Left-Wing Radicalism in the Church: CCHD and ACORN
It must have been a sad day at the offices of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) in Washington, D.C., last year when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced that its temporary suspension of funding for the embattled radical group ACORN was being made permanent. Each November around Thanksgiving, every Roman Catholic parish takes up a collection for the non-profit campaign.
CCHD is the grant-making arm of USCCB, which acts on behalf of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, a group widely assumed to be conservative defenders of traditional morality. However, CCHD and ACORN share a left-wing ideology that puts a premium on aggressive community organizing.
It is an error to think of CCHD as an ordinary charity. In fact, it is an extreme left-wing political organization whose ties stretch back to the “father” of community organizing himself, Saul Alinsky, and to Barack Obama in his community-organizing days in Chicago.
And unbeknownst to most Catholics, almost no CCHD grants actually provide direct relief to the poor.
CCHD cut off ACORN after channeling $7.3 million of parishioners’ money to the group over the last decade. Bishops came under intense pressure from conservative Catholics outraged by reports of gross legal and ethical improprieties involving ACORN.
Since its creation in 1969, CCHD has given more than $280 million to fund what it calls over “7,800 low-income-led, community-based projects that strengthen families, create jobs, build affordable housing, fight crime, and improve schools and neighborhoods.”
CCHD says it educates Catholics “about the causes of poverty and seeks to build solidarity between impoverished and affluent persons.”
It aims to support “organized groups of white and minority poor to develop economic strength and political power.”
On Nov. 11, 2008, Bishop Roger Morin, chairman of the Bishops’ subcommittee on CCHD, announced that ACORN was permanently cut off as a grant recipient.
The five month-old suspension of funding was made permanent “because of serious concerns about financial accountability, organizational performance and political partisanship.”
The “major case of embezzlement eight years ago that was covered up by ACORN staff leadership” was the tipping point, and Bishop Morin noted that CCHD and the Bishops Conference had hired forensic accountants “to help determine if any CCHD money was taken or misused.”
It is unclear if that forensic audit has been completed. Ralph McCloud, director of CCHD, said the groups “that will benefit from this year’s collection have yet to be determined.” The decision will be made in June next year, he said. At press time, McCloud had not responded to a request for an update on the status of the audit.
CCHD insists it does not support organizations that engage in partisan politics. It became concerned that ACORN used its money in a way that might jeopardize CCHD’s tax-exempt status. Morin said that although CCHD had funded only local affiliates of ACORN, the national group’s conduct, including its involvement in alleged election fraud, “raised serious concerns about national ACORN’s financial accountability, transparency, governance and organizational integrity.”
Of course, public concerns about ACORN have only grown since Morin announced the funding cutoff.
The bishop tried to put out fires in an October 2 memo responding to a recent report from Bellarmine Veritas Ministries that identified several CCHD-funded groups that violated Catholic tenets after receiving CCHD money.
Morin said that the Washington, D.C.,-based Rebecca Project for Human Rights was de-funded by CCHD for its “support of abortion rights.” The Chinese Progressive Association and Young Workers United, both based in San Francisco, “produced voter guides that took positions on referenda opposed to Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage and, in one case, parental notification and abortion.”
Amazingly, Morin still defends the radicalism of the groups that CCHD funds. In the memo, he bragged that CCHD grants have helped to empower radical community-organizing groups to “work on job creation, crime prevention, housing, immigration, and other vital issues.”
Only abortion and related issues are deal-breakers for CCHD. Everything else is fair game.
In September, shocking videos emerged showing ACORN workers nationwide counseling a young man and woman who posed as a pimp and a prostitute in the finer points of evading taxes, defrauding the government and importing underage illegal alien girls from El Salvador to work as prostitutes. In July, congressional investigators released a report concluding that ACORN was a highly partisan organization involved in racketeering and serial violations of tax, campaign finance, and other laws.
Because CCHD and ACORN are cousins in a sense, their common bonds must have made it excruciating for CCHD to disown ACORN. Both groups were inspired by radical agitator Alinsky, the Marxist Machiavelli who dedicated his grassroots activism classic, Rules for Radicals, to Lucifer, whom he called “the first radical.”
Alinsky developed the concept of “community organizing” to mobilize poor neighborhoods to make demands, long and loud, on public officials and the private sector.
While CCHD poses as a mainstream Christian charity trying to help the poor, it uses left-wing euphemisms in its mission statement. It seeks to address “the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled, self-help organizations and through transformative education.”
“Root causes of poverty” is Marxist-speak meaning “capitalism is bad.”
Not surprisingly, rather than helping the poor, CCHD merely channels funds towards Alinsky-inspired poverty groups.
