Archbishop defends anti-poverty program as bishops evaluate its future

2 mins read
ARCHBISHOP WENSKI
Archbishop Wenski is pictured in June 13, 2018, during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller, CNS file)

More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the anti-poverty program known as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). CCHD is guided by the understanding that “those who are directly affected by unjust systems and structures have the best insight into knowing how to change them.” CCHD works “to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families, and communities. CCHD offers a hand up, not a handout.”

CCHD faces some important challenges in the coming months and years. During and following the pandemic, collections were down throughout the church. Some dioceses have stopped offering the collection. And there have been escalating, often unfounded, attacks on the nature and character of CCHD. These challenges cannot undermine the fundamental work and mission of the program.

Success stories in Florida

As the Archbishop of Miami, and before that as the Bishop of Orlando, I have seen the work of CCHD from the frontlines primarily through local groups affiliated with the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART Center). The results of those efforts have been enormous.

More than 50,000 children and teens have been diverted from the criminal justice system in Florida through the expansion of civil citations. Nine years ago, 10 DART affiliates came together with the Florida Catholic Conference and others to press the state legislature to expand the use of civil citations so that young people would not be arrested and saddled with a criminal record for non-serious offenses. Then those DART affiliates pushed local law enforcement and state’s attorneys to use those civil citations rather than arrest. That work of pulling together local groups in Florida was funded in part with a grant from CCHD.

Last year, 30,000 low-income people received health care through one of seven neighborhood health centers in Polk County, Florida, because the DART affiliate in Polk County, PEACE, won a half-cent sales tax for indigent health care almost 20 years ago. And then that group followed up to make sure that those funds were used in the most efficient and effective way possible. So now 30,000 people a year are getting basic health care. CCHD provided critical funding to help PEACE get started and grow.

These are simply two among thousands of victories that have reshaped local communities to make them more just. CCHD-funded groups are making a significant difference in affordable housing, gun violence and many other problems plaguing our communities. Those victories dramatically multiply the grants that CCHD makes to local organizations making it one of the best investments of Catholic resources anywhere.

Teaching and living Catholic social values

Along with the issue victories, CCHD helps local parishes learn and act on key Catholic values such as solidarity, subsidiarity and the preferential option for the poor. The work of CCHD flows from the central tenets of Catholic teaching. It is not adjacent to that teaching. It is a deep and powerful expression of our core values.

CCHD has supported Catholic parishes to come together to live out Catholic social teaching, living out the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and human dignity.

In the Archdiocese of Miami, we have led several workshops for parishioners to understand our Catholic social teaching and have invited parishes to live out that call by being involved in justice ministry organizations such as PACT and BOLD Justice, affiliate organizations of The DART Center.

Training Catholic lay leaders

Here, dozens of parishes and hundreds of lay people are “doing justice” in Miami because of efforts led by CCHD-funded groups. Working with PACT in Miami and BOLD Justice in Broward, we are training Catholic lay leaders in the principles of Catholic social teaching and engaging more and more parishes in this important work.

The U.S. Conference of Bishops will gather in Louisville on June 12-14. I will encourage my fellow bishops to find new ways to strengthen CCHD and not allow these challenges to diminish or change the fundamental character of the program.

We must support the hundreds of parishes and thousands of lay people doing justice through CCHD-funded projects. Please pray for us that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit may guide our decision-making.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski serves the Archdiocese of Miami.