WASHINGTON – A task force has been convened to review how funds from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have been used by local affiliates of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, commonly known as ACORN.
Auxiliary Bishop Roger P. Morin of New Orleans, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ CCHD subcommittee, said in a mid-October letter to his fellow bishops that the task force is part of a multipronged effort designed to ensure that church funds are being spent according to the guidelines of the bishops’ domestic poverty-fighting program.
Bishop Morin’s decision to form and lead the task force follows an earlier decision to suspend $1.13 million in grants to 40 local ACORN affiliates for the funding cycle beginning July 1, 2008. The grants had been approved by Bishop Morin’s subcommittee and by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its June meeting.
The suspension came soon after CCHD officials learned that ACORN disclosed June 2 that Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $1 million from the organization and its affiliates in 1999 and 2000. Dale Rathke stepped down from his position with the national organization in June when the matter became public; no charges were filed against him. Wade Rathke stepped down as the group’s lead organizer at the same time but remains chief organizer for ACORN International LLC.
In his letter, Bishop Morin said the task force’s efforts have included:
– Contracting with forensic accounting experts to determine if any CCHD money was “taken or misused.”
– A meeting of CCHD officials, USCCB representatives and Bishop Morin with ACORN leaders to “express serious concerns and to seek answers to specific questions.”
– Consulting with CCHD diocesan directors to review the work of ACORN locally, reviewing the relationship between diocesan directors and the group’s local affiliates, and assessing the quality and impact of the group’s work in low-income communities.
Bishop Morin also wrote that reports in early October of ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter-registration controversies and allegations of fraud “raise additional serious concerns.”
Questions about ACORN’s voter-registration practices in several states have focused on nonexistent and dead people appearing on voter-registration forms and registrants who have completed multiple cards at the urging of the organization’s hired canvassers who were trying to meet daily quotas.
The organization has maintained that any voter-registration problems affected only a tiny fraction of the 1.3 million new voters signed up for the Nov. 4 election. The group is continuing its get-out-the-vote effort for the presidential election.
“The current halt of ACORN funding means that no CCHD funds are involved in any of these activities,” Bishop Morin wrote. “Nonetheless, the suspension of all ACORN funding will not be lifted until and unless it is clear that CCHD funds will not go to an organization that has engaged in unlawful activities or voter-registration fraud, even though this does not involve CCHD funds.”
Bishop Morin stressed that past CCHD funding, totaling more than $7.3 million during the last decade, has gone directly to local ACORN affiliates and not to the organization’s national offices in New Orleans, New York and Washington.
The CCHD subcommittee will convene during the USCCB’s meeting Nov. 10-13 in Baltimore to discuss its findings.v
The annual CCHD national collection will take place in parishes Nov. 22-23.