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Academic Advisors to the CCHD? Here’s a Suggestion.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 10, 2010

The USCCB has named Fr. Daniel Mindling as consulting theologian to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. This is another straw in the wind of renewed fidelity to the Catholic mission in the United States. Of course, it is a little odd that the CCHD needs a consulting theologian in the first place, and this for two reasons.

First, anybody who really believes what the Church teaches would have no trouble disqualifying the kinds of groups which have caused the Campaign so much controversy in recent years, groups that promote contraception, abortion, gay marriage and other moral evils in the name of helping the poor. Once you accept the Faith, doing this right is primarily a matter of doing the necessary homework before clearing an organization for award.

Second, a theologian is unlikely to be the best judge of what sorts of projects are most deserving of grant support based on their potential effectiveness. This does require an understanding of the Church’s social teaching, of course, but it also requires an understanding of how economics works, of the long term impact of various kinds of proposals, of how human persons respond to different sorts of initiatives, and of the art of the possible. None of these are theological issues.

Still, the appointment of Fr. Mindling, who is the Academic Dean of the exceptionally faithful Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is another signal that the USCCB is trying to put its house in order. Meanwhile, there is considerable interdisciplinary work to be done on why organizations and proposals which run contrary to Catholic social teaching really don’t help the poor in the first place. A good book, complete with theory, case studies, and statistical outcomes, could go far to dispel the myth that those who oppose deviations from Catholic values in CCHD work must not really care about the poor.

I was thinking about this the other day when I read of Fr. Larry Dowling’s howling about the strict filters in place for CCHD grants in Chicago. There is a constant claim in secularized Catholic circles that refusing to fund organizations which support immoral positions on questions of human life, marriage and family shows a disregard for the poor. But to take this position, one also has to maintain the myth that such organizations are really capable of helping the poor in the first place.

For example, it has been demonstrated again and again that the most important factor in the economic well-being of those in poor communities is the moral strength of the family. Is the family together? Do family members care for each other? Are they responsible? Are they free of addiction? Do they work when given the opportunity? Do they squander funds or use them to improve the situation of the family as a whole? Are the men faithful to their responsibility as providers or are they philanderers? Are the women locked in a never-ending cycle of contraception, promiscuity, abortion and depression?

This doesn’t mean there is no need for emergency temporary measures, such as the free provision of food, medical care, housing and even education. What is true, rather, is that such measures become permanent and inescapable in communities in which the family is not healthy. By their very nature, organizations which promote promiscuity, contraception, abortion, homosexual behavior, gay marriage, and the like can have only one long-term impact on the lives of those they serve, and that impact is to trigger or accelerate a downward spiral from which there is no escape.

Those like Fr. Dowling who are incensed when such organizations don’t receive their usual grants always seek to seize the moral high ground by claiming that they are motivated only by genuine concern for the poor. By contrast, their opponents are simply following their own selfish agendas. Thus Fr. Dowling lamented that grant applications in Chicago were being vetted by a selection committee “including lay people who openly described CCHD as defective and ‘needing fixing’.” But according to the simple basics of Catholic teaching and common sense, the CCHD has been defective and does need fixing…so it can better serve the poor.

It is time to ignore such specious claims, time to reject the notion that those who have no respect for sexual morality or for the traditional family are motivated by genuine concern for the poor or, even if they were, that they could possibly translate that concern into effective action overall. Even if this myth were true, I’d take half an effort based on the right principles every time over a stronger effort based on the wrong principles. At least the half effort would lead to some good.

I think Our Lord must have had some of these bogus claims in mind when he warned: “Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (Lk 8:18). Those who have distorted Catholic social teaching have nothing but their media-built reputation for concern and compassion. But it is a broken compassion and an ineffectual concern. It is time for such an empty reputation to be taken away, to be shown for the fraud that it is. A good interdisciplinary panel of Catholic social scientists serving as advisors to the CCHD could do this simply by demonstrating in detail what actually works and what does not, backed by statistical data and examples, and explaining why. Everyone would benefit.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: RC - Nov. 12, 2010 8:02 PM ET USA

    The very idea of CCHD is doubtful: that an official collection would fund groups with these rules: * groups must not be Church-run * grants must not fund direct service to the poor, but instead fund organization-building, lobbying, etc. This quasi-political activism is part of the sphere of the laity, so CCHD should become an independent organization. Moreover, a list of projects to be funded should be disclosed openly before fund-raising. Let them appeal for money on the merits, if any.

  • Posted by: mjarman7759049 - Nov. 11, 2010 2:59 PM ET USA

    I'm not understanding why the secularists would have a problem with "filters." The self-styled "progressives" of my day would require businesses they dealt with to be divested in South Africa. I believe the current round of "progressive" pre-conditions include "green" or "carbon-neutral" policies be adopted by groups before they can be considered for certain projects. Why couldn't a faith-based group demand that anti-poverty groups they fund be "family friendly." What's good for the goose....

  • Posted by: Steve214 - Nov. 10, 2010 5:57 PM ET USA

    Why are non-Catholic groups being funded at all by the Catholic Church? We have more money than we need? All Catholic apostolates are fully funded? Why don't the bishops give some help to groups like Catholic Culture and ETWN?

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