Layoffs alarm supporters of Catholic Social Teaching USCCB restructures justice and peace department

Barb Arland-Fye
Mayra Hernandez of Quad Cities Interfaith, speaks during a Dec. 14, 2022 press conference outside diocesan headquarters in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Despite layoffs that affect Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) employees at the national level, the Diocese of Davenport announced that its CCHD intern, Julissa Govea, would serve a second year, beginning this fall. CCHD works to break the cycle of poverty and is a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).


Govea, a student at the University of Iowa majoring in political science, will continue her work with the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa. She has been focusing on assisting employees recover unpaid wages from their employers. This experience has shown her that “social justice and Catholic faith do intersect in advocating for awareness in the community,” she said during a Lunch and Learn webinar of the Davenport Davenport’s Social Action Office in March.

Criticism of some organizations that received CCHD funding has been an issue for years, as the late Msgr. Marvin Mottet, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport, discovered when he led the organization (1978-85). However, every funded organization must pass a thorough vetting process, said Deacon Kent Ferris, who leads the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action Office and oversees the diocesan CCHD program.


“While we await formal and direct information regarding the extent to which the CCHD anti-poverty campaign is to change, I recall the many ways communities in our diocese have benefited,” Deacon Ferris said. “People living and working in poverty have broken through the web of poverty by speaking from their lived experience.”

“For Catholics, CCHD has enabled us to more fully integrate our faith and how it can be expressed in the preferential option for the poor,” Deacon Ferris said. “In particular, the CCHD Intern program has provided the Catholic faithful, oftentimes young adult Catholics, with direct experience working with CCHD-funded groups in affecting real-time change.”

Deacon Ferris pointed to the example set by former CCHD intern Mayra Hernandez, who recently served as interim executive director for Quad Cities Interfaith (QCI). She helped QCI promote and advocate for “safe and affordable housing before, during and after the tragic apartment building collapse in Davenport last year that left three people dead and others injured.”

Govea in her work with the Center for Worker Justice in Iowa City also demonstrates the value of CCHD, Deacon Ferris said. She “provided direct support to those affected by workplace wage theft and also captured her experience in a presentation that explained the basics of Catholic Social Teaching powerfully.”

“Having been personally mentored by the late Msgr. Mottet, I have understood the importance of walking with the two feet of social action,” Deacon Ferris said. “The articulation of the same principles by past and present CCHD Catholic young adult interns inspires my future resolve to continue the mission. Now all we ask is for clarity of commitment and organizational structure from our bishops.”

OSV News reported that the USCCB made staffing reductions on June 24 in its Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development department. CCHD is a part of the department. Quoting USCCB Public Affairs Executive Director Chieko Noguchi, OSV said staff were notified that day of changes in the department’s structure. The reorganization will enable the USCCB “to align resources more closely with recent funding trends,” Noguchi said. “Sadly, this includes a loss of jobs for several staff members.”

She did not specify the number of layoffs, according to OSV, which reported that the department consists of nearly 30 staff employees, two committees of bishops and one bishops’ subcommittee. The office’s activities encompass poverty relief, advocacy, education, social development, anti-racism efforts and environmental justice. OSV also said CCHD employees were among the affected employees.

CCHD, founded in 1969 as the National Catholic Crusade Against Poverty, works to break the cycle of poverty by empowering individuals, families and communities to do something about it. An annual diocesan collection — held nationwide, usually in November — funds CCHD, which has awarded $440 million to almost 12,000 community organizations since its beginning, OSV reported.

The administration of the national collection is being reorganized to allow for more efficient management, Noguchi said in a statement provided to OSV. “The CCHD Subcommittee (of bishops) will continue its work.”

The restructuring follows the USCCB’s spring meeting June 12-14 in Louisville, Kentucky, during which the bishops discussed the future of CCHD. “For a half-century, grants made possible through the annual CCHD collection have gone to help community organizations working to empower people striving to overcome poverty. Now, the bishops have begun the process of discerning the next 50 years,” the USCCB Public Affairs office said in a statement announcing the spring meeting’s agenda.

USCCB President Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio provided an update following the bishops’ discussion. “The bishops had a good discussion, including time to share in small groups. The CCHD subcommittee will take this feedback and discern the best way to incorporate it into the future work of the CCHD. In all these discussions, the bishops’ ongoing commitment to the vital work of fighting poverty was clear.”


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