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October 25, 2009

Local CCHD effort address concerns over ACORN

By Michelle Martin


The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic anti-poverty effort, must first of all be Catholic.

That is the message that Rey Flores, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s CCHD director, is taking to Catholics from all parts of the political spectrum, including those who have criticized the campaign for funding organizations they believe have not always acted in accord with Catholic teaching, and organizations that he says might be in danger of being “co-opted” by liberal political movements that support agendas contrary to church teaching, such as support for abortion rights.

Helping all people

However, he also points out that Catholics who consider themselves more conservative must also honor the church’s teaching about the dignity of all people.

“What we need to do is not think in terms of conservative or liberal,” said Flores, who started as CCHD director earlier this year. “We need to think in terms of Catholic. … People need to see that illegal immigrant or undocumented person, or whatever term you want to use, as equally as valuable as the unborn baby we’re concerned about.”

That doesn’t mean condoning the act of crossing the border illegally, but it does mean treating all people humanely.

The question is, what do you do when that person is in front of you?

“We want to do the Catholic thing. We want to do what Jesus Christ told us to abide by, and that’s an absolute respect for life in all its stages,” Flores said.

Last year, CCHD’s annual collection, taken in parishes the weekend before Thanksgiving, took a hit from the revelation that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, was under investigation for irregularities in voter registration drives in the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election.

Some Catholic groups, locally and nationally, encourage boycotts of the collection, despite the decision of the U.S. bishops months earlier to cut off funding to groups affiliated with the ACORN because of financial improprieties — notably, an embezzlement scandal that was not reported to authorities.

This year, with more allegations about improper activities against an ACORN affiliate in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, CCHD officials in Chicago and around the country are trying to get out the message that money donated to the campaign will be used for its intended purpose: helping poor people change the structures that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

And it will go to groups whose actions are in line with Catholic social teaching, Flores said. The annual CCHD will take place in parishes here Nov. 21-22.

Educating donors

Flores said he has reached out to members of groups such as Catholic Citizens of Illinois, who are generally perceived as being on the conservative end of the spectrum, and asked them to refer agencies they think should receive funding. He then reached out to those groups and offered to help them develop the kind of programs that CCHD could help fund.

Leaders of the Catholic Citizens of Illinois have said they will not boycott the campaign this year, Flores said, as his office works with some of the organizations they have referred, including the Women’s Center and Aid for Women, to help them create projects that CCHD could fund.

The campaign has enjoyed a high level of support in the archdiocese where it was founded by Auxiliary Bishop Michael Dempsey in 1970. Last year, the campaign collected about $837,000 — down about $60,000 from the year before, with the collection coming while the economy appeared to be in free fall. This year, organizations in the archdiocese received about $530,000 in grants.