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Catholic identity demands justice for the poor.

With the release of a report from the U.S. bishops' conference, "The Review and Renewal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development" (see Page 1), an immediate question emerges: Will this exhaustive and thorough report satisfy the campaign's critics?

The answer is likely to be a mixed one. On the one hand, there are those who were genuinely scandalized by the fact that a handful of groups funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (five out of 270, according to the report) were involved in, or belonged to, other organizations that were involved in the promotion of ideas antithetical to Catholic beliefs about human dignity--especially on abortion.

The church's pro-life commitment is so foundational--and efforts to help the poor while simultaneously advocating abortion are so morally incoherent--that such grants were a genuine cause for concern and, indeed, they violated the campaign's own policies and guidelines.

Renewed vigilance is called for and, in the new report, promised.

Other critics, however, seem determined to shut down the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

In a Sept. 23, 2009, statement on InsideCatholic.com, Deal Hudson, director of that Web site, called for "the elimination of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development."

"No amount of housecleaning is going to make this arm of the [the bishops' conference] worthy of our donations," Hudson wrote.

The American Life League evidenced an even greater hostility to the campaign. "The closer we look at the bishops' conference [staff and programs], the more we find a systemic pattern of cooperation with evil," Michael Hich-born, the Life League's lead researcher, said in a news release Feb. 1.

Probably nothing the Catholic Campaign can do will satisfy these critics, whose objections run deeper than concerns about abortion funding. Their devotion to the free market, despite the market's demonstrable inability to aid the poor, makes them suspicious of the campaign and other programs designed to help the poor through non-market-worshiping methods.

A third variety of criticism has emerged from the campaign itself. The bishops' report calls for renewed efforts to involve local parishes in the work of the campaign. Currently, the only contact many parishioners have with the campaign is the annual collection to support it. The report calls for renewed efforts at the diocesan and parochial level to involve Catholics in the campaign's work, to provide local churches with the tools to actively engage in the work of helping the poor.

Sometimes in life, what we first encounter as a blessing turns out to be a curse, and what at first blush appears to be a curse turns out to be a blessing. No one likes being criticized, but the criticisms of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have led to something the critics did not foresee.

What becomes clear in the report is that while the critics questioned the Catholic identity of the campaign, it is precisely that Catholic identity that demands the work the campaign promotes.

"Justice is the primary way of charity," the report quotes Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate. "The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. This is the institutional path ... of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly."

"No less excellent and effective." Those words are not mine. They are not the words of some lefty. They are not the words of the campaign staff. They are the words of the pope.

I hope some of the campaign's critics will move beyond their attacks, applaud the reforms announced in the new report and come to realize that Catholic identity is not a conservative talking point.

If it is true--and I believe it is--that the Catholic identity of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development was compromised by funding organizations that also support abortion, then it is also the case that Catholic identity is compromised every time we fail to heed the call of justice.

It turns out that Catholic identity is a two-edged sword. Conservatives invoke the phrase to castigate those they perceive as insufficiently Catholic. Groups like the Cardinal Newman Society question the Catholic identity of certain colleges and universities that do not meet their somewhat selective standards of orthodoxy. Raymond Arroyo at EWTN casts aspersions against the Catholic identity of Daughter of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association because she supported health care reform.

If this new report on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development shows anything, it is that an integral part of Catholic identity is concern for the poor--not just for individual charitableness, but for an integral approach to achieving justice for all.

Those who fail to embrace the report must pose the question of Catholic identity to themselves.

There is one other aspect of this story that must be confronted squarely.

The attacks on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have often been quite personal in nature, focusing on the bishops' conference staff, and casting aspersions at John Carr, executive director of the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, and other staffers. "The Scandal of John Carr at the USCCB," read the headline on the conservative Web site Spero news.com Feb. 2.

To be clear, nothing done by Carr was scandalous. What was done to Carr was scandalous. You do not question the reputation of a devoted servant of the church because he once served on the board of an organization that, after he left the board, joined with a group that supported abortion.

The charges against Carr always smacked of guilt by association and they were unjust in the extreme, if not calumnious.

Carr was intimately involved in this thorough review of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and his critics owe him an apology.

[Michael Sean Winters writes the Distinctly Catholic blog on the NCR Web site. See it at NCRonline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic]
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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Author:Winters, Michael Sean
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 12, 2010
Words:988
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