Pro-life groups are rallying behind the Chicago branch of the Catholic Campaign Human Development (CCHD), praising the organization for instituting real reform that they say should be taken as an example by CCHD nationwide.
CCHD, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program, has come under intense fire in the last year after reports that they have been funding numerous groups that promote abortion, contraception, same-sex “marriage” or other activities at odds with Catholic teaching.
But the Chicago diocesan office “went on the offensive for reform” after director Rey Flores came on one year ago, said Mary Strom, executive director of the Women’s Center, which is a Chicago-based network of crisis pregnancy centers. Flores committed himself to defunding any group opposing Catholic teaching, particularly on life and family issues, and to giving funds to local pro-life groups, contrary to previous CCHD practice.
“Rey actually reached out to his greatest critics,” said Strom, “and he challenged them to recommend groups that they felt met the goal of CCHD and were worthy of receiving grants.”
Normally, 75 percent of the CCHD funds collected in a diocese are sent to CCHD’s national office for distribution nationwide; but with many concerned about the use of funds by CCHD national, Flores has made it possible for people to mail in their donation and request that the funds stay in Chicago. Donations can also be directed specifically to life and family initiatives, economic development, or human development.
Flores has been successful so far in reducing the national cut to 50%.
Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, has supported the changes, changes which are particularly significant in light of the fact that Chicago is where CCHD first started in 1969; Chicago also still receives the largest collection among the dioceses every year.
Through CCHD’s support, Strom’s Women’s Center will be upgrading to a 4D ultrasound machine. “It’s such a great teaching tool,” said Strom. “It gives the women the opportunity to know the truth before they make such a devastating choice.”
They have also awarded a grant to Aid for Women, which operates the only pro-life pregnancy resource center in the downtown area. Susan Barrett, the center’s executive director, said they recently had a gathering of the Chicago CCHD grantees and she was impressed by the quality of the groups. “It was very impressive, and definitely all the organizations seem to be in line with the values and teachings of the Church,” she explained.
In addition to pregnancy resource centers, they have also committed to supporting pro-life activism. The Pro-Life Action League, which is specifically dedicated to witnessing and sidewalk counselling outside abortuaries, also received a $15,000 grant this year. Founder Joe Scheidler, renowned as one of the pro-life movement’s pioneers, had nothing but praise for the reforms at CCHD Chicago, emphasizing that they are working to change their whole image.
Scheidler noted that his group has boycotted CCHD in the past, but said they are now intent on supporting Flores’ efforts. While he realizes that Catholics will continue to be wary of CCHD, Scheidler said his group is “trying to publicize the fact that there’s been a big change [in Chicago].”
“Hopefully within a few years other dioceses will follow suit and clean it up,” he added.
All three pro-life leaders insisted that their work is fundamental to CCHD’s aim to “end the root causes of poverty,” pointing out that single motherhood is the greatest indicator of poverty.
Barrett explained, for example, that they offer a mentoring program through which they help women develop a plan for their future. “Quite often there are economic reasons for why they are considering abortion, … and so we’re trying to address that,” she said.
Ann Scheidler, Joe’s wife and League vice president, explained that for women seeking abortion, sidewalk counselling is “almost the only place that they are treated with dignity.” “The sidewalk counsellor gives her that dignity that she needs to be able to hold her head up and take control of her life and be empowered to make the choice for life,” she said.
“I hope that [the reforms] will spread to the national level and I think there will be a lot of good fruits that result,” said Strom. “People need to be supportive of this type of effort. … [Flores has] taken a lot of heat on both sides, and I think he’s done a great job of really focusing on the whole picture.”
Michael Hichborn of American Life League, who has been a key member of the Reform CCHD Now coalition, said they are encouraged by the steps being taken in Chicago. “Chicago CCHD is taking real reform seriously and has already taken steps to ban several pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, and pro-Marxist groups from funding,” he said.
“National CCHD would do well to follow Chicago’s lead,” he added.
LifeSiteNews.com did not hear back from CCHD National Director Ralph McCloud by press time.