New York Catholics reaching for their wallets during the second collection on Nov. 19 may have been momentarily perplexed by a brief announcement before the baskets came by. Second collections on the Sundays before Thanksgiving have been traditionally reserved for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ national anti-poverty program.
But in the Archdiocese of New York this year, parishioners were informed that the collection was being directed instead to a new diocesan-sponsored entity, the Campaign for Charity and Justice. That alternative campaign is described as “an initiative to revitalize and increase Catholic Charities support for the charitable and justice work of parishes and community groups” within the archdiocese.
“We’ve been in discussion with C.C.H.D. for two to three years about this pilot program,” says George Horton, the director of Social and Community Development for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. “We are going to take over the administration of the grant-making process in this diocese,” and New York fundraising will be directed explicitly to diocesan-based grantees.
The change, he says, was in “no way” a response to the C.C.H.D.’s persistent online critics. “I have worked with C.C.H.D. for 20 years,” Mr. Horton says. “The C.C.H.D. is one of the great programs of the church; it does terrific work.”
The change was in “no way” a response to the C.C.H.D.’s persistent online critics, an archdiocesan official says.
Mr. Horton points out that the Catholic Charities administered program in New York will still contribute a percentage of the money it raises to the C.C.H.D. The archdiocese hopes to raise $500,000 and plans to turn at least $75,000 over to the C.C.H.D. to reflect the archdiocese’s share of its national administrative costs.
New York is the only diocese in the country that has altered its C.C.H.D. collection in this manner, according to C.C.H.D. director Ralph McCloud, and he would be quite content if it remains the only one. “I’m sure it will mean less money” for the national office, he says. Mr. McCloud frankly admits that it is his hope that the New York model does not catch on.
He worries that the idea of dioceses going their own way even to a limited degree during the annual collection weakens the solidarity with low-income people and communities around the country that is one of the C.C.H.D.’s founding ambitions.
How monies raised under the archdiocese’s program can be spent will also change significantly. In keeping with its anti-poverty ethos, C.C.H.D. grants are limited to community-based entities that are involved in social advocacy or civic organizing work.
They cannot be directed to “charity” or direct service. The idea has been that arming the 46 million people in the nation’s low-income communities with self-advocacy skills is a wiser long-term anti-poverty investment than funding direct service or charitable programs that respond to what can become chronic social needs.
The New York program allows the archdiocese to use donations to fund C.C.H.D.-style advocacy and organizing groups, but it also frees Catholic Charities to support parish-based direct service efforts on homelessness, health care, hunger or other services. Parishes seeking to form their own community or social action groups for advocacy on specific issues like health care or immigration will also be eligible to apply for grants under the pilot program.
Mr. Horton emphasized that the new effort was not intended to begin a break with C.C.H.D.
Mr. Horton emphasized that the new effort was not intended to begin a break with C.C.H.D. “In some ways this might be a way even to revitalize the effort to help community groups in the diocese,” he says, pointing out that many New York advocacy or organizing groups had exhausted their eligibility for C.C.H.D. grants but could apply for support under the new program.
He thinks within the New York experiment “there may be some lessons” for the national campaign. “The C.C.H.D. is an incredible program, but every program can get better,” he says.
Mr. McCloud agrees that the alternative fundraising in the archdiocese does not represent in his mind a breach with the C.C.H.D. “I don’t think we have any issues with them,” he says. “They just felt like they could build a better mousetrap.”
The archdiocese grant process will focus on local organizations “that are more Catholic,” says Mr. McCloud.
But the optics of the withdrawal, even partially, of the nation’s second largest diocese—with 295 parishes and nearly 3 million parishioners—are bound to be a problem for the C.C.H.D. Since its inception critics have challenged the strategy and the anti-poverty ambition of the campaign.
The archdiocese grant process will focus on local organizations “that are more Catholic,” says Mr. McCloud, while the national program will continue to distribute grants, approved by local dioceses, around the country and often to groups that can be secular in origin or that have alliances in anti-poverty campaigns with secular groups with varied agendas of their own. It has been within these connections that C.C.H.D.’s critics find material for their attacks. Mr. McCloud argues that, while it continues to weed out clashes with Catholic doctrine that may be hidden within such connections, the campaign must operate sometimes “in the gray,” sensitive to nuances that appear to be lost on its critics.
In recent years, just as dependable as the Thanksgiving week collection for C.C.H.D. has been an uproar orchestrated around the same by its online critics. Mr. McCloud pronounces himself more or less unconcerned.
Pointing out that the Diocese of Burlington, in Vermont, recently restored its participation in the annual collection, he suggests that the C.C.H.D. has weathered the worst from its critics. “There is still strong support around the country for the campaign,” he says, arguing that bishops have learned to tune out the attacks.
Mr. McCloud himself has been a frequent target. “Everything they think they know about me, they’ve gotten off some website and the same goes for our groups,” he says. “They don’t interact with the groups we fund or the local dioceses to find out about them or the work that is being done.”
He continues to investigate allegations against C.C.H.D. groups as they arise—critics typically allege that grant recipients or individuals who work for them can be connected to pro-choice or same-sex marriage advocacy efforts. But Mr. McCloud remains satisfied adjustments made in the application process prevent grants from going to groups that may be pursuing even tangentially an agenda that conflicts with Catholic teaching. A Catholic moral theologian helps vet C.C.H.D. grants to seek out such conflicts, he adds.
The nature of the attacks on the C.C.H.D. have not changed much, but the internet and social media have provided its critics with new and powerful tools.
Honing in on such conflicts or creating the perception of them has been the bread and butter of many of C.C.H.D. critics like the Lepanto Institute or Church Militant as they pursue their own fundraising efforts. The nature of the attacks on the C.C.H.D. have not changed much over the years, according to Mr. McCloud, but the internet and social media have provided its critics with new and powerful tools.
Its frequent critics “get stirred up around collection time,” says Mr. McCloud, but “the bishops have looked at these accusations and found them to be baseless.” He argues that the C.C.H.D.’s guidelines for grant applicants, in fact, have helped guide community organizing groups away from efforts or alliances that Catholic donors may have found objectionable.
Mr. Horton likewise takes pains to stress that the New York initiative should not be perceived as a response to C.C.H.D.’s critics. “I’ve been a C.C.H.D. supporter all my life,” he says, “and the Archdiocese of New York has supported the C.C.H.D. and done the grant-making with the C.C.H.D… Even through all the attacks, the diocese has continued to work with the C.C.H.D.” But the challenges of raising money to help America’s low-income people help themselves and the perceptions that fundraising creates, he says, “is not a simple thing.”
“The C.C.H.D. has made changes itself to respond to the criticism,” Mr. Horton says.
“It is pretty hard to control or to be concerned about how other groups interpret what you’re doing,” he adds. “What should be understood is that [community organizing] groups will still be getting these grants,” and the pilot fundraising effort “will benefit the C.C.H.D.; it will benefit the archdiocese and it will be a benefit for the people of New York and the poor people we are trying to help here.”
And even as New York focuses its resources locally, Mr. McCloud urges New York community groups that may be eligible for a C.C.H.D. grant to seek the funding. Despite the alternate program, “we’re not going to be ignoring them,” he says. “And if the archdiocese pushes them forward, we’ll definitely push those applicants forward ourselves.”