The National Catholic Review
Catholic Campaign for Human Development

In parishes across the country this weekend, the collection plate will be passed to support the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty initiative—the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. At a time when 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty and extreme income inequality is growing, a contribution to C.C.H.D. is a powerful way to affirm Catholic identity and empower those struggling to lift themselves out of difficult situations. Over the past year alone, C.C.H.D. provided more than 214 grants worth more than $9 million to community and economic development organizations dedicated to equipping low-income citizens with tools to knock down walls that confine 47 million Americans in poverty. This bottom-up, grassroots advocacy “brings the Gospel message to issues of social justice,” Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ C.C.H.D. subcommittee, said in a press release announcing the collection. Bishop Soto emphasizes that C.C.H.D. focuses on “long-term solutions to poverty and “complements the work of direct-assistance programs like Catholic Charities and pro-life activities."

While C.C.H.D. has earned national kudos for its essential work over more than four decades, the campaign is also dogged by an increasingly aggressive network of opponents who claim the anti-poverty initiative funds groups that promote “abortion, birth control, homosexuality, and even Marxism,” according to a “Reform C.C.H.D. Now” coalition led by the American Life League. Many of these same groups also target the bishops’ international development arm, Catholic Relief Services. Most bishops have done a noble job of standing strong in the face of these constant attacks. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla. deserves particular credit for challenging groups that seem determined to undermine the work of C.R.S. and C.C.H.D. Writing on his diocesan blog, Bishop Lynch took issue with opponents he described “as not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion.” In other cases, some bishops have ended C.C.H.D. collections in their dioceses and seem to be swayed by critics’ claims that funding community organizing isn’t a particularly Catholic thing to do. This is a longstanding challenge C.C.H.D. has faced from its inception. When opponents claim that C.C.H.D. is simply a vehicle for an activist liberal agenda, I’m always reminded of the famous quip by the late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara: “When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint. When I ask why they have no food, they call me a Communist.”

What is Catholic about organizing the poor?
Critics of C.C.H.D. often argue that the church should focus on the delivery of charitable services rather than addressing social structures that perpetuate injustice. This is a willful misreading of Catholic social teaching, which emphasizes charity and justice as indivisible. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" ("God is Love") that “justice is the primary way of charity.” Pope John Paul II praised C.C.H.D. for working to remove what he called “the causes of poverty and not merely the evil effects of injustice.” He described the anti-poverty campaign as “a witness to the Church’s living presence in the world among the most needy, and to her commitment to continuing the mission of Christ.” Indeed, the mission of C.C.H.D. is guided by several core pillars of Catholic teaching—including the life and dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor and the call to participation and solidarity. It also embodies the Catholic understanding of subsidiarity, a concept frequently distorted by some in the political and pundit class. Subsidiarity acknowledges the importance of institutions and influences closest to those in need such as local agencies, community groups and churches, while insisting that larger societal institutions also play a vital role in serving the common good. C.C.H.D. requires that organizations receiving funds have low-income citizens represented in decision making roles and “works from the bottom up, emphasizing self-help, participating and decision-making by poor people themselves to address their own situations,” according to the campaign.

Speaking as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference during a 15th anniversary commemoration of C.C.H.D., Bishop James Malone of Youngstown, Ohio emphasized the biblical foundation of organizing and empowering low-income citizens. “The person of Jesus, reflected in the parable of the sheep and goats comes forward to us today not only singly but in groups, classes and communities of people who are forced to live in conditions that impede them from experiencing full social participation…these conditions often result from imbalances in political influence and economic power. Like personal sins, such as selfishness and hatred, social sins must be named and rooted out.”

This is an important reminder during a time when some Americans and elected officials prefer to demonize the poor. Those living in poverty, the flawed argument goes, deserve their fate because they are “takers” who don’t work hard enough. Congress is now slashing food and nutrition benefits (SNAP) that largely help children, seniors and those with disabilities. Twenty-five governors have refused to implement Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, a stance that denies the working poor, pregnant women and others quality medical care. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, one of the few Republicans to expand Medicaid, used blunt language recently to challenge those in his own party, noting in an interview with the New York Times that “there seems to be a war on the poor.” This backlash against the working poor conveniently ignores basic facts. Today’s minimum wage does not pay enough to lift hardworking people out of poverty. (Until the 1980s, earning the minimum wage was enough for a single parent to not live in poverty. Indeed, a minimum-wage income in 1968 was higher than the poverty line for a family of three. But today’s minimum wage is not enough for single-parents to reach even the most basic threshold of adequate living standards.) McDonald’s was widely criticized recently for setting up a financial planning guide for its workers that ended up dramatizing precisely how impossible it is to make ends meet on a fast-food paycheck. A Walmart in Ohio received similarly embarrassing media attention just this week for setting up a food drive for its own impoverished workers.

