A Campaign Worth Waging
As in years past, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is under attack, and its grantees are once again under the microscope of detractors. A handful of these have been especially virulent recently and have helped propel the “renewal” the campaign has endured in another effort to satisfy critics. We suspect they need not have bothered. For some of our fellow Catholics no amount of “reform” will be enough; it is the C.C.H.D.’s mission itself—helping low-income citizens through small grants to become agents of their own contribution to the common good—that they cannot abide.
Recent attacks have smeared C.C.H.D. personnel and tainted many of its grantees with dark insinuations that make the most of tangential associations with groups that are at odds with church teaching on abortion or gay marriage. A few grantees had indeed violated the terms of their awards and were defunded in 2009—five out of 270—but many of the other community groups were guilty of little more than having the slimmest of connections to organizations that opposed church teaching. The world inhabited by community organizations is inherently complicated; different groups can find themselves working together for a common purpose, even when on other issues they are at cross purposes.
But the critics of the C.C.H.D. have little patience for nuance and complexity. In their haste to tear down the good work of the campaign, they betray a fundamental misunderstanding of its calling or even naked hostility toward it. The critics see the church’s efforts to support low-income communities as a dark, “socialist” plot or evidence of some outlawed variety of liberation theology. They implore other Catholics to support direct service groups instead. But the church already has Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services.
The Catholic Campaign’s goal is altogether different. In a complex world of competing political and economic interests, the campaign helps breathe life into the concept of subsidiarity, so that low-income people are not kept out of the conversation, so that no Americans have to come hat-in-hand to the table where their future is discussed but can step forward in confidence to speak for themselves. That is just good common sense; it is as American as apple pie; and it deserves support again this year. It is worthy, too, of a re-evaluation from those bishops who have in recent years declined to participate in the campaign. They should reconsider their opposition and lend support to their fellow bishops in this essential work of the church.
Who Will Speak for Us?
Much is sad in the issue of Newsweek for Nov. 8—both its portrait of today’s politics and its self-portrait of American journalism. Rush Limbaugh and “The Power 50” hog the cover, which proclaims “Our First Annual Ranking of America’s Highest Paid Pundits and Politicos.” The newsweekly seems to have fallen into the celebrity swamp with People’s “most beautiful” men and women, Time’s “most influential” 100 and Forbes’s “world’s richest.”
The cover story gobbles up 13 pages, with Limbaugh as Number One ($58.7 million) and Glenn Beck as Number Two—while the People-magazine layout obscures the important message that the public agenda is being set not by the public’s needs, nor by open dialogue, but by “pundits” who make millions reinforcing prejudices.
Most of Newsweek’s best-known writers have jumped ship for new careers at The Huffington Post, Time and television shows. Its editor, Jon Meacham, a religious and political historian, published his last introductory column on Sept. 6.
One strong voice remains. Jonathan Alter warns that we have “returned to the bad old days when powerful interests could buy politicians without any way to trace it…. Bag-men operate in the dark, which is where the rest of us will be if we do not bring democracy out of the shadows.”
Owls Under Siege
Species extinction is becoming a household phrase, and among birds a prime example once again is the northern spotted owl. Old-growth habitats are essential for its nesting sites in tree hollows. Huge swaths of old forest continue to be lost to the voracious logging industry. The fibrous, grainy structure of the old growth wood makes it desirable to logging interests. The result has been a standoff between them and conservationists.
The spotted owl is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which requires the federal government to identify the kinds of habitat endangered species need and to help protect both the animals and their habitats. In 1990 the bird was officially listed as threatened. But Bush-era changes that favored business interests weakened needed protections, creating bureaucratic obstacles that limited the number of species protected under the act.
On Sept. 1, 2010, a U.S. district court judge ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must revise a recovery plan for the owls within nine months. Such protection is needed now more than ever.