Credible Signs of Christ Alive: Case Studies from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development by Stephanie Block

james mary evans
james mary evans

   John Paul II was quite clear that Catholic educational and charitable works must be Catholic in their own understanding and Catholic in their identity.  Service to one’s fellows, while laudable in itself, must serve an additional, fundamental end: the proclamation of the Gospel. (“‘Church’s Educational and Charitable Works Must Be Truly Catholic,’ Says Pope: Receives U.S. Bishops from the Northwest and Alaska,” June 24, 2004, www.zenit.org)

That’s a tall order.  It implies a tremendous responsibility to assure that a charity’s services are in keeping with Catholic moral understanding as well as Catholic evangelical purposes. 

To say it another way, regardless of the “goods” a Catholic charity might procure for the needy, if it has also funded condom distribution, supported Machiavellian political activism, or – because of particular alliances -eschews Catholic moral principles, it deserves to be de-funded. 

It takes more than just saying one’s charity manifests the “living Christ,” as Paul Hogan does in his book Credible Signs of Christ Alive: Case Studies from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.  A “good deed” that has been attached to a political agenda – and we’re not talking a social order brought under the kingship of Christ, but a manipulated, consensus-driven governance – simply can’t be equated with God’s work. 

So, does the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) manifest the “living Christ?”  Credible Signs chooses six CCHD-funded organizations – its charity showpieces, not its principal grantees – to illustrate its work.  They are showpieces, not representatives of principal grantees, because one doesn’t find, for example, any mention of the Alinsky-founded Industrial Area Foundation affiliates, despite its receiving about 16% of the annual grant pie.  But if CCHD feels other groups better reflect its work, then by all means, it’s worth examining them.  

1.  Grace over Chicken: The Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance

The first close-up of a CCHD-funded organization examined by Credible Signs is the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance, located in Delaware in the Diocese of Wilmington.  This is chicken raising country and the industry not only pays its workers poorly, ostensibly to keep consumer prices low for chicken meat, but also engages in practices designed to keep competition at bay.

The Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance was founded in 1996 to address these problems and it has received CCHD grants since 1999.  Until 2003, the Alliance was an affiliate of another CCHD-funded organization, the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (NICWJ).  The NICWJ was given a $100,000 CCHD grant in 1999, then used its CCHD money, matched by other funding bodies, to make its own grant to the Poultry Alliance, thereby giving the Alliance access to additional CCHD generosity.     

One of individuals who was particularly influential in creating the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance was Rev. Jim Lewis, an Episcopal priest and activist in anti-death penalty, gay rights, labor, and women’s reproductive issues.   To serve the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance members, who are largely poor, immigrant laborers, Lewis helped to establish La Red Health Center.

La Red does a lot of good work – there’s no denying that: prenatal care, immunizations, nutritional counseling, primary, acute and chronic disease, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and an array of other fine services.

But La Red is a Division of Public Health Title X partner and as such provides what is euphemistically called “reproductive health services,” as well.  This includes the provision of, or referral to, a wide range of abortifacient contraceptives and sterilization. 

As for the NICWJ, its founder and executive director, Kim Bobo, is a speaker for Call to Action, a dissident “Catholic” organization that works to overthrow Church moral teachings on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, and marriage and desires to restructure the Church with democratically elected bishops and priests, married and women clergy, and small faith communities to support its liberation theology.

Bobo contributed (with the assistance of the Campaign for Human Development-funded Midwest Academy) to the manual How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community. Radical Right, in this instance refers to pro-lifers, any group of parents who want to review school curricula, oppose sex education, or seek “parental permission for anything,” any group of citizens concerned about sexual orientation “rights,” home schoolers, or folks desirous of religious activity of any sort in any public forum.  Conversely, it provides a plethora of materials in support of abortion and gay “rights,” among other issues.

The activist handbook’s list of “right wingers” includes the American Life League, William Donohue’s Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Human Life International, Knights of Columbus, National Coalition Against Pornography, National Coalition on Television Violence, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Right to Life Committee, Opus Dei, and the Pro-Life Action League.

