Several priests and parishes in Northern Virginia’s Arlington Diocese balked Sunday at taking up a collection for the much-criticized Catholic Campaign for Human Development, whose contributions to the voter-registration group ACORN got a dose of bad publicity this fall.
“I personally haven’t given a dime to the Campaign for Human Development in years,” the Rev. John DeCelles told parishioners during his Sunday homily at St. Mary’s Church in Alexandria.
“Over the years, including last year,” he continued, “the campaign has given millions of dollars to very questionable groups, including groups that actively support and campaign for so-called ‘abortion rights.’”
Mary Beth Beasley, a law student who was at the 1 p.m. Mass where Father DeCelles spoke, said her thought was, “Wow, it was great he was being so honest about what the CCHD does, because you don’t hear that.”
“And then when the basket went around, I didn’t see any cash collected at all,” she added.
The Rev. Dennis W. Kleinmann, the pastor at St. Mary’s, also was unenthusiastic in encouraging donations to the CCHD at his Masses. According to two parishioners, he cited the recent controversies over the campaign’s grants to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) as one reason to be “cautious.”
The CCHD, whose $9.4 million budget depends on annual November collections from Catholic parishes, recently revealed it had donated more than $7.3 million to ACORN over the past decade. The community-organizing group has been accused of voter fraud in 15 states.
Although the CCHD cut off all funding to ACORN, the dioceses of South Carolina and Alabama recently suspended their CCHD collections pending the findings of a church audit into more than $1 million in church funding that went to ACORN in 2007.
Despite a Nov. 22 letter from Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde instructing Catholics in the 400,000-member diocese to give, an undetermined number of priests told their parishioners to hold back.
The CCHD customarily benefits from “second collections” taken up at November Masses throughout the church in the U.S.
Every Sunday, Mass has a collection before Communion, which goes to the parish. But at a large share of Masses throughout the year, a “second collection” is taken up after Communion for specific causes — sometimes to benefit church-related groups such as the CCHD or the St. Vincent de Paul Society and sometimes to benefit specific causes such as natural-disaster relief.
It is very rare for a priest to discourage giving for any collection, and particularly atypical to do so when the cause has been endorsed by his bishop.
Parishioners at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria were told in their bulletin that in the 1990s the CCHD “contributed to organizations diametrically opposed to the Catholic Church, i.e. the pro-abortion group National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union.”
“There are so many tremendous Catholic apostolates that work with the poor that are in need,” said the note, penned by the Rev. Thomas Vander Woude. “One wonders if one’s donations could be better spent elsewhere until the CCHD has proven its ability to fund truly Catholic apostolates that truly work with and help the poor?”
Ralph McCloud, executive director of the CCHD, said collection money does go toward Catholic projects and that 25 percent stays within the diocese. According to the diocese, $66,000 stayed within the diocese in 2007, and $198,000 was sent to the CCHD.
“We’ve heard of isolated instances where individuals have a misunderstanding of [CCHD’s] mission,” Mr. McCloud said. “But I had not heard of priests telling people not to give.”
Several other parishes — according to parishioners contacted — either skipped second collections at several Masses, did not have second collections at any of the weekend’s Masses, or simply placed collection baskets at the back of the church.
Arlington diocesan spokeswoman Joelle Santolla said parishes skipping the CCHD collection would be “followed up” for future collections.
Mike Carney, a parishioner at St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, said the Rev. Bjorn Lundberg, its parochial vicar, discouraged his flock from donating to the CCHD.
“He pointed out the money doesn’t go directly to the poor, but goes through other organizations,” Mr. Carney said, “and that there are other ways to give charitably to the poor, such as Catholic Charities. Or they could give to the cathedral choir.”
In the neighboring Washington Archdiocese, a priest at St. Mary’s Church in Chinatown urged listeners at the 9 a.m. service to donate instead toward the restoration of a side altar inside the church, according to parishioner Ken Wolfe.
Mr. Wolfe said an usher told him afterward only $10 had been collected.
In the past month, tiny movements to boycott the CCHD collection have sprung up across the country. Many of them have been fueled by a widely circulated Nov. 7 blog by the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, that said the collection, “misbegotten in concept and corrupt in practice, should, at long last, be terminated.”
Ten years ago, he added, it “was exposed as using the Catholic Church as a milk cow to fund organizations that frequently were actively working against the Church’s mission, especially in their support of pro-abortion activities and politicians.”