Keeping the faith in Catholic charity

Faced with growing pressure to dilute their Christian message, some leaders of Catholic aid agencies that operate under the Caritas umbrella have been invited to attend a spiritual retreat in order to reaffirm the link between Christian faith and charitable activity.

Archbishop Paul Cordes delivers a message from Pope Benedict XVI at the cathedral in Baton Rouge, La., in this 2005 file photo. The German archbishop and president of the Vatican charity, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, had toured areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Greg Tarczynski)Top officials for Caritas-affiliated agencies in North and South America have been invited to a retreat in Guadalajara, Mexico the first week of June to pray, reflect, and foster their own faith, according to Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

He made the announcement after presenting Pope Benedict’s 2008 Lenten message during a Tuesday press conference.

“There is a difference between Caritas and the Red Cross,” he told journalists, “and this difference must be underlined.”

The retreat — which will be led by the preacher of the papal household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa – is meant to counteract “a certain kind of secularism” that has been creeping into Catholic agencies, the cardinal said.

It is not the fault of the Catholic organizations, he emphasized, but rather it is something embedded “in the mentality of development.” By that he meant, sometimes donors — whether government or private — may tend to feel they should have some sway or control over the organization they’re contributing to.

Thanks to the generosity of funding from non-religious sources, he said, the church has been able to reach out to even more people in need. However, he warned this arrangement does “carry a risk that the spirit of the Catholic agency becomes secularized which means doing only what the donor has in mind.” 

This problem looms large in Colorado, where Capuchin Archbishop Charles Chaput is fighting the introduction of a state bill that would, in his words, “greatly hinder any Catholic entity which receives state money from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church.” You can read his commentary on House Bill 1080 here.

Although the bill was temporarily withdrawn from consideration last week, according to the Denver Archdiocese, it could still be reintroduced.

The debate spilled over into the Letters to the Editor section of the Denver Catholic Register this week. Read two sides of the issue the paper presented here and here.

Cardinal Cordes, meanwhile, praised Archbishop Chaput’s efforts saying “I think this bishop is doing the right thing.” “Charitable activity or the faithful’s good deeds have always been tied to the proclamation of the word,” he said at the Tuesday press conference.

He said the bond between serving humanity and paying witness to the Gospel “is a link no one can break.”

“I think Catholic agencies must be very careful not to lose their freedom by taking money from donors who afterwards bring into the agency a mentality that does not correspond to (their) ecclesial mission,” he said.

PHOTO: Archbishop Paul Cordes delivers a message from Pope Benedict XVI at the cathedral in Baton Rouge, La., in this 2005 file photo. The German archbishop and president of the Vatican charity, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, had toured areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Greg Tarczynski)

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