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Michael Sean WintersFebruary 24, 2010

Here at America magazine, various colleagues have already called attention to the rightwing attacks on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty effort of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, and most recently, the attacks on Mr. John Carr who has served as the USCCB pointman on social justice issues for many years. We have reported that CCHD works with many groups, including non-Catholic groups, and that the critics are concerned that some of the people who work at these other groups do not share the Church’s teachings on various issues, especially abortion and same-sex marriage although presumably the Jewish groups CCHD works with presumably also do not share our Catholic belief in the divinity of Christ. We have reported that the bishops have defended both Carr and the CCHD, with Bishop William Murphy calling the charges "calumnious" and Bishop Roger Morin calling them "ridiculous."

It is my sad duty to inform the readers of America, and the Catholic Church nationwide, that there is yet more scandal at CCHD. Sources told me that last week there was a staff pizza party for the CCHD workers at the USCCB’s headquarters on Fourth Street in Washington. The pizza delivery man has a second cousin who works at an office that shares a parking lot with Planned Parenthood. This is shocking. How could the CCHD staffers be indifferent to the acute manner in which the pizza delivery man was morally compromised? How could they not know? They are winking at abortion. They are spitting on Christ. They exhibit a systematic pattern of cooperating with evil. The horror.

The conservative attacks are not just calumnious. They also contain a fundamental error that betrays the partisan agenda of the attackers. In portraying the anti-poverty efforts of the CCHD in a political light, they highlight their agenda, not CCHD’s. Most of the people who engage in the social justice work of the Church do not do so out of political convictions. Their work may lead them to political convictions, but they are a distinctly non-partisan group of people. "We’re not doing this because we’re Democrats or Republicans," said Kathy Saile, the director of domestic social development at the USCCB. "We don’t really fit into either party because we care about both Life and Dignity. We do this work because we want to help the poor." Indeed, Saile’s personal story is indicative of the non-partisan background of most social justice and CCHD staffers at the USCCB. In 1993, having just arrived in Phoenix, Saile began attending Mass at Most Holy Trinity parish. She got involved with the parish’s community organizing efforts thinking "it would be a great way to meet people." After volunteering for the Valley Interfaith Project, where she eventually was part of their leadership team, she moved on to work at the diocesan level, and now works at the USCCB headquarters in Washington.

There is something more sinister at work in the current spate of attacks, however, than a mere mischaracterization of CCHD’s works. There is something deeper than partisan wrangling or ideological dispositions. The attacks, especially in their venom, appear rooted in an essentially psychological pathology. Like a recessive gene, the religious temperament occasionally manifests itself in an extreme judgmentalism, fearful of betrayal, devoted to "faithful remnant" fantasies, attentive, always, to the speck in their brother’s eye, unhinged by their paranoia to the point that common standards of decency are ignored. The attacks on CCHD and on Carr bring to mind nothing so much as the witch trials at Salem. Then, too, calumny was considered fair game. Then, too, the ends justified the means. Then, too, those who claimed to be defending their Church were in fact betraying one of the most basic teachings of the Christian faith: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Michael Sean Winters


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Stephen Braunlich
12 years 11 months ago
This is how you expect to engage arguments? Really? Really? This just seems like pre-K sandbox stuff.
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
12 years 11 months ago
Thank you for this very thought provoking post about CCHD and the climate of attack. Your irony followed by your outlook is well put.
Something that we all have a tendency to be guilty of and and that we all have an obligation to be aware of is that many of us highlight our own political agenda. This sadly (in my opinion anyway) is the problem of such intense political identification in an era where political self-definition is so potentially incendiary. It is also a time when in our own micro-targeted world, qualifiers like Repblican and Democrat are further defined by other words such as tea party, death panel, blue dog, Acorn supporter etc. We whittle ourselves and each other into nothing by doing so and as a result, a loss of the dignity of the human person truly occurs.
In the name of full disclosure, I would probably be typified as a liberal or a democrat (gasp). I now take great pains to reframe my own ideological writings and expressions from the self-definition that is most deeply at the heart of who I am - Catholic. My energy to fight against those of a different stripe is exhausted. My energy to find solutions, while often frustrated, is enthused by reminding myself of who I really am - a Catholic.
Brian Thompson
12 years 11 months ago
There is a world of difference between working with those with whom we have theological differences and working with those involved in moral evil. MSW, you are usually much sharper than that. Yes a climate of paranoia and nit-picking is not healthy, but I hope everyone can see the difference between working with other faiths to do goods that we all recognize as proper, and aiding those who wish to promote heinous evils as a means or integral part of their "charitable" efforts.
James Lindsay
12 years 11 months ago
Well done. You had me going for half a second. It is too bad the need to stand up for CCHD is so great, since this would have been a good post for the first of April.

