US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The bar gets higher: Catholic diocese withdraws funds from shelter because of director's views

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint |

Social service agencies may want to add a line to their application forms if they receive funding from a Catholic source: The Diocese of Sacramento will no longer fund Francis House, a shelter that provides services for up to 25,000 people in need of food, shelter, and social services because its new executive director, the Rev. Faith Whitmore, has publicly expressed support for same-sex marriage and abortion rights in other contexts.

Note that Francis House does not offer same-sex weddings or provide abortions. The problem is simply that Whitmore, a Methodist minister working for a non-Roman Catholic social services agency, has publicly expressed opinions not in line with Catholic teaching. Got that?

According to the Sacramento Bee: "I have never represented any of those positions on behalf of Francis House," said Whitmore. "I was speaking as an individual. So for me, this came out of the blue." The diocesan director of social services, however, said that Whitmore's views made it "impossible for the diocese to continue funding Francis House" through the annual Catholic Appeal, through which it had offered about $7,500 to $10,000 a year.

The diocese can, of course, decide which agencies to fund, but to me this stinks of Reform CCHD Now's guilt-by-association tactics, which are more concerned with some narrrow understanding of ideological purity than with service to the poor.

It is also a further blow to any kind of joint ecumenical partnerships, encouraged by no less than Gaudium et spes. With so many mainline and even evangelical Christians holding different opinions on disputed moral questions, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, how could any Catholic organization possibly partner in joint projects of Christian service?  Will every member of the staff of every social service partner have to agree with Humanae vitae's position on birth control now to get a check from a diocese? Sacramento may have to fire half the staff of its own Catholic Charities.

The Diocese of Sacramento's decision is a poor one, pure and simple, reflecting the stingiest, most narrow approach to Catholic engagement with the wider world: It makes the church look petty, and it is a choice that places ideology over service to those most in need.