As "This Week in God" settles in on Saturday mornings, the God Machine has plenty to offer again this week.
First up is a story about how the culture war is beginning to shape the Roman Catholic Church's charitable support in ways the social-service community never expected (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
The Catholic Campaign, which doles out $8 million annually to about 250 groups nationwide, has been under increasing pressure from conservative Catholic groups to ensure that it is not unwittingly aiding organizations that run afoul of church positions on issues like birth control and marriage. While the amount lost is often relatively small, it can account for a significant chunk of a group's budget. And it is not happening in a vacuum, coming at a time when other nonprofit organizations, like Planned Parenthood, also find themselves under fire from social conservatives trying to choke off their financing.
Since 2010, nine groups from across the country have lost financing from the campaign because of conflicts with Catholic principles, according to [Ralph McCloud, director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops devoted to ending poverty.]
This is no small shift. The New York Times noted a small nonprofit organization in rural southwestern Colorado called Companeros, for example, which received money from the church "to help poor Hispanic immigrants with basic needs including access to health care and guidance on local laws."
Companeros, however, found itself cut off from aid this year -- it had partnered with a local coalition that had joined forces with an LGBT-rights group, which The Catholic Campaign said was unacceptable. The church wanted to help poor Hispanic immigrants, but not if it meant aiding a group that also supported a gay advocacy coalition. The same thing happened to a group that helps the homeless in Maine, among others.
What does alleviating poverty have to do with LGBT rights? Not much, but The Catholic Campaign now appears eager to create funding litmus tests: adopt the church's line on other culture-war issues, even if a non-profit group's work has nothing to do with those culture-war issues, or lose funding.
As McCloud put it, "We can't in any way have groups who are collaborating with other groups whose main focus is objectionable or contrary to Catholic teachings."
Also from the God Machine this week, likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday delivered these remarks in Wisconsin, in which the former governor, while condemning President Obama, complained, "[T]here is a desire to establish a religion in America called secularism."
Two days later, President Obama spoke at length about his faith at an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House, and this morning, used his weekly address to argue, "Christ's triumph over death holds special meaning for Christians. But all of us, no matter how or whether we believe, can identify with elements of His story. The triumph of hope over despair. Of faith over doubt. The notion that there is something out there that is bigger than ourselves. These beliefs help unite Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. They shape our values and guide our work. They put our lives in perspective."
Obama didn't sound eager to establish secularism as America's religion.