Catholic Charities: A Two-Fold Challenge

Having funded groups that support abortion and “same sex marriage,” and funneled more than $7 million to ACORN over the span of a decade, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is coming knocking again this weekend at a parish near you amidst calls for reform, The special CCHD Sunday collection, which funds non-Catholic organizations and does not provide direct relief to the poor, arrives at a challenging time for charitable agencies.

Government bodies are increasingly making public funding contingent upon accepting ideological terms and conditions antithetical to the very identity that inspires Catholic social services. But that identity has long been withering from within. Lay people are called to engage vital issues in an indifferent or hostile public square. What recourse is there when their own official charitable agencies fail spectacularly to reflect basic beliefs?

This is all part of a broader trend. African bishops meeting in Rome in October repeatedly denounced the “virulent ideological poisons” being imposed on Africa from the West, precisely what Catholic agencies encounter – and sometimes succumb to – here at home as well. A Ghanaian bishop stated that there is a deliberate campaign being advanced by some NGOs, governments, and international agencies to undermine the family and African cultural values. A South African bishop pointed to the “second wave of colonization” from “liberalism, secularism, and from lobbyists who squat at the United Nations.”

It’s ironic that our American Caesar, so celebrated on account of his African extraction, champions destructive western ideologies that African bishops regard as a “subtle and ruthless” form of colonization. Some have argued that, by his actions and rhetoric, he sees himself as more than merely an American president – a transnational leader of sorts. Well, he is (as its most powerful and visible proponent) the present face of the culture of death, whose malignancy knows no borders. It is a distinction that, unlike the Nobel Peace Prize, has been earned.

The culture of death knows no borders (or classes) because, as Solzhenitsyn put it in the Gulag Archipelago, “the line separating good and evil” cuts first and foremost “through every human heart.” He further reflects:

In the intoxication of youthful success I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power, I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments, I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systemic arguments.

Perhaps there would be enough in these words to trigger an epiphany within our Caesar’s conscience, if he read them, though it is admittedly a stretch to suggest that he has ever been well supplied with arguments for his unrelenting disregard for life (even as C.D.C. data indicate that the number of abortions among African-Americans exceeds their top seven causes of mortality combined). He has merely been equipped with what Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput calls “great media handlers,” and is abetted by an elite culture that has distanced itself from both faith and reason.

Solzhenitsyn stresses that the line separating good and evil within each of us shifts; it “oscillates with the years.” This is one reason why steady witness to the Gospel – being reminders of what is good and true – is such an indispensible part of Catholic charitable activity.

True, our American Caesar “bullies religion while he claims to respect it.” But he does not need to shake down all the kids for lunch money by himself as long as CCHD lends a willing hand. Internal reform of the many Catholic agencies such as CCHD that have gone flagrantly adrift of their own volition is a burning priority. The litany of accommodation, in one form or another, is all too familiar: contraception, abortion, condoms, “gay adoption,” etc. Underestimating the perils of statism and the value of subsidiarity in large-scale new initiatives like the healthcare debate is another concern.

Reform of our own agencies means nurturing a climate in which committed Catholics can live out their vocations of service even if that means accepting the hazards of being countercultural. At present, such Catholics are unwelcome or marginalized within several Catholic agencies. While that remains the case, reform will stall. This is a matter quite beyond the control of the laity.

Cozy careerism compounds the ideological threats to charitable endeavors, as Theodore Dalrymple attests: “One man’s poverty is another man’s employment opportunity: as long ago as the sixteenth century, a German bishop remarked that the poor are a gold mine.” I once heard Dalrymple address his own lack of belief by saying that the leap of faith has thus far simply eluded him – an honest and even moving admission, which reminded me that faith is a gift. It can be asked for, but not procured – even by those who are immensely gifted. This is a mystery. It is also a mystery when those granted custody over Catholic charitable agencies sometimes act as if they would rather exchange that gift for the public esteem that comes not from genuinely noble acts, but from what the elite imagine to be their own providential role in society.

We have all squandered the gift of faith. And yet God keeps giving. A renewed gratitude for that gift should animate the reform of our Catholic charitable agencies. That much, at the very least, the bishops can control, and CCHD would be a good place to start. Whether or not we are ultimately able to stay afloat on the high, hostile seas of America’s Caesar, we can at least leave harbor prepared for the voyage with sturdy vessels and full sails.

Matthew Hanley’s new book, Determining Death by Neurological Criteria: Current Practice and Ethics, is a joint publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and Catholic University of America Press.