Alinskyite from the Start

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development can’t break clean from its dubious past.

Describing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) as “misbegotten in concept and corrupt in practice,” Father Richard John Neuhaus, the late editor of First Things, wrote in 2008 that “the CCHD has nothing to do with Catholicism, except that Catholics are asked to pay for it.” One can only imagine what Father Neuhaus might have said about the current allegations of funding impropriety and duplicity by personnel employed at the highest levels of the CCHD itself.

2008 brought reports that the CCHD had provided more than $7.3 million in parishioner donations to the corrupt community organization ACORN, and this year brought new problems. The most recent CCHD controversy involves John Carr, the executive director of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development— the office that oversees the CCHD. While working at the USCCB, Mr. Carr concurrently chaired the board of the Center for Community Change (CCC), an organization that has received $150,000 from the CCHD despite supporting abortion.

Carr ended his affiliation with the CCC in 2005, but for more than two decades worked for the organization. Carr has received a defense from Bishop Roger Morin, chairman of the USCCB’s CCHD subcommittee. In an interview published by the Catholic News Service, Bishop Morin said, “Personally I think the claims are totally ridiculous.”

Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, went even further to criticize those who even questioned Carr’s past involvement in CCC, saying to the Catholic News Service that “I am concerned about these attacks on John Carr and I know they are false and I think they are even calumnious.”

Both bishops defended Carr’s personal pro-life convictions (which his critics haven’t questioned) and lashed out at CCHD’s critics. “I am taking this to be a very sad, sad commentary on the honesty of some people in these pressure groups,” said Bishop Murphy.

The story is not over yet. It is still not clear, for example, why Carr has not listed his affiliation with the CCC on his online bio for the USCCB, though his published bio on the website of the Pew Foundation (www.pewforum. org/events/0605/carrbio.htm) states very clearly that “John Carr serves as chair of the board of the Center for Community Change, on the board of Bread for the World, the National Religious Partnership for Environment, and the Catholic Health Association.”

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, who is an outspoken critic of the USCCB’s support for the CCHD, has said that Bishop Roger Morin isn’t taking concerns about the group seriously enough. In an interview with the website LifeSite News, Bruskewitz described Morin as “a little bit too dismissive.”

The USCCB also faces an issue beyond Carr and CCHD. Deal Hudson has reported on the website Inside Catholic that the USCCB holds a membership in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), a coalition of 200 national “civil and human rights” organizations that coordinate national lobbying efforts for its members. LCCR actively promotes “marriage equality”— including support for same-sex marriage—and abortion. At least one bishop, Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, is reportedly “cautiously concerned” about the USCCB’s membership in the LCCR. Bishop Vasa was quoted by LifeSite News as saying that “support of this organization and endorsement of its principles and purposes would appear to be problematic.”


Bishop Bruskewitz does not participate in the annual collection for the CCHD. To understand why, it is helpful to look at what Father Neuhaus described as the “misbegotten” origins of the campaign.

The CCHD emerged in response to the urban unrest and race riots of the 1960s, when Cardinal John Dearden of the Archdiocese of Detroit began to address social problems in the Detroit community and the rest of the country. As president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dearden encouraged his brother bishops to recognize and respond to the need for “working for the common goal of a just society.” By November of 1969, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Resolution on the Crusade Against Poverty, which led directly to the creation of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

This concern for providing assistance to poor urban dwellers was ostensibly in keeping with Catholic social teaching. But direct assistance to the poor became secondary to a commitment to political leftism when the CCHD made a deliberate decision to implement Saul Alinsky’s anti-capitalist model of community organizing.

Michael Dempsey, an Alinsky-inspired Chicago auxiliary bishop, was tapped to become the first national CCHD director. His focus was not on providing direct service to the poor but organizing the poor politically. The founding resolution for the CCHD read:

There is an evident need for funds designated to be used for organizing groups of white and minority poor to develop economic and political power in their own communities…. Therefore, be it resolved that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops establish a National Crusade Against Poverty.

