Adopt-a-Nun Charity Faces Questions

January 29, 2017; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I read with some dismay about the recent rift between U.S.-based Catholic charity CARITAS for Children and a Ugandan Catholic order, The Little Sisters of St. Francis. In brief, Little Sisters is seeking, on grounds including financial impropriety and management conflict, to dissolve a longstanding working arrangement with CARITAS that has supported the education and training of undisclosed numbers of children and nuns in Uganda and Kenya.

Chris Hoar, the founder of CARITAS, accuses the Little Sisters of St. Francis of defaming him and using email lists to contact CARITAS sponsors directly. One donor has ceased her family foundation’s annual donations and plans to file a complaint with the state over how previous gifts were handled, and the bishop of Gary, Indiana has withdrawn his financially influential public endorsement of CARITAS. At least one board member has recently resigned from the CARITAS board, and a priest with a degree in nonprofit management has stopped volunteering for the organization.

The events surrounding this situation raise, in my view, a number of questions:

  1. How much transparency and accountability exist in the realm of faith-based philanthropy? Are Christian faith-based philanthropies subject to the same scrutinies as secular ones? One sponsor expressed concern about direct accountability from Little Sisters, but of what use are tax return data on organizations like CARITAS if she and others like her are unable or unwilling to use it to corroborate feedback from the causes to which they give? Besides, just because Little Sisters might not have to file tax returns in the U.S. does not mean that they would offer no accountability for their operations in Uganda and Kenya—the latter has a raft of laws regulating its civil societies.
  2. How sustainable is or was the CARITAS-Little Sisters liaison? Was it ever an option for Little Sisters to receive donor funds directly? Why or why not? Without being privy to the terms of their arrangement, it strikes me that some CARITAS salaries may have been put to better use in the form of direct support to the organization’s beneficiaries.
  3. Did any of the sponsors and beneficiaries receive documentation detailing their rights and responsibilities? How has CARITAS conceived of its answerability to both groups, beyond its statutory responsibilities to the U.S. government under U.S. law? What laws govern this kind of relationship and how would they apply in this case?
  4. Is it possible that Chris Hoar, CARITAS founder and leader for almost 20 years, is showing signs of founder’s syndrome? (See here for NPQ’s extensive coverage of this concept.) Though first diagnosed among for-profit organizations, “founder troubles” are apparently a common ailment among nonprofits, though by no means are they a holistic explanation of all nonprofit problems. According to Jeff Jowdy, the skills needed to set up and kickstart an organization are different from those required to lead and manage it as it grows, and a leader who is insensitive to this can destroy the organization. Is Hoar’s ego getting in the way of his willingness to be accountable to some of his donors?

While I find it curious that two Christian organizations cannot find a way to resolve their differences, my main concern is for the welfare of the beneficiaries of CARITAS-facilitated giving and how much they factor into the ongoing row.— Titilope Ajayi