Speeding toward the final national election of the millennium, the battle for the future of American culture is debated and defined from primary to primary, from whistle-stop to town hall meeting. Acknowledging abortion, welfare reform, and pro-family issues as preeminent concerns, candidates have sought to engage the Catholic community eye to eye. But who speaks for the collective Catholic voice? What is the Catholic priority?
As in the last five elections, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) has issued a “Political Responsibility” statement that seeks to set the tone of public debate and guide the Catholic vote in accord with Catholic social teaching. Parishioners are urged to reflect on the role of the Body of Christ in the political order. Peppered with quotes from John Paul II, a cursory reading leads one to believe that His Holiness has endorsed the Clinton White House.
The thirty-two-page document lists issues alphabetically, from abortion to welfare reform. While the administrative board of the USCC responsible for compiling this “compendium of Catholic social teaching” omits support for school choice, a flat tax rate, and genuine welfare reform, its endorsements extend to nationalized health care, affirmative action, foreign aid, disarmament, and the hybrid “environmental justice”—areas where conservative Catholics find worrisome ideology at work. Assuming one is in complete agreement with the positions as presented, how is a Catholic to make a choice among candidates without ranking these issues in priority? Environmental champions protect woods and whales, but rarely babies and Grandpa.
“It is not right to bring up priorities,” counseled Monsignor Frank Maniscalco, media director for the USCC. “The format is not prioritized because creating the best society we can must be the goal.” Asked how this ideal could be translated in the voting booth, he replied, “I really wish we would think through [the candidates’] stands in light of a hundred-year-old Catholic social teaching. Matthew 25 sums it up pretty well.” In that case, Catholics are theologically absolved, not by voting for abortion, but by voting for the politically correct environmental candidate, who, incidentally, favors abortion.
“Priorities? Of course life is the priority!” insisted Msgr. William Smith, one of America’s most prominent moral theologians. “What do I care how the fourth floor is decorated if the first floor is on fire?”
Plainly put, American Catholics can read the Democratic platform between the lines of the USCC “Political Responsibility” statement. The bishops seem unaware that the majority of Catholics voted for the “Contract with America.” They are equally unaware that poor and middle-class Catholics need school choice and protected parental rights in order to fulfill their vocations as Catholic parents.
Nonetheless, Msgr. Maniscalco is adamant that the statement is nonpartisan. Citing partisan hot buttons—like term limits—that the statement does not address, he emphasized “we are for policies and principles, not parties and persons.”
Fr. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, finds otherwise: “The administrative board of the USCC, the lobbying arm of the American bishops, in a statement entitled ‘Political Responsibility’ issued in October, has taken an aggressive stand in favor of the welfare state just in time for the presidential race. It condemns much of the Republican agenda in startlingly strong, indeed, partisan terms.” Quoting a recent Times-Mirror poll reporting that 54 percent of Catholics favored the Republican initiative on reform welfare, Fr. Sirico notes a “chasm developing between U.S. Catholic laity and the USCC’s policy bureaucrats, who would like public policymakers to believe they represent the Catholic community.”
Reminding Catholics that the statement on political responsibility is “merely a set of policy suggestions, not binding on any individual conscience,” Fr. Sirico characterizes the statement as “sentimentality about the poor as substitute for sound policy.”
In response, some frustrated Catholics have joined the Catholic Alliance, a branch of the Christian Coalition.
Stung by the USCC’s loss of influence to the Catholic Alliance, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, charged that the Alliance “is another effort to split Catholics from their bishops.” Because the Catholic Alliance, just like the Campaign for Human Development (the USCC agency whose mission is to empower the poor), claims Gaudium et Spes as its motivation for political action, Bishop Hubbard worries that this interfaith coalition “will cause massive confusion.”
Testy public exchanges between the USCC and the Christian Coalition prompted Msgr. Maniscalco to explain, “We are concerned for the use of the name ‘Catholic,’ and we would want to clarify that it is an alliance of Catholics who want to support the political stands of the Christian Coalition. While Catholics are free to join, the use of the term Catholic may be misconstrued as ecclesiastic approval of the Alliance.”
Without episcopal endorsement of the Catholic Alliance, it must be asked: why have significant numbers of Catholics accepted their invitation to join? Better yet, why are so many Catholics ill at ease with the political stance of the bishops? The answer is that they sound like a political action committee with a vested interest in the Democratic Party.
