The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento has decided to stop funding Francis House, an agency that serves the homeless, because the nonprofit’s director supports marriage equality and abortion rights.
In a letter last month, the diocese’s director of social services said the Rev. Faith Whitmore’s public statements on the issues clash with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Therefore, said the Rev. Michael Kiernan, the social services director, it is “impossible for the diocese to continue funding Francis House” as part of its annual Catholic Appeal.
Each morning, dozens of poor people line up at Francis House, in Sacramento’s homeless services epicenter on C and 14th streets, for help with basic services such as housing and transportation. Now in its 42nd year, the organization is one of the largest homeless services agencies in the Sacramento region, serving upward of 25,000 people. It has an annual budget of about $500,000.
For at least two decades, Francis House has received annual donations from the diocese ranging from $7,500 to $10,000, said Michael Miiller, a member of the agency’s corporate advisory board.
In the letter to Francis House the Sacramento Diocese, while cheering the work Francis House has been doing and recognizing it cannot expect every organization it supports financially to “actively promote Catholic teaching”, says:
“We can expect, however, that they or their leaders not publicly oppose Catholic teaching and that, unfortunately, is the situation in which we find ourselves.”
The letter notes a concern that some may think that donations the Diocese has made could be perceived as condoning the views of the head of the organization.
Whitmore, senior pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Sacramento, took over directorship of Francis House last April following the sudden death of its previous director.
Whitmore had in 2008 decided to preside over the marriages of a number of same-sex couples while gay marriage was legal in California. She has also said she supports a woman’s right to an abortion.
The diocese, on the other hand, opposes gay marriage and abortion and is, according to its website, supporting the so-called 40 Days for Life campaign, a religious campaign coinciding with Lent that is against abortion and advocates praying outside of clinics that offer abortion related services.
Whitmore maintains that her views are all privately held and in no way would interfere with her duties as a representative of Francis House. Interestingly, the board of directors for the non-profit agency is said to be backing Whitmore.
Of course in this regard the diocese is allowed to do with its funds as it wishes (though perhaps not with the privilege of tax exemption) and it does seem fair that money collected from its parishners should go to causes that are in line with Catholic teaching.
However, Whitmore doesn’t mandate that any of the homeless that are helped by Francis House subscribe to her personal stance on same-sex marriage or abortion, so it is hard to see in what way the nonprofit is “actively” going against Catholic teaching. Indeed, the diocese seems to be reprimanding her for just thinking differently to them, and witholding funds for the nonprofit on that basis.
It appears that for the diocese, in this context at least, Christian love and charity is conditional, the homeless who need those services be damned.
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