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