’m betting that someone is James Salt, the energetic director of Catholics United, for exposing the increasingly desperate, rightwing inspired, guilt-by-association style attacks on social change groups funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The New York Times ran a front page piece about a Colorado immigrant rights group, Companeros, facing defunding because it was part of a coalition that include a group that advocated for gay and lesbian rights. CCHD has demanded that Companeros withdraw from the coalition or face loss of the $30,000 grant which represents half of its funding.
This is not a new problem. Groups for years have been required to sign commitments that the organization will not advocate or be a part of any formation that is pro-abortion and not pro-life. Organizations have frequently been defunded in the past for this reason. CCHD concedes that nine groups since 2010 have been defunded. Three of these groups I know well so can vouch for their program and respect in the community: the Chinese Progressive Association of San Francisco, Young Workers United also of San Francisco, and the Washington Community Action Network based in Seattle.
Salt has argued to me that the conservative assault on CCHD is so severe that be believes the entire organization is in danger of being scrapped. (Full disclosure: I’ve asked and Salt has agreed to produce an essay on his investigation and argument for the summer issue of Social Policy magazine volume 42 number 2).
The pressure has worsened considerably since the formation in 2009 of coalition of conservative groups within the Church forming something called “Reform CCHD.” The American Life League is the stick stirring the drink the hardest and they assemble a “hit” list of groups that they think establish that CCHD is funding outfits that are off the mark with the dominant Church social doctrines. Without question in the over 40 years since CCHD was founded it has been the single largest funder of community organizations as a methodology and a strategy for empowerment of the poor. Salt went so far as to argue in the Times that CCHD “is probably the most important antipoverty foundation in America.” He’s probably not too far off the mark there.
In recent years the right has been winning at CCHD. Longtime staff members were eased out or seeing the writing on the wall left. The capacity of CCHD has been drastically reduced because of these steps in the last several years with more authority turned over to the local dioceses.
Nonetheless this is a battleground for the heart and soul of the Catholic Church in America and whether or not its leadership as a voice and force for social justice will prevail or fold to the conservative pressure of social teachings that are out of kilter with America around women and non-heterosexuals, yet are still robust within the hierarchy of the Church. Salt’s announcement that Catholics United may start an alternative fund to blunt the impact of this conservative counterattack on CCHD is noble and interesting, but $8 million is too much to replace and too vital a resource to lose for the poor.
Catholic or not, this is a fight important to all of us who care about community organizing. It’s worth signing up to support Catholics United now and reaching out to your local diocesan directors to ask them to stand up and speak out.