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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.

Norman Costa
6 years 5 months ago

What you report about the coverage, by Newsweek, of those that make the "Superlative Lists," is the transformation of journalism into something as old as the Sears Roebuck mail order publication. Substantive print media, newspapers or magazines, are becoming catalogs for their advertisers. This transformation is both partial and near total, depending on the publication.

The "Superlative List" is, in many quarters, a come-on designed to attract an undiscriminating audience. Flashy signs and bill boards are not bad in themselves. One has to determine the ultimate purpose of these teaser covers. Get more readers and advertisers? Fine. Signal a move to less substance content and more fodder for the advertisers? Not so fine.

Journalism should mean discrimination, substance, timeliness, investigation, a light in the dark, exposed frauds, stories of real heros, crimes that hurst us all, and important matters an electorate should know. "People" magazine is an excellent, well written publication for those interested in celebrity, and in comparing their own lives with those whom they identify. The advertisers pay dearly for access to the readers of "People."

The question for me, and perhaps for you editors, is whether Newsweek is actually emulating "People" magazine, and, in the process, becoming a catalog for its advertisers. Here is the last paragraph from the section on Rush Limbaugh:

"Limbaugh arrived on the national scene too late for the Reagan glory days, and although he occasionally visited both Bushes at the White House, he was never more than a guest. But if Palin, Christie, or some other 8 or 9 (there is no 10 but Limbaugh) were to get elected president, Limbaugh told me that he might be willing, under the right conditions, to serve as a dollar-a-year adviser to the administration. It would mean, of course, spending time in the hated capital, but a guy with a private jet can commute to Palm Beach. And the pay cut would be mitigated by a precipitous drop in his personal income tax. The biggest drawback would be that a senior job might require a hiatus from the airwaves. His audience would miss him, but I can think of quite a few liberal Democrats (and even more moderate Republicans), who would be very happy to put up the dollar. For these adversaries, it would be a great deal. No adviser, to any president, is likely to have the kind of influence Rush Limbaugh has right now."

Read this paragraph, again, and ask yourself whether this belongs in "People" magazine or Newsweek. Is this reporting? Is this copy for an informed electorate? Is this really an analysis as to why the country may be denied the benefit of Russ Limbaugh's ideas in as elected office, or as an advisor to a president? Is this the kind of material we should expect from a vehicle of substantive journalism, or an advertiser's catalog? In order to avoid what may seem scatological, I will simply allude to the most frequent use of the old Sears-Roebuck catalog, prior to the ubiquity of indoor plumbing in rural America.
Norman Costa
6 years 5 months ago
Oh, and to answer your question, "Who Will Speak for Us?" - Damned of I know!
Stanley Schardon
6 years 5 months ago
As to the C.C.H.D. controversy, would not a simple solution be to give the monies allocated to this outreach to local parishes to help the poor and less fortunate? Keep the help local rather relying on State and National organizations spending the Churches' resources.
6 years 5 months ago

Strangely, many of the most selfish among us proclaim themselves as "Christians".

Jesus taught that we should love God with our whole heart and soul and our neighbor as ourselves.  It seems that about half the people believe that loving God means obeying the "Commandment", but they ignore their neighbor's plight.   In contrast, the other half tends to ignore the Commandments, but they seem to care deeply about their neighbor. 

It doesn't make much sense does it?  Makes you wonder if God made a mistake or he should have paid more attention during evolution.

Craig McKee
6 years 5 months ago
Look on the BRIGHT SIDE....
"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."
...and think of how many people who have NEVER read or bought NEWSWEEK before will be reading it and maybe even thinking on their own this week for the very FIRST time.
Richard Sullivan
6 years 5 months ago
I used to wonder why there was a second collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). There was never an explanation at the parish level. The internet came to the rescue. Now my understanding is that on a diocesan level CCHD provides grants for up to three years to community based organizations that respond to various needs of the poor. If support is provided to an organization for the good that it does without perhaps adequate oversight that would reveal some inconsistency with Catholic teaching the problem is temporary and miniscule compared with the overall good done by the organizations supported by CCHD.
6 years 5 months ago
Regarding the C.C.H.D. controversy, it seems to me, after some effort to hear both sides, that there is merit in the criticisms of C.C.H.D. and in the efforts of the Campaign itself.  Even your rather one-sided article alludes to this when you opine, "For some of our fellow Catholics no amount of 'reform' will be enough..."  In other words you imply that others are calling for genuine reform and would be fair in their assessment.  Since I cannot do a detailed investigation myself, I would offer this thought.  I suspect that many of the beneficiaries have a great deal of trouble, sincere though they may be, in holding out from supporting anti-human, immoral policies that oppose Catholic teaching (homosexual marriage, abortion, contraception), given that they conduct their affairs in a highly secularized culture that has embraced these policies.  The C.C.H.D. must hold these organizations to a very high, anti-cultural standard.  For my part I intend to support the Campaign, but I understand others who hesitate.  Let's see what happens when the dust settles.  

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