C.C.H.D. puts the Gospel and Catholic social teaching into practice by supporting organizations and individuals fighting for policies that affirm human dignity. For example, the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, led by Latino and Haitian farmworkers in Florida, has negotiated agreements with Taco Bell to increase wages and improve working conditions for those who pick its tomatoes. Communities Organized for Public Service has fought for over $1 billion in public projects in San Antonio to improve housing, education and job training for its low-income members. Started by Italian immigrants in 1943, Holy Rosary Credit Union is a not-for-profit credit union supported by C.C.H.D. that provides development and financial education services that encourages thrift, savings and the wise use of credit for low-income residents in Kansas City, Mo.

When the collection plate comes around this weekend, please give generously to a vital church ministry that affirms Pope Francis’ call for us to take the Gospel message “to the streets” and “to the peripheries” of a world in desperate need of not only charity, but justice.

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and a former assistant director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His June report about CCHD can be found here.

Comments

Michael Barberi | 11/26/2013 - 2:29pm

As the saying goes: We love God as we serve him and we do this by serving the poor. However, the causes of inequality are many and we should be more reflective before we demonize social structures and culture as the sole causes of today's ills.

Should the Affordable Care Act be implemented regardless of the consequences, especially in light of broken promises and untruthful narratives we were sold? Should many of the middle class and older citizens be forced to pay significantly higher premiums and deductibles, that many cannot afford, so that 30 million uninsured can be given almost free coverage? How about when the cost of the Affordable Care Act is not 800 Billion as sold, but 3 times that amount according to the latest figures? Think about it.

The issue of inequality is complex. Make no mistake about what I am saying: I am for charitable giving to help those that are burdened and disadvantaged. However, think about how easy it is for the narrative in today's culture, a so-called evil, influencing the thinking and acting person and future generations. Then think about how the narrative and culture of the past has influenced the thinking and acting person in past centuries. We tend to think of our current culture as a form of evil that will influence future generations, but fail to recognize that the thinking in past centuries such as righteousness of slavery and the lack of freedom of religion, were taught as truth and this narrative became part of the very fabric of societies past. These narratives eventually changed and society benefited from a re-thinking. Demonizing social structures, including the ecclesial structure, was not the answer. This does not mean that social structures cannot be reformed and improved, but there are always trade-offs that all too frequently are never welcomed as part of the solution.

I am in favor of charitable giving and helping the poor. I am not for demonizing every social structure and policy without remainder by painting the so-called evil causes with a narrow brush.

Ernest Martinson | 11/22/2013 - 2:45pm

We are asked to give to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. This is truly an act of charity in hope that justice is done. Of course, if there was an iota of justice, there would be less need of CCHD. Surely, justice would not tolerate the theft of wages and profits through taxation. Justice would not tolerate the use of taxation and fiat money based on debt to bankroll Wall Street, defense contractors, agribusiness, and on down to the least of us on Medicaid.
Instead, justice would collect the rent on our earthly Eden and distribute it equally to each. No one would be kicked out of the garden. Government would retain just enough to stop what we are now doing to each other. That is, we are all hell bent on using force, from the national down to the individual level, to kill and to take what does not belong to us.

Sara Damewood | 11/20/2013 - 9:04pm

Thanks for this. I will be reading and quoting "Deus Caritas Est" with the "powers that be!"

Beth Cioffoletti | 11/20/2013 - 3:11pm

Brazilian Bishop, Dom Helder Camara, said "when I give food to the poor they call me a saint, when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist".

There is truth to be faced and told about how social structures are set up to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. All of our "social security" is tied into that system and nobody wants to rock the boat.

Yes, give generously. But also be willing to see and speak the truth of what is causing the poverty. Charity and justice go hand in hand.

Joseph Newman | 11/24/2013 - 6:12pm

In America today, our basic understanding of Evil is one-dimensional.

Our culture and society, basically perceives Evil in terms of a basic personal transgressions, an act (ex. - soliciting and obtaining a therapeutic abortion, engaging in a homosexual act, or perhaps limiting family size by means of a pharmacological aid or a barrier method)

After much thought, contemplation and reliance on the wisdom and understanding of others, it has dawned on me that Evil has trans-generational implications.

