The Catholic Thing
Catholic Charities and Truth Print E-mail
By Matthew Hanley   
Tuesday, 08 September 2009

Agencies that promote works of charity on behalf of the Church should be particularly keen on putting Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) into practice – with courage and without reservation. The British Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) welcomed it instead by highlighting climate change and ignoring the human ecology – issues of life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations, natural death – so threatened today by “the moral tenor of society,” which Benedict plainly asserts is the “decisive issue.”

That politicized and self-serving reaction glosses over what is at the heart of the encyclical: only conformity to truth – defending moral and ethical positions unpopular in elite circles – can safeguard authentic charity and foster “integral human development.”

Infidelity to the truth renders “development” work illusory – no matter how vehemently influential governmental agencies or fabulously wealthy donors, whose loveless (i.e. safe-sex, population control) initiatives resemble misanthropy more so than philanthropy, insist otherwise.

CAFOD’s unbalanced vision provides a glimpse into the prevailing mentality at mainstream Catholic charitable agencies in the western world today. They demonstrate a propensity to “think with the Church” (sentire cum ecclesia) only when that coincides with current fashions. But “courage isn’t needed” for that, Benedict recently noted, “because one can always be sure of public applause. What takes courage is adhering to the faith of the Church, even if it contradicts the ‘scheme’ of the contemporary world.” Ditching veritas with the rationalization that it cannot be “imposed” on others since “we live in a pluralistic society” is merely a flotation device that enables them to swim with the tide.

It might be expecting a bit much for, say, members of an Obama bioethics council – or others gainfully employed in the pursuit of an utilitarian utopia promised by our ongoing biotechnical revolution and proposed health care reform – to consider the merits of the encyclical with good will when many Catholic charitable organizations cannot be counted on to deliver as advertised.

Catholic Charities USA, for example, has been mobilizing in favor of Obama’s ominously nebulous health care bill (urging their members to voice support to their representatives “in the next 24 hours”) despite obvious concerns about its implications for the non-negotiables of abortion and euthanasia, and other major drawbacks. The fact that Congressmen would be exempt from any health care restrictions to be imposed on vulnerable citizens fails to meet elementary standards of justice – which Catholic Charities is ordinarily quick to champion. The prospect of health care rationing, which Princeton “ethicist” Peter Singer (on record for supporting infanticide) endorsed in the New York Times, only makes reckless enthusiasm for any old reform – and now! – more unseemly. Is the glamour of an advocacy role that irresistible?

Conveniently, Catholic Charities USA just landed a $100 million contract for natural disaster work from the Department of Health and Human Services. We may never know if there was or was not some sort of quid pro quo, but anyone who has read Brian Anderson’s masterful essay How Catholic Charities Lost Its Soul would know that Catholic Charities long ago abandoned confidence in the capacity of moral truth to transform individual lives, only to co-opt the “value-free worldview that has made most government-run poverty efforts a hindrance rather than a help to the poor.” Although the $100 million infusion is being reported as its first contract, Anderson points out that by 2000, 65 percent of Catholic Charities’ annual budget already came from the government.

The Canadian Catholic Organization of Development & Peace, to cite another egregious example, has actually been funding local partners in Latin America involved in abortions. The Peruvian Bishops, frustrated that “the money of Catholic Canadians” which could otherwise greatly benefit their nation, “goes to organizations that explicitly fight against what the Church teaches,” had to intervene directly to put an end to the practice.

Solidarity, evidently, may be abandoned it if it requires taking an unpopular moral stand related to fundamental questions of life and the family, even if Benedict insists that such a stand is at the heart of development work and an indispensable if exacting form of charity.

The late Avery Dulles believed that the tendency to accommodate the culture instead of seeking to leaven it is "the greatest danger facing the Church in our country today.” Benedict says we need “non-conformists” with “an unwillingness to submit” themselves to the fashions of the day.

But what happens when those fashions pervade the Church’s charitable agencies?

Surely charity is worth getting right – even if that means “profound renewal,” as Archbishop Collins of Toronto has called for.

When bishops speak up as clear witnesses to the truth (as Cardinal Rigali and Archbishop Chaput have on health reform) and lead, it galvanizes people into action. In the recent weeks, Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, among others has gained national attention by stating that there should be absolutely no support for healthcare reform until fundamental issues are resolved. Why? Reform is needed, he said, but “should we support giving poisoned water to the thirsty? I think not."

