The Nation's Pulse

ACORN’s Catholic Guardian

By From the February 2010 issue

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Every Thanksgiving, American Catholics donate to an organization called the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. A lot of money is at stake in that collection -- some $7 million annually -- and so it only made sense when CCHD announced in November 2008 it would stop giving money to the controversial community organizer group ACORN.

The most recent election cycle had brought serious charges of election fraud by ACORN. The organization was also roiled by the revelation that the brother of ACORN's founder had embezzled nearly $1 million, and the malfeasance had been covered up for years. So there was a real likelihood that some of the $7.3 million that CCHD had given to ACORN over the last decade had been badly misspent. Bishop
Roger Morin of Biloxi, Mississippi, announced that ACORN would no longer receive grants "because of serious concerns about financial accountability, organizational performance and political partisanship."

But CCHD has deeper problems, and they go back all the way to its inception.

Created in 1969 -- a year before ACORN launched in 1970 -- CCHD is not a charity the way people ordinarily use the term. It doesn't help the poor. It seems to take Jesus's admonition in the Book of Matthew, "The poor you will always have with you," as a command to ignore the poor.

Most Catholics are unaware that CCHD was created to feed and foster radical groups like ACORN even though CCHD isn't exactly keeping its goals secret. Its website declares CCHD's purpose is to support "organized groups of white and minority poor to develop economic strength and political power."

CCHD claims to have given more than $290 million not to help the poor, though some observers say the grand total not given to help the poor is closer to $450 million. Its website brags that the money went to fund more than 8,000 "low-income-led, community-based projects that strengthen families, create jobs, build affordable housing, fight crime, and improve schools and neighborhoods."

CCHD and ACORN grew from the same radical left-wing roots.

Both groups were inspired by radical agitator Saul Alinsky, the Marxist Machiavelli who dedicated Rules for Radicals to Lucifer, whom he called "the first radical." Alinsky developed the concept of "community organizing" in order to mobilize poor neighborhoods to make demands, long and loud, on public officials and the private sector.

So it must have been excruciating for CCHD to excommunicate ACORN, its own flesh and blood in the class struggle. It must have been especially painful for Morin, an old social justice stalwart who had been an auxiliary bishop in ACORN's hometown of New Orleans. Morin was at one time a member of the two relevant committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (on "Domestic Justice and Human Development" and "National Collections") and chairman of the subcommittee that oversaw CCHD and, at a distance, ACORN.

But it had to be done. If lay Catholics decided that the CCHD collection was going for bad purposes, they might reduce payments or boycott it outright. In fact, pastors of some of the more conservative congregations -- including St. Mary's in Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown -- held the collection but only after informing their parishioners of the controversy and suggesting alternate causes they might support instead.

In full damage control mode, Morin said at the time that CCHD and the Bishops' Conference had hired forensic accountants "to help determine if any CCHD money was taken or misused." We don't know if that audit was ever completed and we certainly don't have the results, because of dithering by CCHD.

CCHD director Ralph McCloud has admitted some of the funds that CCHD "contributed to ACORN in the past undoubtedly were used for voter registration drives." Even worse, most, perhaps all, of the voter drives ACORN conducted were "in support of politicians who support abortion-on-demand and other policies that most Catholics oppose," notes conservative Catholic activist Richard Viguerie.

McCloud has not responded to repeated requests, over several months, for an update on the audit. Other CCHD hands have said that it took place -- really! -- but offered a huge number of implausible excuses for why the public, and faithful Catholics, can't have those results just yet. Likely, the organization wanted to hold out through a second Thanksgiving collection and release the results in, say, the middle of 2010, when the scandal had blown over.

Regardless, there are good reasons to strongly suspect the money was misused. The ACORN empire is intentionally structured to be confusing -- with both tax-exempt charitable tentacles and non-tax-exempt electioneering ones. The various affiliates regularly transfer millions of dollars around the network with no real controls. There is no guarantee that if you give to the ACORN Institute, for example, that your money won't wind up in the hands of ACORN affiliate Project Vote, which tries to manufacture hundreds of thousands of fraudulent voters in every election cycle.

Last summer the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a report arguing ACORN should forfeit its tax-exempt status because it illegally spends taxpayer dollars on partisan activities, commits "systemic fraud," and violates racketeering and election laws. Republican investigators found that by "intentionally blurring the legal distinctions between 361 tax-exempt and non-exempt entities, ACORN diverts taxpayer and tax-exempt monies into partisan political activities."

It described ACORN as a shell game "played in 120 cities, 43 states and the District of Columbia through a complex structure designed to conceal illegal activities, to use taxpayer and tax-exempt dollars for partisan political purposes, and to distract investigators."

CCHD somehow failed to notice until 2008 that ACORN had been in the election fraud business for decades.

As Helene Slessarev, professor of urban ministries at the Claremont School of Theology has written, marginalized, angry, alienated people susceptible to social justice indoctrination aren't exactly hard to find in the nation's pews. Once identified, they can be recruited.

Alinsky the calculating atheist understood this. In his Chicago organizing days, he was always eager to forge alliances with religious leaders -- including Catholic priests.

The point has not been lost on CCHD (and ACORN) that churches hold vast untapped reservoirs of disgruntled people. Nor has it been lost on ACORN's Catholic-friendly brethren in the world of left-wing community organizing.

The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), Gamaliel Foundation, and Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) are all major organizing networks. All receive money from CCHD and many of those groups were founded or are run by Catholic priests.

Founded by Saul Alinsky himself, IAF is the mother of all community organizing networks with dozens of affiliates nationwide and abroad. Alinsky referred to IAF's training institute as a "school for professional radicals." Its model for organizing church congregations into powerful advocacy groups is widely imitated. Ex-seminarian Edward T. Chambers has run it since Alinsky's death in 1972.

Another school for professional radicals, the Midwest Academy, has taken CCHD funding. IAF trained its founder, Heather Booth, who also founded several activist training academies, including Midwest Academy, Citizen Action, and USAction. Her husband is Paul Booth, a senior official in the public sector union AFSCME who co-founded the radical revolutionary group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

PICO was founded in 1972 by Father John Baumann, a Jesuit priest trained in Alinsky's techniques. PICO's stated mission is to "increase access to health care, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing, redevelop communities, and revitalize democracy."

Founded in Chicago in 1968, the Gamaliel Foundation aspires "to be a powerful network of grassroots, 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. Gamaliel claims 60 affiliates in 21 states, as well as affiliates in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Created in 1982, DART espouses "congregation-based community organizing." 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.

St. Petersburg, Florida-based Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST), an affiliate of DART, is a typical CCHD grant recipient. It's a coalition of 30 dues-paying member parishes and other congregations focused on affordable housing, education, and transportation.

FAST received $50,000 from CCHD in 2009 "in order to address the root causes of poverty and injustice in Pinellas County," apparently a hotbed of capitalist oppression in south Florida. Congregations in FAST "take action to see that systems in the community are held accountable to principles of justice and fairness," according to CCHD.

Another group, Oakland, California-based Congregations Organizing for Renewal (COR), snagged $40,000 in CCHD cash to advance its mission. A member of the PICO network, this coalition of 13 churches focusing in part on affordable housing seeks corporate friends with benefits. It shakes down corporations by demanding "community benefits agreements."

All of this lucrative social justice-seeking is fine by America's highest-ranking Democrat. He received on-the-job experience because of CCHD.

President Obama's association with CCHD began years before he ran a voter drive for ACORN's Project Vote that helped get then-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) elected. From 1985 to 1988 he ran the Developing Communities Project from an office located in Chicago's Holy Rosary Church.

"I got my start as a community organizer working with mostly Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago that were struggling because the steel plants had closed," Obama told Catholic Digest. CCHD "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."

Obama has said he "tried to apply the precepts of compassion and care for the vulnerable that are so central to Catholic teachings to my work [such as in] making health care a right for all Americans."

There's a reason CCHD is mocked as the "Catholic Campaign to Help Democrats."

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About the Author

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist at a conservative watchdog group in Washington, D.C. Vadum is also author of Subversion Inc: How Obama's ACORN Red Shirts are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers.