A Faith in Public Life report released today documents how a network of conservative Catholic organizations is targeting effective social justice initiatives funded by the U.S. bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign and creating a toxic climate of fear around community organizing.
Be Not Afraid? – Guilt by Association, Catholic McCarthyism and Growing Threats to the U.S. Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Mission includes interviews with retired bishops, community development experts and non-profit directors whose organizations have lost church funding because of associations with groups that support same-sex marriage. These issues are in the news this week as Catholic leaders in Chicago consider defunding local groups that work with the poor because of their membership in an immigrant rights coalition that supports allowing same-sex couples to marry.
The American Life League, a Catholic pro-life organization with a $6 million budget, has led the charge. Their witch-hunt approach is having an impact and pushing some bishops to back away from effective organizations that put Catholic social teaching into practice:
- The Land Stewardship Project, a Minnesota non-profit that for five consecutive years received church funds, abruptly lost a $48,000 CCHD grant to help immigrant farmers in 2012 because of an association with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and TakeAction Minnesota. Those two groups work on diverse social justice issues supported by Catholic teaching, but did not endorse the Minnesota bishops’ efforts to fight same-sex marriage. The stewardship project does not work on marriage issues and never took a position on the state’s 2012 marriage ballot initiative.
- Companeros, a small non-profit in rural southwestern Colorado that helps immigrants with basic social services and legal aid, lost church funds that amounted to half of its budget because of its association with a statewide immigrant rights coalition that included a single gay and lesbian advocacy group. Companeros did not and does not work on gay rights issues.
- In 2012-13 alone, five affiliates of the Gamaliel Foundation – one of the nation’s largest networks of faith-based community organizers – lost CCHD funds.
Conservative Catholic activists who try to dismiss the report can’t simply ignore retired bishops, former top officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other prominent church leaders who endorsed it. As Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told me:
At a time when poverty is growing and people are hurting we should not withdraw from our commitment to helping the poor. Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.
The most zealous, self-appointed guardians of Catholic identity today can be so busy playing purity police that they miss the essence of the Gospels. Jesus warned against moral arrogance and scandalized the religious establishment by eating with prostitutes. He reminded the high priests of his time that their vigilance toward the letter of law meant little if the spirit of the law was ignored. When 1 in 5 children live in poverty, pulling the plug on effective social justice organizations simply because of a group’s associations or legitimate need to work in coalition for the common good is unimaginable. It throws prudence and proportionality out the window.
Catholic bishops put plenty of institutional muscle and significant funding behind campaigns to fight same-sex marriage. I hope they can show the same energy to make sure their own anti-poverty efforts are not strangled by culture war fights.
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From June 8th to June 11th, NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” will rally with Texas people of faith, labor leaders, and immigration activists at events across the lone star state to urge lawmakers, including Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, to forge ahead for immigration legislation that values America’s highest ideals and allows aspiring Americans the opportunity to achieve the American dream.
Catholic Sisters on the 6,500-mile tour, 15-state tour are urging lawmakers across the country to support legislation that provides a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans, promotes family unity, and protects the rights of all immigrant workers. The tour, which began in the shadow of Ellis Island last week, has drawn large and enthusiastic crowds of supporters in state after state on the route to Texas.
The tour is called “NETWORK Nuns on the Bus: A Drive for Faith, Family, and Citizenship.”
Featuring Catholic Sisters from around the country, and sponsored by NETWORK, the bus is stopping at historical landmarks, driving through the Southern states, plains of Texas and border towns throughout the Southwest. Sisters are rallying with community members at more than 50 faith-based agencies and local congressional offices to lift up the voices of both aspiring Americans and citizens who have been impacted by America’s broken immigration system. Catholic Sisters stand with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling for immigration reform that addresses the root causes of migration and provides a roadmap to citizenship for fellow neighbors, colleagues, and friends seeking protection from further senseless exploitation.
Click Here for Complete Itinerary!
