Donations suspended as potential problems investigated…
MONTGOMERY | Roman Catholic churches throughout Alabama, including those in Tuscaloosa, will not conduct the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s second collection on Nov. 22-23 because of potential financial problems involving ACORN, a controversial group that registered voters for the 2008 election.
Birmingham Diocese Bishop Robert J. Baker, in a letter dated Nov. 16, said ACORN will not get money from the second collection until the CCHD finishes a probe into whether ACORN used money in a way that might endanger the CCHD’s tax- exempt status.
‘In light of recent concerns regarding funding of the ACORN organization by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, we will wait for the result of the [CCHD] investigation into the use of the funds by ACORN before sending contributions to them,’ the letter said.
Baker’s letter directs parish priests to instead collect for the Church in Latin America. The bishop for the Mobile Diocese, which governs churches in south Alabama, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Not mentioned in Baker’s letter were allegations that surfaced during the presidential campaign about ACORN’s voter registration practices and the revelation this summer that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, embezzled $1 million from the organization in 1999 and 2000.
ACORN stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which was formed in 1970 to help the poor in jobs, housing and fighting discrimination.
The national Catholic Campaign for Human Development, formed in 1970 as the Catholic Church’s domestic anti-poverty program, takes collections for the poor from parishes the weekend before Thanksgiving. It gave a little more than $1 million in 2007 and $1.17 million to affiliates in 2006, according to Catholic News Service. The news service said the campaign has given more than $7.3 million in 10 years for more than 300 projects.
The church stopped a grant of $1.2 million to ACORN after reports of alleged voter fraud surfaced.
ACORN executive director Steven Kest said Tuesday that ACORN is cooperating with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and that Wade and Dale Rathke are no longer with the organization.
‘The parties responsible have been removed and anyone in connection to ACORN involved in the embezzlement are no longer involved,’ Kest said in a telephone interview. ‘The outside parties and board members concerned about that are taking necessary steps on that.’
Kest also addressed allegations that Campaign for Human Development money might have been used to register voters.
‘We don’t do any voter registration with that money,’ Kest said. ‘We report every year on what we do.’
ACORN has been accused of partisanship, registering mostly black voters in an attempt to help elect Barack Obama president this year. Obama worked with ACORN early in his career.
Kest said any group that helps the poor naturally helps blacks. He said 10 percent to 15 percent of the people ACORN helps are white.
Kest acknowledged there were voter registration irregularities by people ACORN hired to register voters this year, including the registration of ‘Mickey Mouse.’
‘The fact is, it’s a very big aggressive program with a very expensive quality control component and a very small percentage, maybe one-and a-half percent of cases, some of the employees gave us bad cards,’ Kest said. ‘We caught most of them.’
The Rev. Gerald Holloway, pastor of Saint Francis University parish in Tuscaloosa, said he plans to read Baker’s letter during the three Masses on Nov. 23.
Holloway was asked if the campaign grant to ACORN was a proper use of money. ‘I’m really not sure; they are under investigation,’ he said.
The Rev. Gray Bean, pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Gadsden, said he would announce suspension of the collection.
‘I don’t think the church should support any partisan politics,’ Bean said. ‘We can speak on issues, but we’re not allowed to speak with a partisan voice and certainly some of the things ACORN supports are not in line with Catholic morals. CCHD has some problems. Probably what will happen is there will be a major restructuring.’
Bean said parishioners and priests are talking about the grants to ACORN. ‘I know priests who would not take up the CCHD collection in their parishes,’ he said.
New Orleans Diocese Bishop Robert Morin, the moderator for the Campaign for Human Development, has called for a forensic investigation of the ACORN donations. His letter said money was not knowingly misused.
Morin is the chairman of the campaign oversight committee. The campaign receives about $9.4 million each year in second collections.