Funding the Radical Left and Community Organizers
Almost all of the grants CCHD has distributed over the years have gone to ACORN-like groups for political activities and community organizing — and many of those groups have been founded or are run by Catholic priests.
Here are some select recipients of CCHD grants:
*Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation, the mother of all community-organizing networks with dozens of affiliates nationwide (and affiliates in Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom), has received plenty of money over the years from CCHD. Alinsky referred to its training institute as a “school for professional radicals.” Ex-seminarian Edward T. Chambers has run it since Alinsky’s death in 1972.
*The Midwest Academy has been funded by CCHD. IAF trained Heather Booth, the founder of several activist-training academies, including the Midwest Academy, Citizen Action and USAction. Her husband is Paul Booth, a founder and former national secretary of the radical revolutionary group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He is now an aide to Gerald McEntee, president of the powerful public-sector union AFSCME. According to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, the Alinsky-inspired Midwest Academy teaches “radical activists tactics of direct action, targeting, confrontation, and intimidation.”
*People Improving Communities Through Organizing (PICO), was founded in 1972 by Father John Baumann, a Jesuit priest trained in Alinsky’s techniques. It claims to have 53 affiliates in 17 states. Also known as the PICO National Network, its stated mission is to “increase access to healthcare, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing, redevelop communities, and revitalize democracy.” PICO also says, “We need to insure that new Americans are welcomed and not exploited.”
*Direct Action and Research Training Institute (DART) was created in 1982. It boasts 20 locally affiliated organizations in six states and claims to have trained more than 10,000 community leaders and 150 professional community organizers. Academic David Walls wrote that it “practices strictly congregation-based community organization [and]… conducts five-day orientation trainings for community leaders and has a four-month training program for organizers.”
*Gamaliel Foundation, founded in 1968 in Chicago, says its mission is “to be a powerful network of grass-roots, interfaith, interracial, multi-issue organizations working together to create a more just and more democratic society.” Its executive director is Gregory Galluzzo, a former Jesuit priest. It is “refocusing its efforts on wider metropolitan areas and assessing how to impact national policy on immigration reform,” Walls writes. Gamaliel claims 60 affiliates in 21 states, as well as affiliates in the United Kingdom and South Africa. The group claims to represent more than one million people. Gamaliel brags on its website about its connection to President Obama. Obama worked for the Developing Communities Project, which was a spinoff of the Calumet Community Religious Conference, itself a creation of several Chicago area Catholic churches.
The Obama Connection
It has not been widely reported that CCHD has a longtime friend in the White House. According to The Catholic Case for Obama, published by a group called Catholic Democrats, Barack Obama “received support in his community-organizing work for Chicago from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through the Campaign for Human Development.” Candidate Obama himself acknowledged CCHD’s importance to his early career in community organizing in an interview with Catholic Digest: “I got my start as a community organizer working with mostly Catholic parishes on the Southside of Chicago that were struggling because the steel plants had closed. The Campaign for Human Development helped fund the project and so, very early on, my career was intertwined with the belief in social justice that is so strong in the Church.”
From 1985 to 1988 Obama ran the CCHD-funded Developing Communities Project (DCP) from an office located in Chicago’s Holy Rosary Church.
The Alinsky Connection
CCHD has long supported groups such as ACORN that engage in left-wing community organizing. In fact, it was created specifically to do so.
Former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, a prominent Catholic layman complained in the late 1980s that CCHD was a “funding mechanism for radical left-wing political activism in the United States, rather than for traditional types of charities.”
Catholic writer Paul Likoudis observes that CCHD could be considered “a political mechanism bonding the American Church to the welfare state.”
According to Likoudis CCHD was created in Alinsky’s twilight years specifically to serve as a permanent funding mechanism for his Industrial Areas Foundation.
CCHD’s connection with Alinsky was clarified in a March 2002 article in Social Policy, published by ACORN’s American Institute for Social Justice. While organizing in Chicago, Alinsky gained many Catholic allies. He began working in 1938 with local leaders to combat juvenile delinquency. Alinsky teamed up with Catholic activist Joseph Meegan, who ran a local recreation facility, to create the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council.
“Among friends, he could be openly contemptuous about not only Catholic rituals but religious rituals in general,” wrote Alinsky biographer Sanford Horwitt. But despite his atheism, Alinsky found common cause with religious leaders on political matters.
Alinsky concentrated his efforts on unions, while Meegan focused on churches and community groups. Meegan helped Alinsky ingratiate himself with the Chicago Archdiocese. His brother, Monsignor Peter Meegan, served as Bishop Bernard Sheil’s secretary.
