Organization Trends

Dissenting Catholic Charities: Separating Church & Welfare State?

Anti-Catholic Activism | Changing the Unchangeable
Organizing for the Left | Separating Church & Welfare State?

Summary: Dissent has been with the Catholic Church from the very beginning. But since the Vatican II council in the 1960s, left-wing dissenters have sought to steer American Catholics towards far-left causes – and away from the Church – under the guise of fake Catholicism.

USCCB Charities

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is a domestic anti-poverty program run by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with the mission “to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities.” CCHD is primarily funded through an annual collection taken up in November in participating dioceses. Twenty-five percent of every local collection typically stays with that diocese or archdiocese. The remaining seventy-five percent is sent to the national CCHD office, which then distributes larger national grants mainly at its discretion. 2015 nationwide collections amounted to $9,763,744.

CCHD was founded in 1969. Since then, much has been revealed about the early organization’s close ties to the infamous “father” of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. In particular, the reader is encouraged to take a look at Lawrence Engel’s 1998 article for Theological Studies, “The Influence of Saul Alinksy on the Campaign for Human Development,” and Michael Voris’ lecture for Church Militant, “CCHD & Alinksky.” Even today CCHD is not shy in showcasing its radically progressive DNA. “The belief that those who are directly affected by unjust systems and structures have the best insight into knowing how to change them is central to CCHD,” proclaims the organization’s website mission page [emphasis added].

Since its founding, CCHD has continually funded radical and Marxist organizations including many that promote abortion, birth control, and homosexuality. Orthodox Catholics have complained over the years about the essentially anti-Catholic CCHD to no avail. Some hope for change came at last in 2009, when Michael Hichborn, founder and current president of the Lepanto Institute, first started investigating the CCHD’s activities. While working for American Life League, Hichborn created and led a coalition called Reform CCHD Now, which put enough pressure on the USCCB that it was forced to take at least nominal action.

On September 15, 2010, the USCCB approved a “Review and Renewal” that put in place “stronger policies and clearer mechanisms to screen and monitor grants and groups” in hopes past violations would not be repeated. Also, it added a provision that “CCHD will not fund groups that are members of coalitions which have as part of their organizational purpose or coalition agenda, positions or actions that contradict fundamental Catholic moral and social teaching.”

The very next year, however, American Life League found that of the 192 grants funded by CCHD, 74 grantees in 46 dioceses still in some way promoted homosexuality, abortion, or birth control. And approximately $2.9 million was given to 27 organizations that were found to directly violate CCHD guidelines, and another 45 organizations were members—some of them founding members—of coalitions that advocate abortion, homosexuality, or birth control.

Later in 2011, Hichborn contacted CCHD Director Ralph McCloud and scheduled a meeting to discuss American Life League’s findings. But three days before the meeting was to occur McCloud’s office canceled saying, “we see no reason to meet at this time.” CCHD continues to claim that it is no longer funding organizations that oppose Church teachings, but as recently as 2016 Hichborn found yet more grantees that fund homosexual rights advocacy, including same-sex marriage.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) supposedly “carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas.” In 2016, the organization’s operating revenues were $917 million. A staggering 78 percent ($714 million) of these revenues came from “public support,” for which the U.S. federal government provided more than $314 million. Other public sources included foreign governments and international organizations such as the United Nations, The Global Fund, and The World Bank. This reliance on public funding is distressing, as CRS is essentially making grants and providing services without full autonomy and control.

Not surprisingly, CRS has been caught numerous times over the last ten years supporting organizations whose missions and activities conflict with the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church. In July 2012, LifeSite News reported that CRS’ largest grant in 2010 ($5.3 million) was provided to CARE, an international organization that actively provides artificial contraceptives to women in developing countries and supports pro-abortion groups and legislation. In 2013, the American Life League, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Human Life International, and the Population Research Institute publicly criticized CRS for a $2.8-million anti-malaria grant to Population Services International, which also pushes artificial contraception and abortion in the developing world.

CRS has responded to these and other complaints in a number of unsatisfactory ways. First, the organization claims that the grants it provides are non-fungible and, therefore, must be used for the purposes for which they were intended—which CRS claims never conflict with Church teaching. Secondly, because CRS is frequently a “pass through” funder, it does not always get to choose which organizations ultimately get to provide the services CRS is funding. So, for instance, in Guinea, it was not CRS, they said, that chose Population Services International, but the “Country Coordinating Mechanism,” an organization made up of local leaders from government and civil society.

The fungibility claim is dubious. As Dr. Jeff Mirus at Catholic Culture points out, “money is intrinsically fungible, and restrictions on the use of funds will be significant only if the availability of funds in one area does not free up other funds for use in other areas.” A more significant reaction to CRS’s response that directly challenges their “pass through” defense also comes from Mirus in a strongly worded statement: “the continuing reliance of Catholic Relief Services on government funds is not only the elephant in the room, but the wooly mammoth…. Catholics cannot put themselves in the position of passing out grants and providing services which are funded, and therefore controlled, by others, especially the State. Catholics have their own international organization, the Church, with its own moral principles. The Church has dedicated personnel capable of reaching anywhere Catholic action is permitted, and some places where it is not permitted. The Church should control her own pipeline of funding and activity from beginning to end.”

