FREE SPEECH ZONE | An Open Letter to the Catholic Bishops from Headwaters Foundation, Philanthro-Fund and Women’s Foundation of Minnesota


An Open Letter to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Catholic Campaign for Human Development:

As foundation leaders, we are taking a stand against the overreaching philanthropic practice employed by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), an office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (Catholic Bishops). CCHD is a grantmaking institution that we believe has gone beyond simply upholding the values of the Catholic Church, to encroach on aspects of community life that fall outside of the appropriate role of a financial supporter of community organizations.

A case in point is that of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), which recently lost its CCHD funding.  LSP exists to promote farmland stewardship, sustainable agriculture and sustainable communities. In July, the Catholic Bishops notified LSP that they had been approved for a $48,000 grant for rural organizing in southeast Minnesota. Two weeks later, they were informed that CCHD was reversing that decision unless LSP resigned its membership in two organizations: TakeAction Minnesota and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. The reason given for withdrawing the funding was because of these organizations’ stated positions against the constitutional amendment to limit marriage on the Nov. 6 ballot in Minnesota.

The Catholic Bishops decided to withdraw their support of LSP’s work for family farms, stewardship of the land and healthy rural communities, not because of how CCHD funds would be used or for actions by LSP (LSP has no position on the marriage amendment and does not work on it), but because the Bishops don’t approve of the beliefs of some of the organizations LSP works in collaboration with on other issues, like healthcare and nonprofit professional development.  And this is not just about LSP.  Compañeros, a nonprofit that serves immigrants in Colorado, was also defunded this year because it refused to leave an immigrant rights coalition that also includes a group advocating for same sex unions.  According to the Denver Post, the Diocese of Pueblo told Compañeros to choose between the money and its membership in the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, which church officials said holds positions contrary to Catholic teachings.

It is appropriate for the Catholic Bishops to attach conditions to how its CCHD funds will be spent, but we believe that seeking to prohibit associations with other organizations is wrong and a poor reflection on the institution of philanthropy. It also undermines the very practice we expect American nonprofits to engage in:  working together for the common good. Collaboration across faiths and types of organizations is a community strength, and leaders need to set an example for how to productively set aside differences to find areas of agreement and cooperation.

The stewardship of foundation dollars calls for the highest standards of ethical behavior among its agents. The national Council on Foundations and the Minnesota Council on Foundations both call on their members to do so. We believe the actions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Catholic Campaign for Human Development are in violation of the basic tenets of philanthropy with regard to stewardship, accountability, transparency and respect.

As concerned philanthropic leaders, we call on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to cease this politically motivated and misdirected behavior. 


Trista Harris, Executive Director, Headwaters Foundation for Justice

Kate Eubank and Susan Raffo, Co-Executive Directors, PFund Foundation

Lee Roper-Batker, President and CEO, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota

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