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Last week, 150 people gathered in Durham, North Carolina, for Ruth’s Journey: Building Communi-TEA, a one-of-a-kind interfaith tea and dialogue where local women of remarkably diverse backgrounds discussed the impact of immigration on women and their families. The Old Testament story of Ruth cuts across many faith traditions, and serves as a powerful model for us today. She was a sojourner, a migrant worker, a teacher, and a mother.
Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, Bishop Suffragan-Elect of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina started the event, reminding us that we were all once immigrants and that all women have a story to tell. The program was moderated by Renee Chou, reporter / anchor for WRAL-TV, who shared her own family’s immigration story. From there, numerous women from the community shared their experiences as immigrants who have realized the American dream, refugees who have overcome terrifying obstacles, and community leaders who serve and work with these newcomers to our nation.
I was most inspired by Vimala, a remarkably strong leader who emigrated from India several decades ago, escaped an abusive marriage, but was then barred by our immigration system from working, pursuing an education or becoming a citizen. Incredibly, she now owns her own successful business. And she eagerly awaits immigration reform.
Ultimately, these women reminded us of the moral and human dimension of immigration reform. They called on Senator Kay Hagan, who sent a staffer to the event, for a plan that prioritizes family unity, improves the lives of refugees, and creates a roadmap to citizenship.
The event was sponsored by Faith in Public Life, Church World Service , NC Council of Churches, The NAACP, The United Methodist Church, Church Women United, NC Immigrants Rights Project, The Sisters of Mercy, One World Market, Mom Africa Designs, and Respite.
See below for videos of the Ruth’s Journey event:
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Religious leaders and activists made an important impact on yesterday’s Democratic primary in Massachusetts for Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat.
There was one major difference between candidates Rep. Stephen Lynch and Rep. Ed Markey – Lynch initially favored construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Markey steadfastly opposed it.
In case you’re just joining us, the debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline has global consequences. If the pipeline is completed, vast Canadian reserves of dirty tar sands oil will hit the international market at a time when we need to be drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels in order to curb the most catastrophic effects of the climate change crisis. And that’s to say nothing of the inevitable toxic spills that will happen along the route from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lynch’s early support for this disastrous project sparked a strong response from local and national faith leaders. The evangelical-led Good Steward Campaign joined forces with Catholics United, Sojourners, American Values Network, Interfaith Power and Light, 350.org and local nuns and activists to organize opposition, gather tens of thousands of petition signatures and publicly speak out against the pipeline. Lynch (who ultimately lost anyway) subsequently walked back his support for this environmentally catastrophic pipeline.
Keystone in particular, and climate in general, are flying somewhat under the radar right now but will take center stage sooner or later. The fact that faith leaders are gearing up and speaking out now bodes well as the debate goes forward.
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Catholic Democrats will be decisive in determining the fate of gun violence prevention measures now before Congress. Sens. Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich are reportedly still undecided on the bipartisan compromise deal put together by Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Representing “red” states where gun ownership is a proud cultural maker, these on-the-fence Dems could use a moral wake up call as they navigate the shoals of gun policy and politics in the coming days. Their own faith tradition provides clarifying vision. Just last week, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development urged Senators to support a “culture of life by promoting policies that reduce gun violence and save people’s lives…” Catholic bishops have specifically endorsed “effective and enforceable background checks,” the central issue before Senators this week. (Bishops also supported an assault weapons ban and limits on access to high-capacity ammunition magazines. The gun lobby made sure these provisions were scuttled.)
Back in January, prominent Catholic leaders — including former U.S. Ambassadors to the Holy See from the first Bush administration and the Obama administration — challenged Catholic members of Congress with favorable NRA ratings to show “greater moral leadership and political courage.”
Politicians have a tendency to worry about things like elections. In the case of Sens. Landrieu and Begich, midterms loom on the near horizon. The Hill reports that “Landrieu remains one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents heading into reelection next year.” But public service and real leadership is about putting aside political expedience and standing strong in the face of powerful special interests that hurt the common good. Let’s hope these wavering Catholic Democrats find inspiration from their own faith tradition, stand up to the NRA and do what’s right.
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