More recently, the Lepanto Institute found that CRS directly funded the advocacy and distribution of artificial contraception in Kenya through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and dispensed millions of contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization kits through USAID’s Project AXxes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These accusations are extremely well-researched and significantly more damning. CRS denies any wrongdoing and the back-and-forth between the organization and Lepanto and other critics continues today. Says Lepanto’s Hichborn, “What this is really about is the USCCB lobbying Congress to maintain large amounts of funding to PEPFAR and USAID, so that its project, CRS, can continue to receive large government grants. It’s all a quid pro quo.”

USCCB-Endorsed Charities

Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) is a national ministry of 164 member agencies serving 8.7 million “poor and vulnerable persons” through 2,631 locations. With $3.9 billion in revenue in 2015, CCUSA took the ninth position in the latest Forbes 100 Largest U.S. Charities. And with a growing portion of its revenue coming from government (44 percent in 2015), Catholic critics have long accused the organization of being just “another arm of the welfare state.”

In 1997, Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) complained that, “The number one opponent, and perhaps the most effective opponent, of welfare reform was Catholic Charities.” Adds Brian C. Anderson in a 2000 article in City Journal, “Catholic Charities USA is one of the nation’s most powerful advocates for outworn welfare-state ideas, especially the idea that social and economic forces over which the individual has no control, rather than his own attitudes and behavior, are the reason for poverty.”

Anderson’s article goes on to reveal a deep and problematic history of CCUSA:

Swept up in the decade’s tumult and encouraged by the modernizing spirit of the second Vatican Council, Catholic Charities rejected its long-standing emphasis on personal responsibility and self-reliance and began to blame capitalist society rather than individual behavior for poverty and crime…. Ratified at Catholic Charities’ annual meeting in 1972, the so-called Cadre Study totally abandoned any stress on personal responsibility in relation to poverty and other social ills. Instead, it painted America as an unjust, “numb” country, whose oppressive society and closed economy cause people to turn to crime or drugs or prostitution. Moreover, the study asserts, individual acts of charity are useless. We must instead unearth “the root causes of poverty and oppression” and radically reconstruct… the social order to avert social upheaval.

In addition to its welfare state credentials, CCUSA, like CCHD and CRS, is associated with organizations whose missions and activities conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. LifeSite News reported in May 2013 that CCUSA was a dues-paying member of the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN), an organization that advocates for public funding of abortion. (Editor’s note: The Coalition on Human Needs contacted us to claim that they have “never advocated for public funding for abortion.” But LifeSite News described them that way because of their staunch defense of government funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortion. For example, CHN lobbies to protect Title X funds for “family planning” provided by Planned Parenthood and others. Planned Parenthood itself has bragged that one-third of all recipients of Title X services use their clinics.)

Furthermore, reported LifeSite, CCUSA’s senior director of policy and legislative affairs, Lucreda Cobbs, sat on CHN’s board as a representative for CCUSA in 2011, when CHN was fighting against potential cuts to federal funding of Planned Parenthood and Title X family planning. And in August 2013, American Life League reported that CCUSA president Fr. Larry Snyder was a member of the board of America’s Promise Alliance, which promotes homosexual activism and artificial birth control.

Heterodox Sister Jeannine Gramick, the Catholic nun from New Ways Ministry covered earlier in this article, told the Washington Blade, “America’s LGBT News Source,” that Catholic Charities has “been the most progressive wing of the church other than the nuns…. In some cases, Catholic Charities USA has supported our events. I feel they personally are pro-gay, but they can’t do this publicly.”

In 2006, the USCCB in conjunction with 16 national partners, including Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA, created Catholic Climate Covenant (CCC) “to address growing ecological awareness and the need to implement Catholic social teaching on ecology within the US Church.” CCC helps “guide the U.S. Church’s response to the moral call for action on climate change.”

Navigating the pages of CCC’s website reveals that the organization is essentially just another left-wing group demanding aggressive government solutions to insoluble problems. A brief listing of CCC’s 2017 official statements provides some insight into the organization’s very political positions on climate change:

15,000 Catholics Petition President Trump on Climate Change

Catholics Raise Moral Concerns about Proposed Budgetary Cuts to EPA

Bishop Pates to Reporters: Cuts to Environmental Protection Agency are “Suicidal”

Promoting the Common Good: Trump’s Executive Order Fails at Both

In a December 2016 article in The San Diego Union-Tribune entitled, “Catholic leaders: climate change on same level as abortion and death penalty,” CCC director of programs Sarah Spengeman was quoted, “It’s clear that climate change is a pro-life issue. If we want to leave our children an inhabitable earth, if we have a responsibility to the unborn, we have a responsibility to act on climate.”

In 2016, Lepanto’s Hichborn reviewed Spengeman’s social media accounts and discovered that she is a member of the pro-choice EMILY’s group on LinkedIn, and has “liked” eleven LGBT groups and four pro-women’s ordination groups on Facebook.


The history of dissenting “Catholic” organizations since Vatican II is deep, complex and often troubling. Some of the groups covered in this article have done and continue to do good work—especially when they provide direct aid to people suffering from hunger, poverty, or natural disaster. But that does not make up for the millions of dollars squandered on community organizing and other “poverty prevention” schemes that promote socialism, the huge reliance on government funding and the strings that come with it, and the constant attacks on the very tenets of the Catholic faith.

This article provides merely a peek into the cobwebbed basements of the aforementioned dissenting organizations. For a broader view, the reader is encouraged to visit the websites of the American Life League, Lepanto Institute, Catholic Culture, and Church Militant. And for a fascinating history of Catholic charity done right, read William J. Stern’s “How Dagger John Saved New York’s Irish,” in the Spring 1997 issue of Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

Steve Warner

Steve Warner is a freelance writer living in south Florida.
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