Report: ‘Catholic McCarthyism’ Threatens U.S. Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Mission


One of the challenging items about being a Catholic in the United States is that there is an unhealthy degree of factionalization within the Church that, unfortunately, are often motivated by political and electoral agendas rather than authentic Church teaching.  I am personally troubled, not only for the Unity of the Church, but because I feel like a young child who has a Mother and Father than I deeply love and it pains me to see them violently arguing with each other over trivial matters.  As a result, you will not see this blog engaging in U.S. electoral politics or the Catholic in-fighting.

When I first saw a report from Faith in Public Life (a solid faith-filled organization but one that has a strong political agenda)  with “McCarthyism” in the title, I disregarded it as a political grenade.  However, when I flipped to page 2 of the report and saw the list of endorsing organizations and individuals, I decided to read further.

First, some background.  In 1969, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCBB) created the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which according to USCCB website, is “is an instrument of the Catholic Church working to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ, ‘… to bring good news to the poor   … release to captives    … sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.'” (Luke 4:18) . . . CCHD provides funding to groups whose activities reflect Catholic moral and social teaching on human life and dignity. CCHD-funded groups work to change social structures and policies which undermine life and dignity, especially for the poor and powerless.” (emphasis added).   Over the last 44 years, the CCHD has used the resources of the Church to raise funds and organize in support of this objective.  The CCHD has been hailed by Blessed John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict “removing the causes of poverty and not merely the evil effects of injustice.”

The agencies receiving funds from the CCHD face exacting scrutiny for consistency with Catholic teaching.  According to the website of the USCCB, the CCHD:

“As the official anti-poverty agency of the Catholic bishops in the United States, CCHD is accountable to them and operates at the highest levels of fidelity to Church teaching, integrity and transparency in its mission to provide critical support to poor persons. CCHD monitors grant recipients through an exacting reporting process in cooperation with the local diocese. Only groups that have received formal approval from the local bishop may receive a CCHD grant.

CCHD requires of each grantee the highest standards of accountability and conformity with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. If a group commits offenses against Catholic moral teaching, or undermines the Church’s defense of the unborn or her promotion of the family, a grant qualification is rescinded.”

Sounds like fairly standard stuff:  The CCHD is the official vehicle of the U.S. Bishops to support the Gospel message of reducing poverty and systemic injustice.  Fairly non-controversial stuff, right?

Fast-forward to this week, when Faith in Public Life issued a report claiming that “a small, but well-financed network has emerged as a relentless opponent of the bishops’ social justice Campaign (CCHD), which has long been recognized as one of the most influential funders of grassroots community organizing.”  The thing that caught by attention on the report it that it is endorsed by two former Presidents of the USCBB and no less than 10 current or former Bishops and other Church leaders, as well as numerous current and former employees of the CCHD.  When I saw the endorsers, I decided to read further.

The report makes claims, back up by extensive footnotes and examples, of well-funded Catholic fringe groups that have been critical of the CCHD for partnering with non-Catholics or those who do not share Catholic social teaching.  It is noteworthy that these fringe groups are not claiming that the CCHD’s mission is consistent with the Christian Gospel, only that the CCHD should not fulfill its mission of reducing poverty buy partnering with organizations who differ with the CCHD on other issues.  The report was striking in its rebuke on those organizations critiquing the CCHD:

“Is there anything Christian about this? Jesus drew rebukes from pious religious leaders of his time for eating with prostitutes, befriending outcasts and challenging the high priests who zealously guarded the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit. Groups like the American Life League might have good intentions. But in their doggedness to defend the faith they are losing sight of the liberating message of the Gospel and tarnishing the Catholic justice tradition.”

The USCCB is also fed up with fringe groups attacking the bishops and the CCHD.  As Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Jaime Soto, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on CCHD have noted:

“Despite significant progress, some things don’t change. The American Life League (ALL) continues to attack CCHD and the USCCB. ALL continue[s] to recycle allegations that CCHD funds many organizations that are in conflict with Catholic teaching. They simply do not agree with CCHD’s mission and how we apply our guidelines and requirements.”

I disagree with some of the rhetoric used by in the report.  I do not believe that charges of McCarthyism are conducive to building bridges.  However, I strongly support the aim of the report and the activities of the USCCB and the CCHD in furtherance of the goals of the USCCB and the Gospels to reduce poverty and try to solve the root of systemic injustices in the U.S.

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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