In Empowerment and Hope: 25 Years of Turning Lives Around, a publication of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dempsey is described as a pastor in a poverty-plagued Chicago neighborhood who “canvassed the area door-to-door” to begin to organize parishioners. At the first press conference for the launch of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in October 1970, Dempsey announced that the campaign would draw from the grassroots model of “empowering the people.” Dempsey would then utilize the organizing power of the local Church to help put pressure on politicians to find resources “for the people.”

Pointing to the strategy of “empowerment of the poor through a methodology of participation and education for justice,” the published mission of the CCHD in these early days was “to address the root causes of poverty in America through the promotion and support of community-controlled selfhelp organizations and through transformative education.”


To understand the origins of the CCHD, one also has to understand the Catholic origins of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. From his earliest days of community organizing in the 1930s, Saul Alinsky drew from the organizing power of Chicago’s Catholic churches. According to Alinsky biographer Sanford Horwitt, Alinsky became friends with the priests who were assigned to Chicago’s “Back of the Yards” churches.

Located in the area of the old stockyards, these were the poorest parishes in the city—and Alinsky was determined to organize the workers there. The young priests welcomed Alinsky’s help, as many of them saw links between their theological tradition and Alinsky’s organizing goals. Horwitt points out that Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum provided the guiding force in organizing stockyard workers because it gave a Catholic rationale for the worker’s right to organize to secure a wage in order “to maintain himself, his wife, and children in reasonable comfort.”

Labor unions were welcomed by Chicago’s Polish Catholic community, but Alinsky’s goals went well beyond providing a living wage for the community’s workers. To accomplish his goals for radical societal change, Alinsky created a close friendship with Chicago’s auxiliary bishop, Bernard J. Sheil. The founder of the Catholic Youth Organization, Sheil was a beloved figure in Chicago’s working-class neighborhoods and had won a following among politically liberal Chicago Catholics for his outspoken, courageous support of the labor movement and the New Deal.

Bishop Sheil became the honorary chairman of a new neighborhood council that Alinsky organized. According to Horwitt, Bishop Sheil introduced Alinsky to Marshall Field III in 1939, the socialite grandson of the founder of the Field retailing fortune. By the time Alinsky met him, Field had suffered a personal crisis, his second marriage had ended, and he was drinking heavily. But with a third marriage and psychotherapy, Field, Horwitt writes, emerged as “a man with a purpose, a sense of social responsibility—a reformer’s zeal for left-wing causes.”

Field suggested the creation of an Alinsky-led foundation that would offer tax deductions for wealthy contributors— and seeded the newly formed Industrial Areas Foundation with $15,000 of his own money. Bishop Sheil joined the board of the IAF and continued his work on behalf of Alinsky. During World War II, Sheil even wrote a letter to Alinsky’s local draft board claiming that Alinsky was more important to the welfare of the country as executive director of the IAF than he would be in the armed forces.

Having written that “the outstanding service to the defense program which Mr. Alinsky is rendering in his present occupation far transcends any contribution that he could make in the armed forces,” Bishop Sheil remained Alinsky’s primary protector and promoter for decades. Introduced to wealthy left-wing philanthropists to support his organizing, Chicago’s Daily News reported that “the sociologist [Alinsky] has enlisted Catholic churchmen and the CIO leaders to form the main pillars of the neighborhood organizing council.”

In 1954, Alinsky returned Bishop Sheil’s favors by facilitating the bishop’s attack on Senator Joseph McCarthy and those who were “over-emphasizing the Communist danger.” Cardinal Spellman, who had appeared with Senator McCarthy at a communion breakfast, was one of those supporters. Alinsky chose a conference of the United Auto Workers, a large gathering of 2,500 delegates at Chicago’s Civic Opera House, for Bishop Sheil to deliver a hard-hitting condemnation of McCarthy and his followers.

