Voz Workers Rights Education Project, Portland’s day laborer
organization, was recently faced with a difficult decision: Either pursue a
promising $75,000 grant through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, or
forfeit the money and stay in solidarity with equal rights.
It chose equal rights. It was an easy decision for the group,
but a tough conclusion to a long relationship.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, or CCHD, is the
national funding arm of the Catholic Church for grassroots, member-led
organizations such as Voz. It has supported Voz for years and helped fund Voz’s
worker center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The $75,000 grant proposal would
have helped Voz fund leadership development, organizing and education to combat
wage theft, a common problem among day laborers.
El Hispanic News broke the story earlier this month that Voz
had withdrawn its application after CCHD urged it to drop its affiliation with
the National Council of La Raza because NCLR supports marriage equality. NCLR
is the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization and is currently
advocating on behalf of the recent wave of undocumented children crossing the
border from Mexico.
Voz released a public press release on the issue today.
“Basically we said we stand for NCLR and we stand for
values, and we hope that CCHD will one day stand with us,” Ranfis Villatoro,
development director with Voz told Street Roots. Villatoro said the request by
CCHD came as a complete shock, considering they were already working to
alleviate concerns about the affiliation. “This was over a conference call.
They told us, if you guys want the grant, you’ll have to disaffiliate with
NCLR. If not, you can stick with NCLR, but you won’t receive any funding.”
In a letter to CCHD, Voz’s Board of Directors — which had
previously never taken a stand on marriage equality — said it remained committed to NCLR.
“After much deliberation within our board, we have decided
not to terminate our affiliation with National Council of La Raza,” the letter
states. “We understand that maintaining affiliation with NCLR, a champion of
Latino rights, will terminate any possibility of receiving the CCHD National
Grant we submitted requesting $75,000.”
The grant would have been a significant infusion to Voz’s
$310,000 annual budget.
“The need for funding is great,” the letter states. “However,
we are a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to
gain control over their working conditions. At the root of that mission is the
pursuit of justice and equality for all immigrants and day laborers.”
To accomplish that, the letter states, requires all allies
standing together in unity, and likened breaking up partnerships as another
kind of border against progress.
“The philosophy behind building borders between friends and
allies has long been a debilitating instrument to slow the advancement of
social justice and equity,” Voz’s Board of Directors said. “Alone we cannot
And they are not alone. The announcement by Voz has drawn
the support of not only the NCLR, but also Basic Rights Oregon, the Latino
Network and Hacienda in Portland. Basic Rights Oregon and Freedom to Marry made
a financial contribution of approximately $12,500 to the organization to offset
The day laborers themselves also convened to talk about what
was at stake and come to a consensus before making a decision.
“No one knew what that conversation would look like going
in, but I think it was a powerful moment just to see everyone come together and
unite and agree that what CCHD was asking us to do was wrong,” Villatoro said.
The relationship between immigration rights and LGBT rights
is not connected by circumstance. Immigration rights advocates are calling on
the reunification and support of Latino families across borders, and that
includes those in the LGBT community. The National Council of La Raza formally
voted two years ago to support marriage equality as a matter of civil rights.
“There are hundreds of families in our community who need
our help. It has been a fundamental issue when you have same-sex partners that
you don’t have the same rights to petition for your spouse,” says Lisa
Navarette with NCLR. “That's the reality of it and the civil rights aspect of
it. ... We cannot be an organization that condones exclusion.”
Navarette said her organization even wrote a letter to CCHD
saying that not all members are aligned with every NCLR agenda item. But it was
“Of course we’re not going to align completely on our agendas,”
Navarette said. “We’ve worked with Grover Norquist and evangelical groups. The
mish-mash of organization ranges from far right and far left. Allies are
In fact, the governing body for CCHD, the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops, has worked with La Raza on immigration issues,
according to Navarette, who called the bishops “stalwart” in their support of
immigration reform. “The decision with Voz over marriage equality is
disappointing,” Navarette said.
