Every year, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Catholics around the US are asked to contribute to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The annual collection prompts an annual controversy, in which critics of the CCHD point to the grants that the program has made to organizations that promote anti-Catholic causes. The bishops who supervise the CCHD either ignore or deny these charges. But the evidence keeps mounting.
The problem, however, is not merely the occasional misplaced grant. The more fundamental problem is that from its inception, the CCHD has worked on the assumption that the best way to fight poverty is through political activism. The funds donated to the Thanksgiving collection are typically steered toward community organizers—often disciples of Saul Alinsky—rather than to food-pantry managers. In fact the CCHD deliberately avoids “charity” programs that merely meet the immediate needs of the poor.
In 2009, after ten American dioceses opted out of the nationwide CCHD collection, the US bishops’ conference organized a thorough review of the program. But no major changes were made; the leftist premise on which the program is based was not changed.
This year the New York archdiocese announced that it would take up its own collection on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to fund its own anti-poverty programs. Archdiocesan officials had only good things to say about the CCHD; they said that didn’t intend to question the “terrific work” that the national group is doing. But they did see the need for a change.
Time will tell whether the New York archdiocesan program is more successful in fighting poverty, or in preserving a distinctively Catholic perspective. But after more than 30 years of fighting to reform the nationwide CCHD program, conservative Catholics may conclude that it would be more productive to pursue the battle on the local level. Or, as the currently popular saying goes, to drain the swamp.
Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org.