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published: 9/6/13

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Catholic Charities

What is Catholic Charities?

Catholic Charities is a network of charities with headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. It is one of the largest charities in the United States.

Founded in 1910 as the National Conference of Catholic Charities, the organization changed its name in 1986 to Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA). In 2010, Catholic Charities' centennial year, more than 1,700 agencies, institutions and organizations composed the Catholic Charities network, including individual organizations of the dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of Chicago.

About $2 billion of its budget comes from the Faith-Based Initiatives Office of the federal government. In 2008, Catholic Charities agencies served over 8 million individuals.

Together with the local, diocesan-associated Catholic Charities, it is the second largest social service provider in the United States, surpassed only by the federal government. Since February 2005, its president has been Rev. Larry Snyder, who previously served for 13 years with Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Catholic Charities USA is a member of Caritas Internationalis, an international federation of Catholic social service organizations.


Catholic Charities uses about 89% of its revenue for program costs. In 2010, Catholic Charities had revenues of $4.7 billion, $2.9 billion of which came from the US government. Only about $140 million came from donations from diocesan churches, the remainder coming from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees, and community donations.


In 1727, French Ursuline Sisters founded an orphanage in New Orleans, Louisiana, the first Catholic charitable institution in the area that later became the United States. By 1900, there were more than 800 Catholic institutions dedicated to the care of children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. On September 25, 1910, representatives of those agencies met at the Catholic University of America at the invitation of its rector, Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, and formed the National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC) to support and coordinate their efforts. They held their final meeting at the White House at the invitation of President Taft.

The new organization drew its inspiration from the social teachings of Pope Leo XII, whose Rerum novarum (1891), in one scholar's words, sought to "free [the Church] from paralyzing resistance to bourgeois civilization by shifting attention from the intractable problems of church and state to the social question, where a more flexible pastoral and evangelical approach might be possible."

The organization's founding also paralleled the development of social work as a profession and the increasing cooperation among sectarian charitable organizations. Msgr. William J. Kirby, the first executive director of NCCC, described the problems a few years later: "The intense individualism of institutional and geographical units of the Church's life has ... led to a variety and resourcefulness that have been admirable. But it has resulted in a mutual independence and lack of coordination that have undoubtedly interfered with progress in certain ways...."

Several Catholic educational institutions established social work programs in the decade after the founding of the NCCC, beginning with Loyola of Chicago (1914) and Fordham (1916).

Msgr. John O'Grady served forty years as executive director and frequently spoke for the organization on matters of public policy. He supported the Social Security Act of 1935 and federal housing legislation. He fought for the passage of the McCarran–Walter Act that eased restrictions on the immigration of World War II refugees into the United States.

In March 1949, O'Grady, executive secretary of NCCC, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee in opposition to legislation proposed by the Truman administration that would have created a program of federal grants to support state relief and welfare programs. He said: "It envisages a complete governmental program that will virtually take over the entire field of child welfare. How can we maintain our spirit of Christian charity, our spirit of brotherhood, without the appeal of the great charitable institutions for the care of children?" He said it would "bring the Federal Government with all its rules and regulations into every community in the United States to set up governmental programs for the care of children" and that the legislation implied "national control over family life".

He believed that some states were legally prohibited from purchasing services from religious organizations, and cited Pennsylvania as one where "Catholic and other religious childcare programs would be practically wiped out." In April, NCCC opposed Truman's proposed national health insurance program as well, and both measures were defeated. In September 1952, Truman appointed O'Grady to the President's Commission on Immigration and Naturalization.

Pope John Paul II addressed the national conference of Catholic Charities USA in San Antonio, Texas, on September 14, 1987. His call for increased efforts on behalf of the poor and "to reform structures which cause or perpetuate their oppression" prompted coverage of the organization's activism, including, according to the New York Times, "a wide range of projects in antipoverty, legal aid, voter registration, housing and community organization."

In 2005, Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative critic of the restrictions imposed on religious institutions that accept government funding, has said that Catholic Charities has become "basically just another social-service agency, because they've sort of lost their identity."

During the 2012 debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Catholic Charities USA was among the Catholic groups that expressed support for the Obama administration's to address religious objections to some features of its implementation, even as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the administration's proposals as part of a larger government attack on religious liberty. Several diocesan branches of Catholic Charities participated in a lawsuit against provisions related to birth control insurance coverage, but not the national organization.

Catholic Charities USA has endorsed the DREAM Act and the Obama administration's deferral of action against some younger immigrants.

Same-sex marriage and gay rights issues

Boston. Between about 1985 and 1995, Catholic Charities of Boston, which contracted with the state's Department of Social Services and accepted state funds in support of their adoption services program, placed 13 children with gay couples out of 720 adoptions. Catholic Charities President Rev. J. Bryan Hehir explained the practice: "If we could design the system ourselves, we would not participate in adoptions to gay couples, but we can't. We have to balance various goods." The agency had never sought an exemption from the state's anti-discrimination statute,[30] which had taken effect in 1989.

In December 2005, the lay-dominated board of Catholic Charities of Boston voted unanimously to continue gay adoptions. On February 28, 2006, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley and Hehir met with Governor Mitt Romney to make the case for an exemption from the state's non-discrimination statute, but Romney told them he was unable to help. They considered and rejected the idea of a lawsuit.

On March 10, O'Malley and leaders of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston announced that the agency would terminate its adoption work effective June 30, rather than continue to place children under the guardianship of homosexuals. The statement did not distinguish between gay and lesbian individuals and those in same-sex relationships. Hehir said "This is a difficult and sad day for Catholic Charities. We have been doing adoptions for more than 100 years."

Illinois. Following the legalization of same-sex civil unions effective June 1, 2011, Illinois required Catholic Charities, because it accepted public funds, to provide adoption and foster-care services to same-sex couples in the same manner that they serviced different-sex couples. Rather than comply, Catholic Charities closed most of its Illinois affiliates. They had provided such services for forty years.

Washington, D.C. In November 2009, Archbishop Donald Wuerl wrote that he recognized that Washington, D.C., officials were intent on legalizing same-sex marriage, but asked for stronger language to protect individuals and institutions with religious objections to the policy. He wrote that "Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services" and explained that Catholic Charities had contracts with the District to provide "homeless services, mental health services, foster care and more."

The law legalizing same-sex marriage passed in December 2009 with the first marriages set to occur on March 9, 2010. Faced with the law's requirements, the Catholic Charities in D.C. decided to stop providing health benefits to its married employees rather than provide them to married same-sex couples as well. Spouses already enrolled in the plan were not affected.


"Catholic Charities" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (with minor edits), under GFDL.