US Catholic Faith in Real Life

As the pro-life versus anti-poverty battle rages on, a bishop fires back

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint |

I can’t say I was terribly surprised to read the latest round of attacks claiming that a Catholic organization that serves the poor is involved in anti-Catholic activities. This time, the American Life League (ALL) is taking aim at Catholic Charities USA, the national network of agencies that work to serve the poor and marginalized throughout the country.

ALL has “exposed” Catholic Charities president Father Larry Snyder for his involvement as a judge for the America’s Promise Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People contest, which recognizes communities that help disadvantaged youth and decrease dropout rates. According to ALL, the contest in reality “celebrates birth control and homosexual activism,” and thus Snyder has no business being involved as a judge. This comes on the heels of LifeSiteNews having “uncovered” that Catholic Charities is part of the Coalition on Human Needs, which in addition to its anti-poverty work has also been involved with promoting family planning (the coalition also counted as one of its founding members the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).

If these attempts to prove guilt by association among Catholic groups that serve the poor sound like déjà vu, well, they are. Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ stellar international relief and development agency, has had to defend itself against similar attacks because of some of the partnerships it maintains in order to carry out its important life-saving work. And of course there was the long battle against the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which was recently the subject of a detailed report by Faith in Public Life, over grant money being given to organizations that were members of coalitions with other organizations that did not necessarily follow Catholic teaching.

You can’t help but find it more than a little coincidental that the groups being targeted—Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development—all share as their mission a commitment to serving the poor. And all of the targets also share in common the support, and in some cases the direct oversight, of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Which leads one to wonder, as Michael Sean Winters does today at the National Catholic Reporter, when will the bishops step in and say something about these attacks that harm their efforts to serve the poor?

Well, at least one bishop was willing to do so. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida wrote a blog post last week taking aim squarely at these “notoriously and consistently wrong entities who ‘thrive’ on attacking the church.” Lynch pulls no punches in saying what others have probably thought but hesitated to openly comment on (possibly for fear that they’d be the next subject of an “investigation” attempting to discredit them). Priests, he says, “don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem,” and too much time and energy is wasted responding to these attacks.

Lynch offers a pretty harsh criticism of his own on the groups that put so much effort into attacking the church’s anti-poverty organizations: “From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc., etc., etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect.”

Those are some pretty strong words, and likely to spark an even more heated argument. But Lynch is right in saying that the continual assaults on respected official church organizations by other Catholic groups are doing much more harm than good. Perhaps his words will inspire other bishops to come forward and speak out on this issue. That doesn’t mean that pro-life groups in the church should themselves be condemned, but they should at least be encouraged to give the benefit of the doubt to their Catholic brothers and sisters who have devoted their lives to the work of the gospel.