Michael J. Sheehan, Ordinary for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, devoted his column in the archdiocese’s April 2010 issue of its monthly newspaper, People of God, to a spirited defense of the justifiably beleaguered Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
The article, “The Catholic Campaign for Human Development: A Commitment to Life and Dignity of the Human Person,” proudly points to CCHD’s educational efforts as part of that defense. Archbishop Sheehan writes: “CCHD also provides educational opportunities for Catholics to learn about poverty, to interact and build solidarity with those affected by it, and reflect on a faith response to poverty.”
Of all the unhappy points to make, CCHD’s history of un-Catholic “educational materials” is one of the most wretched aspects about the program…and not well known. A short discussion about this history can be found at Spero News [“Mopping Up CCHD,” www.speroforum.com/site/print.asp?idarticle=30866]; a more extensive presentation is available at the Catholic Media Coalition website [www.catholicmediacoalition.org/USCCB.htm], included in an extensive dossier on liberationist materials.
One educational program not mentioned in either of these two critiques is Jack Jezreel’s JustFaith, a 30-week “intensive opportunity to explore the Biblical tradition, the historic witness of the Church, Catholic social teaching, and the relationship between spirituality and justice.” (Press Release, usccb.org/cchd/JFPartnershipPR.htm)
In 2005, CCHD, Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic Relief Services announced “a new partnership” with the JustFaith program to expand “parish and church commitment to social ministry and the role that formation in the justice tradition plays.”
It would be more accurate to say that JustFaith is expanding commitment within parishes to progressive social solutions and political networking. Jezreel is a popular speaker in progressive venues, such as the dissident-Catholic organization, Call to Action (CTA) and one of its affiliate members, Pax Christi.
Lest anyone imagine his appearance with these organizations were ignorant, one-time only appearances, it must be pointed out that there are several instances of Jezreel speaking before these groups over a number of years. He has spoken at the:
• 1996 Call to Action national conference
• 1997 Call to Action national conference: “Spirituality of Commitment Making Promises, Friends and Justice”;
• August 11-13, 2000 fourth West Coast Call to Action Conference, at San Jose State University: “Transformed People, Transformed Parish, Transformed World”
• 2007 keynote at Call to Action -affiliated Pax Christi National Conference
That’s a problem, because Call to Action disseminates a liberationist – not a Catholic – perspective about social justice. For CTA to invite Jezreel to speak the first time could have been a mistake (“Golly, we thought the man had these cool, progressive political ideas but he’s just another orthodox toady, after all. Our bad.”), but to invite him back to speak requires some significant appreciation for what the man had to say. That doesn’t speak well of Jezreel, any more than collaboration with a fellow who has been the keynote speaker for the Ku Klux Klan would speak well of someone appointed to a Commission on Racial Reconcilliation.
And Jezreel’s JustFaith program lives up to expectation. Its reading list, filled with dissenting writers, its distortions of Scripture and Catholic teaching to “reveal” class antagonisms and a “need” to restructure society along Marxist lines, are simply inappropriate “educational materials” for training Catholics. [See “JustFaith vs the Catholic Faith,” www.catholicmediacoalition.org/just_faith.htm]
The bottom line, however, is how hapless Catholics, exposed to JustFaith materials, understand what they have experienced. In one Catholic Forum discussion, a participant writes:
I dropped out of JustFaith due to the curriculum opposing the basic tenets of the faith, like: Contemplation subordinate to action, sin not being emphasized as the problem but systems like corporations, systems, and even the hierarchy of the Church as opposed to ecclesial based communities as needed for improvement of the world. Jesus as a radical opposing the political powers of the day was the way they presented our Lord.
It smacked of temporal salvation by the correct “use” of divine revelation. Absolutely no Church-based books like the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” or encyclicals, just what other people say about official Church documents. One book offered, “The Powers That Be, A Theology for a New Millennium” by “Jesus Seminar” member Walter Wink, intimated at the Church “making” Jesus divine in opposition to His actual Divinity. Wink never says that Jesus isn’t Divine but one can well deduce his meaning. Gnostic texts are used in place of the Gospel of John due to the spiritual nature of the official Gospel. The historical Jesus is emphasized and sin is de-emphasized.
The reason for a 30 week, multi-hour classes and “immersion” weekends is to re-educate Catholics in a different Christian ethic in order to fit the “humanistic” ideals of the JustFaith program. This is not a problem for Protestant groups as they have such a varied theology that this is just another view added to their personal interpretations anyway. Official Catholic Magisterial teaching is oriented to sin and to our nature based on original sin with salvation through Grace. This JustFaith program is in no way faithful to that. [Earnest Bunbury, Re: Just Faith Program (discussion thread), October 29, 2008.]
Rich Leonardi, who writes the Cincinnati-based blog, “Ten Reasons,” also had an insightful post:
A friend from another diocese with extensive experience in adult faith formation participated in one of Mr. Jezreel’s workshops and has allowed me to share some of his observations and concerns:
1) The apparent total rejection of personal salvation and sin – which seriously distorts Church teaching, undermines evangelization, and could actually endanger people’s salvation. This often accompanies “Reign of God” theology in my experience.
2) Collapsing Revelation, authentic interpretation and the interpretation of an individual theologian so that average Catholics going through would not know that there was a difference and that one obliges and the other is just an opinion. The distinction between revelation and the application in a specific situation is not maintained. Much that is really prudential is dealt with as though it is obligatory.
3) Reducing everything in relationship to God, conversion, and discipleship, to a very narrow set of economic and political concerns. ... I can’t imagine anyone who buys into the JustFaith world view ever voting for a Republican, for instance, because everything is to be judged by a very specific economic agenda.
4) A serious misreading and dismissal of the meaning and impact of the ordained role of Teaching, Governing, Sanctifying. Jack actually didn’t say so, but I can’t help but wonder if he believes that only the lay/baptismal office really exists or matters and the ordained office is just a power-play.
5) A focus so narrowly political that the work and vocations of lay Catholics are not relevant
Additional concerns raised by blogger Leonardi’s friend were that the workshop described:
- Vatican I and II are described as in opposition. ...
- Salvation “is not individual but collective.”
- The “old” (pre-Vat II) understanding of sin talked of grave matter/full knowledge/full consent – and “individual act of malice.” This is to be contrasted with “prophetic” understanding of sin – which is always social and never individual. The issue is not individual malice but social “blindness” that an entire community can participate in.
Leonardi concludes: My friend’s bottom-line assessment: “Based upon my experience, I couldn’t recommend it as a intro to Catholic Social Teaching or any other aspect of lay formation. I was disappointed because I keep hoping to find something I can recommend.” [Rich Lombardi, “Couldn’t recommend it,” Ten Reasons Blog, May 06, 2007]
As an example of CCHD’s miserable “educational opportunity,” JustFaith makes the point about CCHD’s deeply flawed nature even better than its critics’ reports.
Reform CCHD Now!
Stephanie Block edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper and is founder of the Catholic Media Coalition.