More Catholic Funding Controversies

Ideas and Issues

street-roots1New Orleans Dan Petegorsky sent me a couple of emails over my last couple of days in Toronto.  Dan has been the solid rock of the Western States Center, a progressive training, research, and support center for non-profits and progressives in the western US, for the last number of years and is now handling special projects in the transition to a new director.  I don’t hear from Dan every day, but when I heard from him, I know he wants me to do something, not just read silently and say thanks for the info.

Over the last year I once blogged supportively and put out a call asking for help for a group of Catholic progressives based in DC who were trying to stand up against right wing Catholic assaults against the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) which has been the largest funder of community organizing projects in the US for the last 40 years.  Dan and I corresponded about my “call,” because Dan was conflicted about CCHD’s abandonment of good groups that were unwarranted and inexcusable, and downright reactionary

This time he was riled at the withdrawal of $5000 worth of funding by the local CCHD committee of the Portland, Oregon diocese for Street Roots, a Portland based publication distributed by homeless people and an advocate for their issues that published an annual comprehensive services directory, and has done so with local CCHD support.  After an shot from the Catholic conservatives this support was pulled immediately because one of the thousands of listings of services included Planned Parenthood.   Street Roots and its director didn’t buckle or bend, but stepped away from the funding in dismay about the controversy.  Their own statement is persuasive and elegant:

I can’t defend CCHD’s actions or those of Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, who I have known long and well from his decades in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, because they lack courage and toady to the worst of the church.  After ACORN was the largest CCHD beneficiary over the organization’s history, they ran from ACORN in the run-up to the 2008 election 2 years ago over voter registration issues and abandoned the organization on specious grounds without any due process.

I have heard their rationalizations and understand them though, despite how troubling they remain.  They feel they have to protect and save their organizations.  I’ve been in those same shoes, but when the attack goes public and external, there is no evidence or precedence that running and hiding is the best defense, nor is parsing the issues on technicalities, as even the President is starting to learn.  Street Roots is coming out with a story about other CCHD abandonments.  Even without reading the piece, I’m sure they won’t have trouble naming ACORN, the Center for Community Change, some of the CTWO supported groups over the years, and many others, including those that support and engage women more aggressively, who don’t even bother to apply.

Unfortunately the painful truth and paradox of the CCHD plight is easy to list.  First, I can’t bear to imagine CCHD further weakened, because inarguably it has been the largest funder, and not just funder but supporter, of community organizing for the bulk of its existence.  No other private philanthropist or foundation or church comes within miles.  It shouldn’t be irreplaceable, but it is.  Secondly, they are playing an increasingly weak hand as membership declines, progressive elements within the Catholic Church continue to be marginalized and attacked with the tacit support of the Vatican, which no doubt doesn’t inspire courage in a hierarchical organization, where the consequences of mistakes are larger than successes.  Finally, the utter outrageousness of the Church’s handling of their priest abuse problems throughout the world has damaged their moral authority to such an extent that it has crippled their effectiveness in being good advocates around poverty, peace, and justice as well, leaving them as simply reactive.

A quick internet search seemed to confirm the continued “behind-the-bunker” stance of CCHD.  Bishop Morin seems to have only slapped back hard at attacks they felt the right were taking at long time executive director of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops John Carr as being soft on gays and abortion.  Their defense was that Carr was being slandered because he was walking the line, straight and true, on Church policy in these areas.  Morin’s needle to the right about repeating “lies” though was as tough as he got, and the right parsed the issue as well by saying they were not attacking Carr, personally, but CCHD.  They are still good at protecting each other, but the lesson of protecting the institutions seems less well learned.

The “ACORN lesson” seems to be that when attacked, run for your life, because no one else will come to your defense.  CCHD both administered and learned that lesson, and it’s chilling reverberation will continue to felt for years.

At the end of the day, Dan is right, CTWO has been right before in the same way, and so are others who say, CCHD is too conservative for us.  Street Roots is right to say essentially, we’ll go our own way.  I dare say their courage will easily replace the $5000 they are losing from the local CCHD.

The real problem is that until we, as organizers and progressives, become more serious – and effective – at making our organizations legitimately self-sufficient, there is no protection from the whims of funders, both good and bad.  I get the feeling that CCHD’s days are numbered unless the political winds inside the church finally shift again, but frankly all of our days are numbered unless we finally do what we have to do to control our own organizational resources.