In his recent essay for First Things, Fr. Val J. Peter insinuates Saul Alinsky into everything the Catholic Campaign for Human Development does. But both in concept and in practice the Campaign is in fact rooted firmly in Church teaching, both its moral principles and its social doctrine. Although Fr. Peter suggests CCHD substitutes “social justice” linked to institutional change for “charity in the traditional sense,” Pope Benedict XVI in his last encyclical makes clear that both are central Catholic commitments:
The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly. (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate #7)
Richard John Neuhaus often emphasized the essential role of “mediating structures” in society, but Fr. Peter’s essay fails to regard the core charism of CCHD: to support initiatives that serve as mediating structures and which carry essential elements of Catholic teaching into the public square, including human life and dignity, participation and priority for the poor, subsidiarity, and solidarity.
Not every mediating structure is a good one. CCHD assesses every potential grantee for quality of work and the requirement that their actions not conflict with Catholic teaching.
CCHD is an institution of the Bishops of the United States. A year ago the Bishops completed and strongly endorsed a Review and Renewal that systematically emphasized the centrality of Catholic identity to CCHD’s work. They strengthened transparency and accountability in operations and encouraged broad participation of Catholics in supported initiatives. They affirmed the orthodoxy of CCHD and implemented policies to respond swiftly where grantees act in ways contrary to essential Church teachings.
CCHD never intentionally has funded groups which have pursued partisan political agendas or engaged in activities contrary to Catholic teaching (counter to what Fr. Peter alleges). In cases where funded groups have engaged in such activities, action has been taken to distance the Campaign from those efforts. Those cases when compared with the breadth of CCHD-supported initiatives represent the extreme exception. As a result of the Review and Renewal, CCHD’s assessment of each organization now also depends as a matter of fixed policy on the careful pastoral judgment of each local Bishop in his own diocese: no organization is funded without the local Bishop’s signature. Rather than the rogue operation that Fr. Peter portrays, CCHD operates fully and explicitly under the pastoral guidance, wisdom, and control of the Bishops.
The recycled allegations advanced by Fr. Peter’s imaginative essay constitute unjust attacks on CCHD and the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as noted by the Bishops who govern CCHD. In keeping with the authoritative tradition within Catholicism, it is the Bishops who hold final decision-making power over the direction of the Campaign, which they exercise in the first instance through the CCHD Subcommittee of their own Committtee on Domesitc Justice and Human Development, made up entirely of bishops. In an age when anyone who wants to slander faithful Catholic initiatives can find an Internet platform, the Bishops note, “Frankly, in these areas we rely on the judgment of the local Bishop and diocese, not the repeated accusations of those with clear ideological and ecclesial agendas.”
One fact is clear: CCHD does fund community organizing. But it funds only those efforts that reflect core Catholic commitments to advancing human life and dignity, prioritizing the needs of the poor and vulnerable, and fostering forms of institutional change that reflect participation, solidarity, and subsidiarity. These commitments are grounded in traditional Catholic faith as manifested in papal teaching. The best community organizing advances those commitments, and CCHD evaluates each grantee judiciously and against the highest standards of integrity to pursue the shared goal of a society oriented to the common good. Is community organizing the right tool? See for yourself through some stories of change brought about by CCHD-funded work—stories of people working together to reduce crime, improve education and create work opportunities in their communities.
Fr. Peter’s essay portrays a CCHD living in the past, awash in the anti-institutional and anti-traditional ethos he recalls from the 1960s and 1970s. Ironically, it is he who is living in the past, detailing a vision of CCHD that does not correspond to reality. Do you need hope in the future of America today? Need renewal of your faith in the leadership of our Catholic Bishops? See the lives changed through work supported by the Bishops and the Catholic faithful. See, too, the Bishops’ work to lead the Catholic Campaign for Human Development into the twenty-first century. We’ve had enough cynicism masquerading as a more-Catholic-than-thou stance against some of the best work the Church is doing. For those with eyes to see, faithful and painstaking work on the part of the Bishops is renewing CCHD and improving the lives of people in need around us.
Richard L. Wood is Associate Professor of Sociology and founding director of the Southwest Institute on Religion, Culture, and Society at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of Faith in Action: Religion, Race, and Democratic Organizing in America and currently at work on Faith and the Fire of Public Life, on how Catholic parishes and other faith communities might be invigorated through public engagement. He serves as a consultant to the Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
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