With Catholic anti-poverty program under attack, bishops and activists mount defense

A person familiar with the executive session’s deliberations told Religion News Service that ‘there was very strong support expressed for CCHD in the session. How it is worked out remains to be seen, but the program and collection will continue.’

Pax Christi USA organized a prayerful demonstration outside the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Louisville, Ky., June 12, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pax Christi USA)

(RNS) — For more than 50 years, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has provided grants across the U.S. focused on empowerment and systemic change for low-income communities. 

With the program under fire from conservative Catholic critics, some Catholic bishops and activists have rallied to the program’s defense. 

St. Louis Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski told Religion News Service in an email that, in his archdiocese, CCHD has a “long history of helping fund local and national programs that address the root causes of poverty” and “is fittingly administered by our Peace and Justice Commission.”


“This is what Catholic Social Teaching calls us to do – to work together for equal and just treatment of all our brothers and sisters, with special care for those who are impoverished,” Rozanski wrote.

The future of the program, which is funded by a national collection, was up for debate during the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops taking place in Louisville, Kentucky, from Wednesday through Friday (June 12-14).

Bishops discussed CCHD in executive session, which was closed to the public and the press.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops attend their spring plenary meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. (Video screen grab)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops attend their spring plenary meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. (Video screen grab)

A person familiar with the executive session’s deliberations told RNS that “there was very strong support expressed for CCHD in the session. How it is worked out remains to be seen, but the program and collection will continue.”

In an op-ed published Wednesday by Our Sunday Visitor, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski lauded CCHD’s work in his archdiocese. He said CCHD had helped fund efforts to provide health care for tens of thousands of low-income people and to keep children and teens out of the criminal justice system. 


“I will encourage my fellow bishops to find new ways to strengthen CCHD and not allow these challenges to diminish or change the fundamental character of the program,” Wenski wrote.



USCCB’s president, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, told reporters that a subcommittee that oversees CCHD would take the feedback from bishops and “discern the best way to incorporate it into the future work of the CCHD.”

“In all these discussions, the bishops’ ongoing commitment to the vital work of fighting poverty was clear,” Broglio said.

USCCB President Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio addresses the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spring meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. (Video screen grab)

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops President Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio addresses the USCCB spring meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. (Video screen grab)

Broglio also told reporters that CCHD’s collection will be reassigned to a conference office that handles other national collections. CCHD currently has its own office and staff.

The CCHD has long been the target of a conservative campaign, which has asked bishops to shut the program down for allegedly working with groups advocating for positions contrary to Catholic teaching.


Since 2015, Michael Hichborn, founder and president of the Lepanto Institute — a nonprofit “dedicated to the defense of the Catholic Church against assaults from without as well as from within” — has produced reports on CCHD through the institute “exposing dozens of grantees that are promoting abortion, birth control, homosexuality and Marxism.”

Lepanto has seen its yearly revenue significantly rise in recent years, from $99,361 in 2017 to $327,244 in fiscal year 2022, according to publicly available tax documents. 

Hichborn was the first signatory of a May 31 open letter “asking the bishops to close down the CCHD once and for all.” Other signatories included John Yep, CEO of Catholic for Catholics, which hosted a March prayer event for former President Donald Trump; Eric Sammons, editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine; and John-Henry Westen, co-founder of LifeSiteNews.

In late May, program officials told CCHD grantees that the program had decided to delay all decisions about pending grants. One email cited “significantly reduced numbers” for the yearly national collection that funds the program.

“This is not a decision made lightly. CCHD is taking this moment of pause as an opportunity to re-evaluate and renew the mission and resources of CCHD to strengthen this work for another 50 years,” the email told grantees.

A press release before the meetings also emphasized a decline in donations to the program and the bishops’ focus on the program’s future.


“The bishops will spend time prayerfully discussing the best way to adapt to the post-pandemic needs and resources, while at the same time continuing a steadfast commitment to helping the poor and disenfranchised emerge from the cycle of poverty,” the release said.

The National Catholic Reporter has reported that CCHD is among multiple collections that have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Activists, including a peace group and grant recipients, have made public shows of support for the program.

Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic peace group, organized a protest outside the bishops’ meeting in support of CCHD.

Pax Christi USA organized a prayerful demonstration outside the spring meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Louisville, KY, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (Photo courtesy Pax Christi USA)

Pax Christi USA organized a prayerful demonstration outside the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Louisville, Ky., June 12, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pax Christi USA)

The Catholic peace group has a history of linking poverty and peace issues. Pax Christi USA organized a campaign beginning in October 2023 to contact at least 99 bishops to ask them to sign on to a letter advocating that the U.S. cut military spending and instead invest in ending poverty. Since then, 20 bishops, including two cardinals, have signed on.


The group also joined a bevy of organizations and groups of women religious who signed on to a letter praising CCHD’s work as “a beacon of hope for impoverished and vulnerable communities across the United States” and calling on the bishops “to guide us through these perilous times.”

Ana Garcia-Ashley, the executive director of the Gamaliel Network, which has been a target for conservative critics, sees the attacks on CCHD as “uninformed.” 

Garcia-Ashley, who described herself as a “fourth-generation Catholic, born in the Dominican Republic,” said that, after moving to the U.S., she “grew up believing that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development was an expression of my faith.” Garcia-Ashley said she has been doing faith-based organizing funded by CCHD since the 1980s.



The CCHD’s decision to pause grant approvals has affected programs that work with people experiencing homelessness, immigrant families, children with disabilities and other marginalized people, Garcia-Ashley said.

The Rev. Guillermo Treviño Jr., co-chair of Escucha Mi Voz (Listen to My Voice) Iowa, a Gamaliel affiliate and CCHD grantee, said CCHD funding has helped “empower a lot of people, train new leaders, not just in my parish, but the community, and most importantly, to learn for them to speak up for themselves.”

Most recently, Escucha Mi Voz took nuns and parishioners to Des Moines, Iowa’s capital, to pray during a federal court hearing about a new state law that would allow state and local officials to deport immigrants who had previously been deported or entered the U.S. illegally.


“It’s helped my parishioners learn about their rights and know how to speak up and defend themselves,” said Treviño.

The bishops’ conference has yet to clarify what comes next for organizations whose grant decisions have been delayed.

Treviño urged decision-makers to fund CCHD grantees at the expected level this year and delay any changes until next year, especially with a new fiscal year beginning July 1.

“The funding that was promised should be contributed because that’s what they had planned,” he said.

 Garcia-Ashley said she doesn’t have an inside track to the Louisville discussions to find out what’s being decided for CCHD’s future. But the organizer said she’s nevertheless committed to prayer.

“I have faith in my leaders. I have faith in my church.”

Jack Jenkins contributed reporting for this story.