How, then, are we understand the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance to be a model CCHD grantee?  It is, on the one hand, a legitimate association of workers seeking economic betterment.  On the other hand, its mentorsand founders procured these goods with the blood of poor children.

2.  Tenants’ and Workers’ Support Committee

The second organization featured in Credible Signs is the Tenants’ and Workers’ Support Committee of Virginia (TWSC, now called Tenants and Workers United – TWU).  This organization was founded in 1986, the north Virginian affiliate of another CCHD-funded group, the Virginia Organizing Project.

TWSC is discussed in Credible Signs for its work toward a living wage law, or, more precisely, a minimum wage hike.  In this effort, it has networked with dozens, if not hundreds of other CCHD-funded groups around the country.  The issue is controversial and a thoughtful Catholic, exercising a preferential option for the poor, might fall on either side of the debate.

What a Catholic cannot support is the other work of the Virginia Organizing Project – and through it, TWSC.  Among other things, the Virginia Organizing Project assisted the state’s homosexual activism network in its successful effort to pass legislation in 2005 to allow private employers to offer health insurance and other benefits to domestic partners. It also opposed the Affirmation of Marriage Bill, a proposal to expand the existing Virginia Defense of Marriage Act.

CCHD has always had a problem with fungibility.  Catholic money awarded for a “good” project – or, at least, a tolerable project – frees an organization to use resources for morally untenable projects.  The problem was so pervasive that in 1998 the Campaign drafted new guidelines, emphasizing the sanctity of human life and stating clearly that not only must funded projectsconform to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, but that any organization whose primary or substantial thrust was contrary to Catholic teaching – even if the project itself was in accord – would be denied funding. 

Good guidelines, but they require a vigilant will to enforce them.  The $105,000 to the Virginia Organizing Project and the $111,000 to TWSC since1998 suggest that there is no such will.

3. Camden Churches Organized for People

Next we look at the PICO affiliate of community organizations in New Jersey, Camden Churches Organized for People.  Credible Signs lauds the organization for helping to revitalize a dying city – specifically for its vision paper (“A Vision for the Recovery of Camden”) that led to passage of the 2002 Camden Recovery Act (CRA), a $200 million package supposedly designed to restore Camden’s neighborhoods and economy.

What has been the result of this act, however?  The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the CRA’s redevelopment plans include extensive and involuntary relocation of residents. (Elisa Ung,  “Candidates: Rein in Camden redevelopment,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 14, 2005) 

Other reports complain that State Sen. Wayne Bryant, who wrote and sponsored the CRA with Camden Churches Organized for People backing, has received a kickback – the Camden Redevelopment Agency created by CRA hired Bryant’s law firm to acquire properties. (Bob Ingle, “Stem-cell research plan could hurt Republicans,” Courier Post Online, January 10, 2005)   The CRA also gives the governor veto power over school board decisions.  In the view of one council member, “The [city] government is being taken over right now….My colleagues and the mayor gave up their right to govern the people of the City of Camden.” (Jeffrey Muckensturm, “The Camden Democracy Gap,” zmagsite.zmag.org, October 2003, quoting Ali Sloan-El, city council member) 

Oh, and $13.25 million allocated by the act went to the Cooper Hospital – University Medical Center, whose Women’s Center provides a full range of family planning and birth control services.

4. Southeast Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement: Stop the Factory Farms

Here’s one that looks promising – a local organization devoted to independent family farms and battling the inhumane and ecologically unsound practices of “factory farms.” 

Trouble is, Southeast Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is an affiliate of National People’s Action (NPA), a coalition of groups around the United States founded in 1972 by Gale Cincotta, a student of Saul Alinsky’s.  Alinsky taught that a “people’s organization” has to “personalize” an issue by identifying one individual to be demonized.  “Direct action,” of which NPA is a proponent, might include the bussing of protestors to the homes of such targeted business or government leaders.  Civil political debate is then replaced by tactics of mob intimidation.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement uses these tactics. It has protested on the front lawns of individual school board or farm bureau members, chanting and shouting at them and their families through the windows of their homes.  It has published its targets’ home phone numbers in newspaper ads, inviting -and generating – harassing phone calls.  Imagine the outcry if Catholic money funded anti-abortion “direct action.”

5.  The Anti-Displacement Project

The fifth example of a model CCHD-funded organization is another affiliate of National People’s Action (NPA).  This one, Anti-Displacement Project (ADP), works out of Springfield, Massachusetts. 

Besides the obvious problem of its tactics – and the use of Catholic charitable donations to fund training people in these tactics – the Anti-Displacement Project recently co-hosted an “Immigrant Rights and Workers Rights” rally to protest the low wages given to undocumented workers and announce the creation of Casa Obrera Worker Center at APD’s offices.  The worker center is designed to help organize the undocumented “to improve the conditions of employment, and to provide legal representation and other services.” (Peter Goonan, “Protest follows labor breakfast,” The Republican, September 09, 2006)

6.  Proyecto Pastoral at Dolores Mission

Last, but not least, Credible Signs looks at Proyecto Pastoral, a project of Dolores Mission in Los Angeles, California.  Dolores Mission is a center for liberation theology, using its work among the poor to spread an alternative way of “being church.”

Fr. Thomas Rausch, SJ, writes, for instance, that “…the worship of the community [of Dolores Mission] and the strong influence of liberation theology themes clearly drive its many involvements. Music is simple but strong, with lyrics projected on an old movie screen. An emphasis on praxis is evident in the preaching. Only part of the assembly receives communion; the heart of Dolores Mission is its call to empowerment in response the community’s daily experience of poverty and injustice.”  [Fr. Thomas Rausch, SJ, “Liturgy and Evangelization in the North American Context”]

Dolores Mission has a coordinator for the dozen or more base communities the parish hosts and through which its ministries are run.  Sister Giulii Zobelein, OP, Director of Religious Education at Dolores Mission writes that the “small Christian communities” – not Christ – are the life blood of Dolores Mission.  She says: “They are modeled on groups that began in poor areas in Latin America. They meet weekly in homes, reflecting on the Sunday Gospel and how it applies to their lives. It is from these groups that action for peace and justice springs.” (www.msjdominicans.org/DoloresMission.pdf )

The action for peace and justice to which Sister refers has included agitating protests of proposed laws to criminalize illegal immigration, claiming – erroneously – that such legislation would slap felony charges against doctors, teachers, social workers and ministers who aid undocumented immigrants.  (Ellie Hidalgo, “Catholics fast to urge just immigration laws,” Catholic News Service, 2/16/2006) 

Dolores Mission peace and justice action also includes its Comunidad en Movimiento (Community in Action) program, which runs monthly meetings with all the department heads of the Los Angeles Housing Authority to discuss their issues. (David Scheie with T Williams and Luisa Pessoa-Brandão, “Organized Religion and Civic Culture: Final Report from a Strategic Review,” prepared forthe James Irvine Foundation by Rainbow Research, Inc. April 2001.)

Bottom line… 

The “model” CCHD-funded programs highlighted in Credible Signs illustrate exactly the problem with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development: the CCHD does not exercise responsible oversight of its grants.  With its arsenal of modern advertising techniques directed at generous Catholic heart and purse strings, it promotes abortion, immorality, big government, and flawed theology. 

These “model” groups are not anomalies.  They represent the typical CCHD grant.  Nearly ten years ago, the Wanderer Forum Foundation produced its CHD Commentary (www.wandererforumfoundation.org/publications).  It demonstrates that all major grant recipients of the CHD/CCHD are every bit as problematic as the six featured organizations of Credible Signs.  The essential CHD funding patterns of 1997 remain unreformed.

© Los Pequenos de Cristo, Inc.

One thought on “Credible Signs of Christ Alive: Case Studies from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development by Stephanie Block”

  1. It is about time all the world’s political, social and religious leaders concern themselves more about those who have no beds than who others choose to share their beds with.

    Morality must move away from the bedroom. Instead we must work together to end warfare and other violence, poverty, homelessness, illness, and environmental destruction.

    Any politician who sings “bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” is not fit to control half the world’s nuclear armaments.

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