Diocese Cuts Funding to Homeless Agency over ED’s Personal Opinions

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March 8, 2012; Source: Sacramento Bee

The line between private citizen and representative of a nonprofit organization was muddied this week by the Sacramento, Calif. Catholic Diocese’s decision to discontinue funding to Francis House, a small nonprofit agency serving homeless people. The diocese has been providing Francis House approximately $7,500 to $10,000 annually to for more than two decades through its annual appeal. In a letter last month, Rev. Michael Kiernan, the social services director, communicated that the diocese’s decision was based on public statements made by Rev. Faith Whitmore, Francis House’s new executive director, in support of abortion rights and gay marriage.  Whitmore made these statements in her former role as senior pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. Notably, in 2008, she openly defied church law by performing same sex marriages.

This local episode is consistent with national efforts by the Catholic Church to increase its political support and activism on issues related to fundamental church teachings such as marriage, abortion and most recently, contraception.

A secondary factor in the diocese’s funding decision was based on an appearance issue. Though initially founded by Sacramento’s St. Francis of Assisi Catholic parish, the organization has long operated as a nondenominational, independent entity. Diocesan spokesman Kevin Eckery stated, “A lot of people still think Francis House is a Catholic charity,” and some are concerned that Whitmore’s views are a reflection of those of the church. This concern appears to have overshadowed Francis House’s performance in the delivery of homeless services. “Francis House is a great charity, and we respect the fact that the director’s views are different from the diocese’s. But money collected during the annual appeal is very much Catholic parishioner money,” said Eckerly.

While the financial impact of the diocese’s decision is minimal, it raises important questions about Catholic giving to nonprofits in the future, particularly as the Catholic Church makes up one of largest funding networks in the world, and is a long-standing advocate for poverty-alleviation, social justice, and community health, among other issues. Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, cautioned, “If the bishops are going to defund every organization headed by someone who disagrees with their views on gay marriage, birth control and abortion, they are going to find very few agencies to fund.”

This case highlights competing priorities in the Catholic Church. Michael Miller, a member of Francis House’s corporate advisory board, stated, “We serve the poor. We don’t have a litmus test of homeless people when they come in. We don’t ask them for their position on choice and gay marriage. We just help them. But for whatever reason, the diocese made those issues a higher priority than the mission.” –Paula Smith Arrigoni

  • jake

    So a catholic charity that receives public funds, taxpayer dollars, demands that it’s moral high ground be respected such that the agency need not pay for birth control. But, when a charity expresses it’s moral stance on an issue, the diocese withdraws support. Is this an attempt at ‘get-back’ or is this just ironic duplicity?

  • Julie

    I appreciate NPQ’s rather straightforward reporting on this. However, I think the sentiments expressed in the quotes at the end are misguided.

    As a Catholic who supports a variety of non-profits, I appreciate the Diocese’s attentiveness to these concerns. It is true that marriage and life issues are core for practicing Catholics -Catholics whose beliefs and rights as individuals and service organizations are most definitely not being respected in the USA today.

    I

  • Julie

    Cont… I think it’s important for everyone to remember that it is not fear or hate that motivate the basis of our teaching and activities, but the honest belief based on experience, argument, philosophy, natural law, sociology, psychology, etc. that these teachings elucidated by the Church lead to the ultimate in human freedom, happiness, and peace. The motivation is for good! We want to help individuals regardless of who they are, and we believe some things -like abortion, contraception, homosexual activity- isn’t truly respectful of the human person. We believe, and upon the firmer ground, that these things are not actually helpful to people in the long run. So naturally, we don’t want to pay for them. Would you want to?

  • Julie

    The question is, then, can one reasonably believe that the beliefs of an ED (publicly and repeatedly advocated) will affect operation directions? I think it would be unreasonable to assume that an organization like this wouldn’t be involved with promoting if not granting direct resources to services like abortion, contraception, etc. as led by the directives of an ED with this ideology.

    The idea that we are one person in private and someone else in public -we are our beliefs and lets face it even more so as non-profit workers- as the title of this piece seems to suggest, is unreasonable and frankly, mentally unhealthy.

  • Julie

    Cont. Catholics have a myriad of other choices to continue to support food and shelter, job and education resource centers. Catholic Charities, Dorothy Day Centers, Religious Institutes and Communities, Parish Outreaches, Catholic Relief Services, The Pontifical Mission Society… There’s just no reason to not direct the funds to these places.

    The restriction length for comments is very small. 🙁 Let’s get over the soundbite and allow each other to post thoughts of substance.

  • Julie

    On the other hand, they’re just being consistent by saying, “We’re not going to pay for contraceptives and abortion here, there, or anywhere.” And, to their credit, they’re providing the services they provide to anyone, not just those who agree with them on matters of religion, etc. They’re just saying there is not a ‘right’ to provide services with which they don’t agree.

  • ruth McCambridge

    Point well made Julie. We have gotten similar feedback from others and will try to make the change as soon as possible

  • jake

    Julie –
    The beliefs and motivations of the church are not what is in question. The problem is that the church wants the federal government to behave according to its doctrine. Unfortunately, the federal government is mandated to abide by the law created by the voters. So, by your same logic, if the law says women have the right to choose contraception, than anyone funded by the government must provide for this option. It is no different than what you are saying below about the church. If the church doesn’t like an opinion of a program than it doesn’t need to fund that program. The church is trying to have it both ways. You must fund me within my beliefs, but I won’t fund you because of my beliefs does not work. Catholicism is not in question.