Catholic Charities under Fire in Palo Alto

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April 17, 2013; Palo Alto Online News

On Tuesday, the Palo Alto Human Relations Commissioner appealed to the City Council’s Finance Committee to end all Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to the local Catholic Charities. The local pool of CDBG money available for such grants is $500,000, and as most of our readers will know, it focuses on programs that deliver housing, counseling, and other social services to people of low and moderate income.

Human Relations Commissioner Claude Ezran based his call to end funding on the refusal of the D.C. and Massachusetts Catholic Charities organizations to provide adoption services to same-sex couples and the lawsuit filed in Illinois accusing the organization of discriminating against gay couples.

Although the grant being requested was for services to seniors, Ezran averred that there was a larger principle at stake, asking, “Should you fund this local organization when it has not spoken out publicly against the discrimination policies of its parent and sibling organizations?” He said that defunding Catholic Charities completely would be a powerful “symbolic action.” The committee punted, however, and awarded the group $5,000, far less than others in the pool. The Downtown Streets Team, for instance, will receive $248,753 to serve homeless people, and InnVision Shelter Network will receive $76,662.

There does not seem to be any evidence that this Catholic Charities has had any complaints on discrimination. In fact, Joseph Rodrigues, the long-term-care ombudsman from the state’s Department of Aging, wrote in a letter to the Commission, “In the close to 11 years that I have been the California State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, I have never received a complaint of discrimination or unfair treatment of residents of long-term care facilities by employees or volunteers associated with the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.”

Only one of the five other members on the Human Relations commission agreed with Ezran. Finance Committee Chair Pat Burt chided him for expressing his own opinion rather than that of the commission, and staff from the Community Services Department concurred with the other three HRC members who felt the organization should continue to get funding. In a report, staff cited a concern “that the manner in which the decision was made regarding Catholic Charities does not recognize the substantial merit of the program and incorrectly emphasizes the religious affiliation of the organization, which could be construed as a denial of equal access to federal funding.”

NPQ would love to hear readers’ reactions to this situation.—Ruth McCambridge