Archbishop Charles Chaput has written two useful meditations (“A Principled Charity” and “Catholic Charity in Secular America”) for our On the Square page on the nature of Christian charitable practice in general and the organization Catholic Charities, USA in particular. Archbishop Chaput lays out general principles by which a Christian charity must operate in order to be useful to the Gospel, and not just to some vague ideal of social betterment. Above all, he says, “Catholic ministries have the duty to faithfully embody Catholic beliefs about marriage, the family, social justice, sexuality, abortion and other important issues.”
This is timely wisdom. The Washington Blade, which bills itself as the nation’s leading gay news source, recently ran a piece about Catholic Charities’ use of the Sheridan Group, a lobbying firm owned and founded by Tom Sheridan, to draft an anti-poverty bill to be proposed in Congress. Why is the Blade interested? Sheridan is a noted gay advocate, and both he personally and the Sheridan Group as an organization have a long history of involvement in lobbying for gay issues.
Not everyone who works at a third-party group hired by Catholic Charities has to be Christian (Sheridan himself identifies as Catholic) or completely on board with Catholic social teaching, but surely there is a prudential problem with employing a lobbying firm with an extensive gay-rights portfolio at a time when the Catholic position on homosexuality has been taking an unprecedented legislative drubbing.
Many conscientious Christians will boycott organizations that give money to or lobby for causes opposed to Biblical Christian belief, like euthanasia or abortion. Can Catholic Charities “faithfully embody Catholic beliefs” about pressing social issues like sexuality if the organization is not willing to put its money where its mouth is (or should be)?
Catholic Charities could have hired any number of successful Washington lobbying firms to draft their poverty legislation. By hiring the Sheridan Group without apparent regard for its policy portfolio, Catholic Charities sends a clear message: paying lip service to Catholic teachings is more important than following them. Nor is this message lost on the public:
Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun and one of the founders of New Ways Ministry, which provides support for LGBT Catholics, said Catholic Charities USA and some local Catholic Charities agencies have provided behind-the-scenes support for the LGBT Catholic community.
“Catholic Charities in general have been the most progressive wing of the church other than the nuns,” she said. “In some cases, Catholic Charities USA has supported our events. I feel they personally are pro-gay but they can’t do this publicly.”
Hiring a group that actively works to advance a position on homosexuality that the Church has continually opposed creates a cognitive dissonance, separating what Catholic Charities says about its adherence to Church teachings and what it does. And when it comes to being Catholic, actions speak louder than words.