Over time Alinsky’s organizing efforts in the Back of the Yards in the Southwest Side of Chicago, gained the support of Sheil, a liberal who founded the national Catholic Youth Organization. Alinsky also worked with Jack Egan, a student at Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, who later became a crusading left-wing priest.
Monsignor Egan became an important Alinsky ally and a member of the board of Alinsky’s IAF. Later he played a significant role in the creation of CCHD and the Catholic Committee on Urban Ministry (CCUM).
Churches are fertile ground for organizing angry and alienated people, a point not lost on CCHD and ACORN.
What Made the Bishops De-Fund ACORN?
The embezzlement that led Morin to announce Catholics would no longer be making Thanksgiving-time contributions to ACORN organizations took place around 2000. The basic facts of the crime are not in dispute.
Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, stole $948,000 from the ACORN network. When it was discovered, ACORN leaders refused to contact law enforcement officials.
Wade Rathke, who had covered up his brother’s action for eight years, called it a “misappropriation,” and his senior colleagues at ACORN allowed the Rathke family to quietly and privately pay restitution. Throughout the eight years of the cover-up, Rathke kept his brother on the payroll as his $38,000 a year “assistant” at ACORN headquarters.
Dale Rathke had previously served as a senior official at Citizens Consulting Inc. (CCI), the shadowy financial nerve center of ACORN. Former ACORN official Charles Turner said earlier this year that CCI, an affiliate of ACORN, “is where the shell game begins.”
Louisiana’s Democratic attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, seems to agree. He issued a subpoena October 2 for CCI’s books.
Former ACORN officials say these activities are controlled by the mysterious CCI which handles the financial affairs of hundreds of affiliates within the ACORN network. ACORN member dues, government money, and foundation grants, are all sucked into the CCI vortex often never to be seen again.
When the cover-up became public last year, Drummond Pike, the founder of the far-left Tides Foundation (2007 assets: $186 million), stepped forward and paid off the debt with his personal funds.
Bishop Morin’s subcommittee could hardly ignore the fact that ACORN is relentlessly, emphatically, exuberantly partisan. However, to protect the tax-exempt status of some of its affiliates, ACORN loudly claims to be community oriented and officially nonpartisan.
During last year’s Democratic Party primaries, the Obama campaign paid $833,000 to Citizens Services Inc., another ACORN affiliate, for get-out-the vote activities. Having ACORN do the political work evidently made sense to candidate Obama, who had once led a voter drive for Project Vote, an ACORN affiliate. Obama also represented ACORN in court and lectured at ACORN on organizing techniques.
Last year ACORN and Project Vote proudly announced they had registered 1.3 million new voters. Too bad most of the registrations were tossed out by election officials, lowering the true total closer to 450,000.
In October 2008, ACORN’s CEO and “chief organizer” Bertha Lewis, endorsed Barack Obama for President. She appeared in a YouTube video in front of a banner reading “Working Families Party: Fighting for Jobs and Justice.” (The Working Families Party, a minor New York state political party, is an ACORN affiliate. )
Surely other reported instances of ACORN malfeasance must have found their way into the bishops’ deliberations. ACORN is under investigation in at least a dozen states for electoral fraud, and is reportedly being probed by the FBI as calls for a congressional probe grow louder with each passing day. A group of disgruntled former ACORN members called the “ACORN 8” has asked U.S. attorneys across the nation to pursue civil and criminal litigation under the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
House Republican investigators released a report in July slamming ACORN. There is “a pattern of loose financial accounting and no firewalls” within the community-based group’s byzantine network of hundreds of affiliated groups, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.).
“It is impossible to hand over government money “to ACORN and its affiliates without knowingly delivering it to partisan operatives who in fact engage in campaigning,” Issa said.
What Took CCHD So Long?
ACORN misbehavior is well-documented, and it’s been going on for years. The group choreographs sit-ins to force banks to lend to high-risk borrowers. It buses schoolchildren to the Nation’s Capital to demonstrate against tax cuts. It sends mobs to shout down conservative speakers. It raises the dead and leads them to voting booths.
Parishioners at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria, Va., were informed in the church bulletin that in the 1990s the CCHD had given money “to organizations diametrically opposed to the Catholic Church, i.e. the pro-abortion group National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union.” CCHD reportedly stopped funding those abortion groups after a church revolt years ago.
Anita MonCrief, a Washington, D.C.-area Catholic and former ACORN employee who personally witnessed ACORN abuses from the inside, was delighted that CCHD finally came to its senses.
“I’ve been a Catholic all my life and I’ve been a little disturbed it took them so long to realize what was happening with ACORN,” MonCrief said. “ACORN and its shenanigans have been in the news since 2000 and they should have known.”