How deep the bishops’ vested interest reaches can be understood by examining its Campaign for Human Development. Bedeviled by a recent spate of negative press, CHD is the USCC’s twenty-five-year-old, $200 million-plus “action-education program” conceived to “attack the basic causes of poverty and empower the poor.” According to Robert Pambianco of the Capital Research Center, a charity-monitoring group in Washington, D.C., CHD has become involved with leftist advocacy organizations that support homosexuality and abortion. These revelations were published in a recent issue of Organization Trends, a newsletter put out by the Center.
So scandalous were the charges made by Capital Research that Bishop James H. Garland, the outgoing CHD chairman, accused Capital Research of lying. Standing by its claims, Capital Research was threatened by Bishop Garland to have CHD attorneys investigate “possible legal action” against the nonprofit corporation. No action has yet been initiated. “CHD never refuted a specific claim in our reports,” confided Pambianco.
Timothy Collins, current acting director of CHD, concedes, “CHD officials have explored legal recourse to false accusations . . . and now face the decision as to whether funds intended to assist the poor should be spent on legal redress.” And the charge of lying? During a telephone interview Bishop Garland dismissed Pambianco’s assertion: “I would not have said that. There were people who said they were quoted inaccurately; they wanted redress, I told them we would have CHD lawyers look into it.” When asked what Capital’s motivation could be, Bishop Garland responded, “Well, Capital Research is run by Terrence Scanlon. You know who he is? He was in the Reagan White House. He has the ear of the Catholic wealth.”
The weight of this nonpartisan statement invites further examination of the specific accusations against CHD’s funding polices:
•Grassroots Leadership: a North Carolina group that promotes civil rights, women’s rights, abortion, and homosexual rights. Board member Naomi Swinton hosted a “gender bender” while attending CHD’s anniversary celebration.
•Industrial Areas Foundation: a national left-wing organizing group founded by Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals (“to hell with charity, the only thing you’ll get is what you’re strong enough to get”).
•National Committee For Responsive Philanthropy: a committee that issued a report denouncing the pro-life movement.
•Center For Action And Contemplation: founding organization for Albuquerque Interfaith Alliance, a CHD grantee, the pet of Fr. Richard Rohr, who defined the Alliance’s role: “To question and challenge the middle-class attitudes in America that are oppressing us.” Frequent CAC seminars are offered by Edwina Gately and Rosmary Radford Reuther.
Other examples abound. The key to understanding where $230 million has been allocated is that CHD is not a service agency, but an advocacy organization. The CHD application form reads:
•”Proposed projects must . . . attack the basic causes of poverty and effect institutional change. CHD defines institutional change as a) modification of existing laws and/or policies, b) establishment of alternative structures and/or redistribution of decision making powers.
•”Projects not meeting CHD criteria [include] direct service (e.g. day-care . . . scholarships, refugee resettlement programs).”
As an advocacy structured outreach effort, CHD funds groups whose project complements Catholic social teaching, but whose parent organization may be opposed to other Church teachings. Thus, you find a CHD-funded senior citizen action group that lobbies for single-payer health insurance that includes abortion. The net effect is that the Catholic Church is de facto funding serious sin despite the “careful accounting procedures” CHD staffers insist are in place for safeguarding Catholic money. Deborah Shearer of the diocese of Orlando defended CHD’s unholy affiliations, saying, “So what? You do the same when you pay taxes— you’re paying for abortions.”
“We’re not going on witch hunts,” remarked Scott Spivak of the diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. “We can’t be bothered by what other agencies our grantees are affiliated with, or, what each board members’ sexual orientation is. We do not knowingly fund such organizations. We are funding social justice groups who are achieving social change, and that is more important than what is outside our control. If there is any question about a group, we don’t approve their funding.” Spivak stressed that all groups applying for CHD grants undergo detailed review at the diocesan level before a recommendation can be made at the national office, where all moneys are disbursed.
Rallying behind their motto, “A hand up, not a hand out,” CHD proponents at the diocesan level are often idealistic and unfamiliar with elementary economic principles. They see the welfare struggle as a “rich oppressing the poor” issue. Believers are convinced they could build the kingdom of God on earth if only they could get enough tax money. That flawed premise fuels the activities of many CHD client groups. “Leadership skills,” a euphemism for manipulating government entitlement programs, organizing picket lines, and “monitoring” bank loans, are taught at the favored models: Neighborhood Organizing, or Interfaith Alliances. Redistribution of wealth, the politics of envy, and class warfare are the norms for the Saul Alinsky—based Neighborhood Organizations. “There is no dignity in learning to beg professionally. Why not teach authentic skills needed by industry?” observed Fr. Sirico.
Some interdenominational groups are effective and worthwhile in fostering local participation of marginalized groups in city halls, police departments, and recreation centers. Their success encourages people of all backgrounds to take pride in their efforts to belong to the political process. In these instances, self-reliance is built as the by-product of a hands-on process. Orlando Interfaith Sponsoring Committee, for example, helps member churches address social problems in their own neighborhoods. Another example of a legitimate CHD client is the Choctaw Indian gift shop in Alexandria, Louisiana, evaluated by Sister John Martin Ebrom. The Choctaws’ success attracted the attention of the state forestry division. The state has contracted with the tribe to grow seedling pines, resulting in new jobs for the Choctaw people.
These examples, however, follow more closely the principle of subsidiarity. Rather than lobby for entitlements, or agitate corporations to hire unqualified workers, subsidiarity fosters solving the problem at the most local level, the most human level. In this regard, Fr. Sirico has said:
Poverty isn’t economic, but is a poverty of the spirit. People don’t need to be empowered, they need to be skilled. Government should be the resource of last resort. The essential needs of the poor are spiritual and bodily. The government impedes the spiritual. John Paul II, in Redemptoris Missio, reminds us that social services are vehicles for evangelization. The poor have their needs best met at the family, church, and local level. This is what the Holy Father has written so well in Centesimus Annus, where he warns against the malfunctions in the welfare state. The dignity of the poor cannot be met in becoming sophisticated beggars empowered to feed at the public purse. And, it does nothing for their souls.
In a March op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Fr. Sirico pointed out that Catholic Charities took in $1.25 billion in public money, 65 percent of their total revenue. By contrast, the Salvation Army accepted only 6 percent. While CHD does not meet its own budget with federal funds, its grantee groups have, in the hundreds of millions, over the last 25 years with the help of CHD. Are Catholics to believe that CHD has no vested interest in the status quo?
Catholic bureaucrats have been seduced by the welfare state. They themselves are now major feeders at the federal trough. Fr. Sirico’s observation that “we no longer preach what we practice” should be recalled in November when the annual collection is taken for the Campaign for Human Development.
At its twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, the CHD invited speakers including members of Democratic Socialists of America, the cofounder of Chavez’s United Farm Workers of America, a Rolling Stone editor, and a former Black Panther member. The bishops and invited guests were treated to an address by Harvard’s Cornel West, the celebration’s keynote speaker.
Billed as a “progressive socialist” by the New York Times, West denounced “patriarchy, insubordination, and wealth” to more than two thousand bishops, priests, social ministries directors, and CHD grantees. He defined the marketplace as “an extension of laissez white supremacy,” railed against “those with homophobia, keeping trapped gay brothers and lesbian sisters.” American capitalism was branded “the gangsterization of the culture.” West told his listeners, “We are living in one of the most terrifying moments in the history of the nation.”
Bishop Garland, who presided over the anniversary celebration, was asked if in retrospect he felt Dr. West to be an appropriate choice to speak before a Catholic gathering paid for with funds donated by parishes. “Well, he is not a Catholic, but he spoke of Catholic social teaching as I have never heard.” Pressed about the Marxist rhetoric of the speech and the Church’s condemnation of Marxism, the bishop defended his speaker, “There are two kinds of Marxism, dialectical and Christian Marxism.”
Far removed from USCC headquarters, CHD celebrations, and such facile doublespeak are many priests, religious, and dedicated lay people laboring to serve the poor. Indicative of the trust these faithful put in CHD’s claim that it is the victim of wholesale character assassination is Fr. Michael Reed, vice chancellor of the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. When asked for his views on Dr. West’s comments, Fr. Reed was confident: “Oh, no. I’m certain Dr. West wasn’t an official speaker at the CHD meeting. There has been some negative reporting done about CHD, but the national office has advised us that the claims made about CHD were fabrications. A Marxist? No. That’s false.”
Assured that the Campaign’s own newsletter featured a photo of Dr. West with the caption “Dr. West delivers keynote address Saturday morning” across the centerfold from Bill Clinton’s congratulatory letter, Fr. Reed replied, “Something’s wrong. You should write them. Write the Campaign for Human Development office and tell them that’s wrong.”
It is wrong. It is dishonest and irresponsible to use money donated by sincere Catholics to undermine their Church, their culture, and their freedom. CHD has, however, allowed one of its sheep to slip out of the fold. Dr. Cornel West, alas, has converted to capitalism. As reported in the Boston Globe: “And in fact they did get a handsome price for the 10-room, six bedroom Commonwealth Ave. pile, . . . $1.1 million. The buyers? Harvard’s Afro-Am superstar, Cornel West.”