Matt Cato is the director of the Office of Life, Justice and
Peace, which administers the Campaign for Human Development through the
Archdiocese of Portland. He said the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is
disappointed that Voz withdrew its consideration for a national and local
“The criteria for a grant from the U.S. Bishops’ Catholic
Campaign for Human Development are clearly stated in the pre-application,
application, and on the CCHD website. A local CCHD grant contains the same
criteria.” That includes a statement that “CCHD cannot fund groups that are part of
coalitions or other organizations with purposes or agendas that conflict
with fundamental Catholic social and moral teaching.”
Cato also said that the Archdiocese continues to support
“Voz’s withdrawal from
consideration for a grant with CCHD will not diminish the public and active
support of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace on the core efforts of Voz.”
Voz isn’t the only group whose affiliation with NCLR has
been called into question, according to Navarette, and that includes at least
one other Latino organization in the Willamette Valley that declined to talk on
“Right now, there have been a couple of isolated incidents
to threaten the network or the organization. We’ll be mindful of that because
we treasure these partnerships. We’re so much stronger united and working
together than as individual organizations. It’s paramount for us.”
Nationally, CCHD is a major player in the anti-poverty
world. It’s mission supports organizations that empower people in poverty toward
social justice. It is funded through a specific annual collection in parishes
across the country, and this year granted more than $14 million to anti-poverty
organizations in the United States.
The national CCHD offices, based in Washington, D.C., did
not return Street Roots request for comment.
Hacienda CDC was in its second year of a two-year grant with
CCHD when it received a call from the grantor asking about its affiliation with
NCLR as well. The grant funding the start of its Latino Mercado. Hacienda
retained its membership in NCLR and it’s CCHD grant, which runs out this
September. Merced said they probably wouldn’t apply for another.
“To go through these moral hoops with them (it’s not worth
it),” Merced said. “While we have a pretty good relationship with the Catholic
Church here, we will go elsewhere to find the money.”
In recent years, CCHD has been under pressure from
right-leaning organizations saying the CCHD is awarding grants to organizations
whose agenda is in conflict with Catholic teachings, a violation of the terms
of its grants.
In 2010, Street Roots reported on the trend by CCHD nationally
to defund or refuse grants to organizations that affiliate or partnered with
groups that supported gay rights or abortion. That included Street Roots, which
was told it could not receive funding for listing Planned Parenthood in a
resource guide of local services for the poor. Likewise, left-leaning groups
see CCHD’s approach as extreme in denying funding on a “guilt by association”
platform that interferes with community organizing.
In 2013, in a case recorded in the Chicago Tribune, CCHD cut
off funding to eight Chicago-area groups who continued their affiliation with
the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, or ICRR, after the
ICRR voted to support same-sex marriage on its political agenda.
Last summer, John Gehring, a
former staffer at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, authored an
extensive report that detailed the history of CCHD's work and documented
pressure campaigns from Catholic groups like the American Life League, which
have led to an increase in de-funding of CCHD grantees with any association with
other organizations that support marriage equality.
“Conservative attacks on the
bishops’ anti-poverty campaign have intensified from well-organized opponents
who think the church should stick to charity and ignore the fact that Catholic
social teaching also requires a response to the structures that perpetuate
injustice,” said Gehring, now the Catholic program director at Faith in Public
Life, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.
“Bishops are in a
tricky situation as the culture shifts beneath their feet and acceptance of
same-sex civil marriage grows rapidly,” Gehring said. “The challenge is how can
CCHD protect its Catholic identity without pulling away from the kind of
effective coalitions that are needed to empower low-income communities and that
put Catholic teaching into action. Navigating this can be complicated, but it’s
a major blow for community organizing and a real loss for vulnerable families
if more dioceses make the decision that they can only associate with
individuals or organizations that agree with Catholic theology on every issue.
Pope Francis keeps reminding us that the church should be out in the
streets, getting bruised and dirty, not withdrawing from the messiness of the
world. Catholic identity is not only about church teaching on sexuality and
marriage. The essence of being a disciple, the pope tells us with his words and
actions, is living out Jesus' commandment to stand on the side of the poor and
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) was founded in
1970 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is the
anti-poverty, social justice arm of the Catholic Church, with a mission
to address the causes of poverty through community-controlled, self-help
organizations and education. Each year, CCHD distributes about $12
million to between 250 and 300 social justice organizations in the
Read more about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Street Roots: The left side of God