Much like a work of art, Evil done does not die with the death of the Evil-Doer. It is perpetuated and becomes embedded in the culture and in the institutions of society.

Attitudes and behaviors are communicated within households, within churches, educational institutions and become embedded in the culture. The culture is the vehicle by which these attitudes and behaviors are deemed to be “good.” They are part-and-parcel of our social inheritance. An example of this is a story I heard about a white fellow who lived in a dirt-floored shack in Appalachia. Someone asked him about raising taxes to fund programs for the poor. He said that he was against it. He said he might win the lottery and he didn’t want the government taking his money. This fellow, like most of us, was weaned from his mother’s breast on the Horatio Alger myth, the rags to riches scenario. It clouded his moral judgment. It skewed his perception and his understanding of good and evil. We are this fellow.

From the myths and fables we imbibe in our youth, laws are enacted and institutions created that perpetuate the intentions of the powerful. Sadly, in our national history, the intentions of the powerful become memorialized in statutes, case law and administrative rulings that perpetuate racism, misogyny, gender bias and bigotry, in addition to accelerating economic and social inequality. The sins of our fathers are visited upon us and become our sins upon our consent, upon our acquiescence.

Our Lord journeyed on this earth for the redemption of all of creation. Personal Salvation was not primary to his embassy to humankind. Yes, he came lift the yoke and burden of Sin from our shoulders, both the Sins of our fathers, and our own transgressions. His forgiveness is welcomed. Our Lord dwelt among us to purify not only our souls but those cultural practices and institutions and laws bequeathed to us from our Fathers. Our Lord came to redeem all of creation, not just man, and not just his soul, but the culture, the laws and the institutions that are the works of human hands; and physical nature itself which is His own handiwork.

Our Lord came to make Holy what is Profane.

Joseph Newman | 11/24/2013 - 6:12pm

In America today, our basic understanding of Evil is one-dimensional.

Our culture and society, basically perceives Evil in terms of a basic personal transgressions, an act (ex. - soliciting and obtaining a therapeutic abortion, engaging in a homosexual act, or perhaps limiting family size by means of a pharmacological aid or a barrier method)

After much thought, contemplation and reliance on the wisdom and understanding of others, it has dawned on me that Evil has trans-generational implications.

Much like a work of art, Evil done does not die with the death of the Evil-Doer. It is perpetuated and becomes embedded in the culture and in the institutions of society.

Attitudes and behaviors are communicated within households, within churches, educational institutions and become embedded in the culture. The culture is the vehicle by which these attitudes and behaviors are deemed to be “good.” They are part-and-parcel of our social inheritance. An example of this is a story I heard about a white fellow who lived in a dirt-floored shack in Appalachia. Someone asked him about raising taxes to fund programs for the poor. He said that he was against it. He said he might win the lottery and he didn’t want the government taking his money. This fellow, like most of us, was weaned from his mother’s breast on the Horatio Alger myth, the rags to riches scenario. It clouded his moral judgment. It skewed his perception and his understanding of good and evil. We are this fellow.

From the myths and fables we imbibe in our youth, laws are enacted and institutions created that perpetuate the intentions of the powerful. Sadly, in our national history, the intentions of the powerful become memorialized in statutes, case law and administrative rulings that perpetuate racism, misogyny, gender bias and bigotry, in addition to accelerating economic and social inequality. The sins of our fathers are visited upon us and become our sins upon our consent, upon our acquiescence.

Our Lord journeyed on this earth for the redemption of all of creation. Personal Salvation was not primary to his embassy to humankind. Yes, he came lift the yoke and burden of Sin from our shoulders, both the Sins of our fathers, and our own transgressions. His forgiveness is welcomed. Our Lord dwelt among us to purify not only our souls but those cultural practices and institutions and laws bequeathed to us from our Fathers. Our Lord came to redeem all of creation, not just man, and not just his soul, but the culture, the laws and the institutions that are the works of human hands; and physical nature itself which is His own handiwork.

Our Lord came to make Holy what is Profane.

NICHOLAS CLIFFORD | 11/22/2013 - 2:30pm

Thanks for posting this. I would be interested in knowing, however, how many dioceses are specifically refusing to take up this collection (my own diocese, in Burlington, Vermont is one of them, though they are taking up a collection for the local Catholic Charities). I am not quite sure why they do not participate in the CCHD fundraising.