ACORN and the Catholic Church: A Legacy of Big Hearts and Small Brains

Jesus told the first generation of bishops, the apostles, to be as wise as serpents and simple as doves. Up until very recently, this generation of bishops got it backwards when it came to ACORN.

There’s obviously been a lot of media attention this week on ACORN’s well-deserved meltdown. One aspect of this sad tale that should not be forgotten is the shameful way the Catholic Church has been played the fool over the years by ACORN.

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First, some stipulations. I am a very faithful Roman Catholic who regularly attends Mass at my parish in Alexandria, VA with my family. I even go to Mass during the week in downtown Washington, DC. Just for fun, I pray the older breviary in Latin, and am taking an ecclesiastical Latin class on Saturday afternoons. Suffice it to say, I love the Church and only want to prevent her further embarassment.

Many in the Church have big hearts and small brains. The Catholic Church is the largest and oldest social welfare organization in the word. We practically or actually invented hospitals, soup kitchens, schools, shelters, etc. As such, the “social teaching” of the Church has always been a very high priority, and the execution of the corporal works of mercy is a necessity to salvation. The people working on this day-to-day, though, are often naive fools.

And they were suckered by ACORN.

For about fifty years, Catholics attending Mass the Sunday after Thanksgiving have been met with a second offertory collection for the “Catholic Campaign for Human Development” (CCHD). This is an arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), essentially a trade association for the 200 or so diocesan bishops in the U.S.

This collection is divided so that 25% of funds go to the local, diocesan CCHD offfice, and the other 75% are kicked upstairs to the head CCHD office at the USCCB. So, the local bishop has a profit-sharing incentive to push the collection. Parish pastors, even if they’re uncomfortable with where CCHD monies ultimately end up, don’t feel as if they can ruffle feathers with their boss to whom they have pledged a lifetime of obedience, the bishop. At my parish, and I would guess most other orthodox parishes, it’s offered without comment by the pastor (which savvy people can interpret as they see fit).

CCHD sent millions to ACORN over the past decade. We all know what ACORN did. Increasingly, it appeared that the Catholic Church was using the faithful’s monies to fund a group which steals elections for pro-abortion candidates for office. Many, including myself, were livid. And we let our bishops and others know it.It got so bad, the bishops felt under pressure from Catholic bloggers and influential Catholic media types and policymakers and took action (side note: it’s unlikely that anything would have happened a decade or more ago, before the rise of the Catholic blogosphere, as Notre Dame recently found out).

The bishops finally announced that CHD would no longer be funding ACORN around this time last year. Of course, that was only after $7.3 million had been appropriated to ACORN over the past decade by the CCHD. Ralph McCloud, the executive director of CCHD, even admitted that some of this money was “probably” used by ACORN to conduct voter registration drives.

Today, the CCHD continues to state that ACORN receives no money, and that better safeguards are in place. However, one must ask the following questions:

  1. Why did anyone think it was a good idea to fund ACORN in the first place?
  2. Did those decision makers get fired, or are they still appropriating our money?
  3. Why would anyone be stupid enough to give to this collection ever again?
  4. Why haven’t the bishops disbanded CCHD, or at least made the collection optional for parishes?

Speaking for myself, I never gave to this (or any other) second collection, because I don’t trust that my money won’t be stolen from the big-hearted goops that work in Catholic charitable endeavors. There are lots of ACORNs out there, prowling about seeking the ruin of souls (at least the souls of the charity check-writers). Put simply, Catholic charitable endeavors cannot be trusted with my money. Neither can chanceries, since bishops obviously let their local CCHDs get out of hand.

Here is what I did, and what I would recommend to anyone. At my parish, 7 percent of the general collection every week is kicked upstairs to the diocese as a kind of tax or tribute. Because dollars are fungible, I don’t want that to happen with my money. So, I give only to capital campaign collections at my parish, which all stays there. My pastor is happy to receive my contribution any way in which I feel comfortable, and I’ve fulfilled my canon law obligation to support my parish financially (221.1).

I suggest anyone concerned about the next dumb Catholic/smart ACORN strategy do the same. Hopefully, the Catholic Church hierarchy has learned, once again, that prudence is a cardinal virtue that informs the theological virtue of charity.

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