Catholic battle at Social Ministry Gathering?

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In recent debates about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), John Carr is trying to take the high road, telling participants in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering that it is essential to maintain a civil discourse with various groups. 

Carr, executive director of the USCCB's Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, responded to personal attacks (see news story) from a group aiming to reform CCHD at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. this morning. (I missed the speech, thanks to a winter blizzard and two canceled flights, but I talked to him this evening.)

Some have attacked Carr personally, particularly RealCatholicTV and American Life League, while others have said that they aren't pointing to him in particular. Carr said that they are right that it's not about him. "This is about the priority for the poor and whether we're going to act," he said.

"I would distinguish between those who have concern for the poor and wonder whether we're doing it the right way and those who simply disagree with the priority and the methods of CCHD," Carr said. "And then there are some who frankly have been attacking the bishops, the Conference, CCHD, and now me, and they've never found anything good to say about the church and its work."

"For people who know me, the idea that I'm a secret agent for the pro-choice movement just doesn't fit," Carr said. Many, in fact, have come to Carr's defense, including Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. Throughout his career leading the social justice initiatives of the bishops' conference, he's tried to bring the pro-life and justice camps together. He's attended the March for Life as long as he could remember, he said. The bishops' pro-life office has had a notable presence at each Social Ministry Gathering that I have attended.

"The polarization in public life is now coming over to Catholic life," Carr said. But while he would rather we "give each other the benefit ofthe doubt," what might be most telling about this story is how one audience member this morning responded.

"Unfortunately these days, if you're friends with everyone, somebody will condemn you," Louise Johnson of Modesto, California told me this evening. "It's not all that unusual" to hear such attacks within parishes and dioceses, she continued. "Social justice ministers run into this frequently because there's a lot of one-issue people who don't see the whole picture." 

Carr explained that bottom-up organizing can get complicated and mistakes can be made, but he ultimately wants people to assume the best in each other and see the good that can come from social justice work. "My wish is that people would see what actually happens to people's lives and communities as a result of this work," he said.