Alinsky later published a laudatory article in The Progressive entitled “The Bishop and the Senator,” which reported that Sheil’s speech was welcomed “enthusiastically” by the autoworkers. Reminding readers of Bishop Sheil’s “long record of fighting demagogues such as the fascist radio priest, Father Coughlin, of embracing John L. Lewis and the cause of the CIO during their most radical phase, and of fighting anti- Semitism within the Church,” Alinsky was identified by the magazine’s editors as a “sociologist-author, and intimate associate of Bishop Sheil.”

Throughout the 1960s, Alinsky continued to expand his reach throughout the country with the help of Catholic parishes. In 1965, the first strike of the United Farmworkers was led by Alinsky-trained organizer and Roman Catholic Cesar Chavez. Chavez had worked for 10 years for Alinsky beginning in 1952.

In the 1970s, in the aftermath of serious race riots in Rochester, New York, Alinsky began his “Proxies for People” program through the city’s Catholic churches. Convincing the members of leading churches in the city who held Kodak stock to turn their proxies over to his organizing group, Alinsky used the Church once again. This time the Church helped to pressure Eastman-Kodak to hire more African American workers. In his memoirs, Alinsky recalls that his newly organized stockholders went to annual meetings “wielding proxy power to change corporate policy and practice.”


Alinsky once wrote, “All great leaders invoke moral principles to cover naked self-interest in the clothing of freedom, equality, a law higher than man-made law…. All effective actions require the passport of morality.” Alinsky died in 1972, but his CCHDfunded IAF continues to invoke these same moral principles in today’s Catholic parishes.

Some CCHD-funded organizations have so broadly defined equal rights and social justice as to include providing full “reproductive rights” to women and access to marriage for same-sex couples. Although ACORN no longer receives CCHD funding, the Pacific Institute for Community Organizations (PICO) still does. Founded in 1972 under the leadership of Father John Baumann, a Jesuit who learned community organizing in Chicago, PICO became heavily invested in promoting President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul plans in 2009.

It organized CCHD-funded “Faith and Health Care Sundays” throughout the country. When the San Diego Organizing Project, a PICO affiliate, held an “Action on Health Care” at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Father Bob Fambrini, SJ accused health care reform opponents of misleading the faithful on health care in the same way they had “lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

To allay fears about health care reform, PICO teamed up with the liberal Christian group Sojourners and the George Soros-funded Catholics in Alliance for the Public Good to provide congregations with a “Health Care Tool Kit.” Distributed to Catholic parishes, the tool kit does not deny that the proposed health care reform would fund elective abortion with public money, stating neutrally: “How Congress applies current policy on federal funding for abortion to new systems created through health reform will be an important issue for the faith community.” It also reassured readers that conscience protections would remain in place, even though no such assurance was offered in any of the versions of the reform.

In the midst of the health care reform debate, the CCHD-funded Orange County Congregation Community Organization, a PICO affiliate, gathered more than 300 community members at St. Callistus Catholic Church in Garden Grove, California for a “Prayer Vigil for Health Care.” The main speaker at the vigil, Representative Loretta Sanchez, a pro-abortion Democrat, was joined at the head table by Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Luong. In 1996, leading prolife Congressman Bob Dornan was targeted by CCHD-funded California organizing groups to mobilize votes to help elect the pro-abortion Loretta Sanchez.

Currently, personnel formerly employed by the CCHD are playing a role in enlisting Catholic support for President Obama’s policies. Alexia Kelley, appointed to head the president’s Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, draws upon a decade of work at CCHD during its ACORNfunding days with her most recent job as co-founder and director of the George Soros-funded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Meanwhile, many faithful Catholics continue to question why the USCCB still supports CCHD, given its long history of sponsoring dubious groups and its inability to break clean from this past, which its ongoing controversies illustrate.


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About Anne Hendershott 105 Articles
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH