Report: How “Catholic McCarthyism” Hurts Effective Anti-Poverty Efforts
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.