Ideology is not the only reason people go after CCHD, however. Hubris is another. There are some who cannot consider for a second that their approach to an issue might be flawed.
Pearce Shea
12 years 11 months ago
I agree that the vast majority of attacks on the CCHD are a) incredibly vitriolic and aggressive, and b) almost always about the attacker's politics (this was a good point you made, by the way.). That said, I do think we ought to be circumspect of CCHD and recognize that scrutiny of their practices is a useful thing, because, as we all know, the organization both on a national level and in some of its local incarnations, has sometimes strayed into dangerous territory, if not outright collaboration with moral evil. And frankly, while that's a shame, that's ultimately fine. We ought to make sure the temporal Church and her various projects here on earth stays on the straight and narrow, just as we ought to do the same for ourselves and those around us. We also ought to respond to failings with love and compassion.
As you pointed out with your "recessive gene" schpiel at the end, there are certain sins which seems to attend portions of Catholic culture in America. And your characterization of conservative Catholics in this respect is spot on. As a bit of a conservative myself, (I wouldn't call myself that, but I've been called it enough to think I might be so) I recognize that this tendency towards at least some of the evils and failings you've listed above in myself. That said, I also think that there are similar evils among those in the more liberal quarters of the church. Certainly, as MSW well knows, there is a general notion among some of the more liberal Catholics that they would rather pretend the Church wasn't emphatic about things like birth control, abortion and gay marriage. In some ways, then, when it comes to CCHD, it's rather like the worst parts of both "sides" of the church coming together to fight it out. The conservatives accuse the liberals of collaborating with moral evil; the liberals accuse the conservatives of hubris, of making the perfect the enemy of the good. What both sides need to do is just sit down and recognize their own failings and acknowledge the kernel of truth in the other party's grandstanding.
12 years 11 months ago
''Then, too, those who claimed to be defending their Church were in fact betraying one of the most basic teachings of the Christian faith: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.''
My experience with Mr. Winters since I have been reading this site for about six months is that he is a constant stone thrower who uses inflammatory language continuously as part of his stone throwing.  In this diatribe he uses ''rightwing''  ''conservatives are calumnious'', ''sinister'', ''psychological pathology'', ''unhinged by their paranoia'', ''witch trials at Salem'' and more.  And this is just a mild commentary by Mr. Winters.  
He then refers to efforts as  a ''partisan agenda of the attackers.''  Which I find extremely ironic and amusing since nearly everything Mr. Winters says is a partisan attack.  Can someone please tell me how someone with so much vitriol is allowed to be a commentator on a Jesuit site.
James Lindsay
12 years 11 months ago
JR, because sometimes it is important to and within the vocation of prophesy to make the self-righteous uncomfortable. Indeed, it is essential for righteousnesses sake - indeed, it is Beatitude.
William Kurtz
12 years 11 months ago
Thank you for satirizing the sort of "how many angels dance on the head of a pin" approach to what constitutes "material cooperation." Three decades ago, I regularly bought a daily newspaper that carried classified ads for abortion clinics. Was I cooperating? Probably not. But what about those who printed the paper, or delivered it? How about reporters for the paper- some tiny portion of the revenue that paid them came from those classified ads.
Perhaps some CCHD critics should offer guidance.
12 years 11 months ago
''sometimes it is important to and within the vocation of prophesy to make the self-righteous uncomfortable. Indeed, it is essential for righteousnesses sake - indeed, it is Beatitude.''
I find this one of the most arrogant and condescending statements I have ever heard by a Catholic if in fact you are one.  Who is being self righteous on this site?  Mr. Winters is the epitome of self righteousness as far as I can see by what he writes.
Think Catholic
12 years 11 months ago
The "S" in MSW stands for "straw man."  No one has complained about CCHD merely "working with" groups who merely "do not share the Church’s teachings"? The complaint is that it GIVES COLLECTION MONEY to groups who ACTIVELY PROMOTE ABORTION, GAY MARRIAGE, and other intrinsic evils.  But MSW never lets logic get in the way of his self righteousness and hatred of pro-life Catholics.
Beth Cioffoletti
12 years 11 months ago
Last month, while on the treadmill at the gym, I read MSW's book "Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and how the Catholics can save the Democrats".  In his book, Mr. Winters shows how twisted the Democrats have had to confalute their message to conform to an abortion rights agenda.  If anyone is a pro-life Catholic, MSW is.  He has never once compromised his arguments on the Catholic stance against abortion, in fact, he uses the sacredness of life as the bedrock upon which his arguments rest.  He also happens to have a liberal mindset - which isn't a bad thing.  The best part of the book, in my opinion, was the way the Catholic social justice agenda was brought to the American political landscape, by none other than Catholic Democrats.  I continue to enjoy MSW's enlightening analysis of the American politics from a uniquely Catholic perspective.  His contributions are one the main reasons I visit this site regularly.
Think Catholic
12 years 11 months ago
"He has never once compromised his arguments on the Catholic stance against abortion"
In July on this website, MSW promised to oppose not only health reform but politicians behind it if it funded abortion in "any way, shape, or form," including accounting schemes that "segregate" money but still federally fund insurance that covers abortion.
Now, since it has been clear that his party will not give up funding abortion insurance, MSW has broken his promise.  He supports the Senate and Obama versions of health reform, which federally fund abortion insurance, thereby making abortion insurance available to the hundreds of thousands of women who PP agrees Dont have abortions because they lack coverage, and which also in Obama's bill gives $11 Billion to "community health centers" every penny of which can be used to build PLanned Parenthood mega-facilities and even pay directly for abortions.  He supports these bills in stark disagreement with the USCCB, with the Stupak coalition of real pro-life Democrats, and with his own prior position.  And he not only supports the bills, he shills for them and offers the same faulty reasoning in their favor that was offered in favor of the fake compromises in the House prior to Stupak.  Stupak's amendment funds no abortion insurance and mandates total separation with any private "riders."  Obama's funds insurance that includes abortion coverage, making abortion insurance available to all the women who don't abort now because of a lack of coverage.  No pro-life Catholic can justify the latter, as the USCCB has made clear.

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