Nothing short of the transformation of organizational culture at Catholic charitable agencies will suffice in our current situation. Cosmetic touches will not awaken them from the slumber of business as usual, which has too often meant the pursuit of social prestige and federal mammon in defiance towards those pesky Church teachings – the “veritas” which is so easily cloistered in polite company.

But in compromising on truth, they compromise on their very raison d’etre, true charity.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center will publish Matthew Hanley's book, with Jokin D. Irala, M.D., Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West in the Summer of 2009.

© 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Laura, September 09, 2009
Thank you so much for printing this article. I am currently at odds with the Catholic Charities from the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The waste of their money, the dependence on the government, and the unjust means to their ends are not Catholic, or even spiritual. It is a shame and so many people believe that they are The Church. I truly pray that all Catholics read this article and open their eyes to the organization that represents them. Catholics, speak up! Do not be afraid!
Prostituted Diversity
written by Willie, September 09, 2009
Excellent! I would not hold my breath for an Obama bioethics panel to pay much attention to "veritas." So far this regime has been inimical to sanctity of life issues. Pluralalism and diversity are good in themselves but in today's culture diversity is a euphemism for unbridled liberties. Saying one is conservative or" that is a conservative Catholic website" is an often too familiar way of circumventing "veritas." Appeasement of this culture will only result in the spread of a ravenous cancer.
written by Martin Snigg, September 09, 2009
Charities in Australia have sold their soul for climate change money too. But what do we find now? News from New Scientist Magazine - chief modeler of the IPCC "have to wait two more decades until global cooling finishes before things warm up again - but still give us your money in the meantime". Plenty enough time for the revolutionaries to do their worst. What can a little promotion of falsehood hurt when we could help so many people with this silver?
written by John McCarthy, September 09, 2009
$100 Million "contract" with the government. 65% of the budget from government sources. Can anybody with a straight face tell me that this won't lead Catholic Charities to soft pedal or down play its pro-life commitment? After I heard that last year that Catholic Charities contributed to ACORN, I said to myself ' No mas.' I am leery of all the large Catholic organizations that are in the hunt for government grants.
Fr Synder scrutiny
written by Brian, September 09, 2009
As deserving of criticism as Fr. Jenkins was for honoring President Obama at Notre Dame, I do not believe that he did what Fr. Snyder of Catholic Charities did: actually encourage his donors and constituents to support a health care bill that EVERYONE knows will sponsor abortion. There should be much more of a stink about that
Name Change
written by LBHawk, September 09, 2009
Catholic Charities USA should drop "Catholic" from its title. Maintaining a Catholic identity requires adherence to Catholic teaching. I am sure they could scrape up the other 35% of their funding out of the stimulus funds.
written by Jon, September 09, 2009
The U.S. bishops' overseas "humanitarian agency," Catholic Relief Services (CRS) escapes opprobrious mention here, but it is fully as culpable, and as fully dependent on government money, as its domestic cousin, Catholic Charities. Evidence of the perfidy of CRS emerges from time to time -- see the recent article in Catholic World Report by moral theologian Germain Grisez -- but when exposed it prevaricates or ignores: witness NY Bishop Dolan's shameful non-response to the Grisez concern.
written by Ron, September 10, 2009
For some time I have been thinking the same thing! It is demoralizing to see nothing done to correct this situation. Thank you for bring attention to this issue.
Mary's Meals
written by Wendy Nelson, September 13, 2009
Having read your comments on Catholic Charities, I would like to inform your readers that the charity we work for in Scotland is one which is non-political, and the administration charges cost only 2% of the contributions. Mary's Meals supplies money so the local people can set up kitchens at schools, buy local food and volunteers make the meals. For as little as £6, a pupil is provided with one meal a day.
written by Ken Gallagher, September 14, 2009
I live in Canada and as mentioned the CCODP (the Canadian Bishops' charitable organization) has gone far off-track a number of times. I don't want to give them donations as it has been proven over the years that they can't be trusted. I would like to donate, though, to an organization that helps abused children. Any good organization. Can someone suggest to me a good group to donate to?

Ken G

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