Catholic Campaign for Human Development 2011: Part 4

Changing the Way Christians Understand “Church” – Funding Omaha Together One Community (OTOC)

Stephanie Block

Applicants for Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) awards must sign a Grant Agreement indicating that they will adhere to Catholic principles. The CCHD website explains: “Applicant organizations must not participate in or promote activities that contradict the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church and must in no way work against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' priorities to defend human life and dignity, strengthen family life and the institution of marriage, and foster diversity. For example, applicant organizations that support or promote same-sex marriage, discrimination, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, or punitive measures towards immigrants are not eligible for CCHD funding.” 1

Despite this new, more rigorous selection procedure, CCHD grants continue to go to organizations – lots of organizations – that DO “participate in or promote activities that contradict the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church” (see CCHD 2011, part 1-3).

Critics of CCHD have focused primarily on grants to organizations that “participate in or promote activities that contradict the moral…teachings of the Church.” The recent American Life League Report ( ) is a stunning example of this focus.

However, what of non-Catholic organizations working within Catholic congregations that teach anti-Catholic theology? What of groups that “participate in or promote activities that contradict the … social teachings of the Catholic Church?” Should they get CCHD money?

If CCHD followed its guidelines, the answer would be “no…” but the guidelines aren’t being followed.

Before giving examples of groups that “participate in or promote activities that contradict the … social teachings of the Catholic Church,” one must consider the following caveat: grantees can’t be self-regulating. Most CCHD-funded organizations are not run by Catholics and non-Catholics can hardly be expected to know or understand what constitutes Church teaching. Alinskyian community organizations frequently pull bits of Scripture or Catholic social teaching from Church documents and, using them out of context, proof- text fallacious positions. It may be well-intentioned but the problem is serious for the Church that is already bleeding in multiple directions because its people are, in the words of late Cardinal Bernadin, largely religious illiterates. 2 Allowing false teachers access to an ignorant, vulnerable flock is tantamount to evangelizing them right out of their faith.

So, what are we talking about?

The CCHD 2010 Grant awards included $25,000 to Omaha Together One Community (OTOC).3 OTOC is the Omaha, Nebraska affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the oldest of the Alinskyian organizing networks.

Alinskyian organizing network affiliates have institutional members, such as churches or schools. Among OTOC’s institutional members is Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic parish.

At one of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Sunday Masses in 2002, the pastor Father Damian Zuerlein centered his homily on the righteousness of his immigrant meatpacking congregants to unionize. He introduced the plant’s union committee and invited them to “Speak about your struggle for justice.” Sergio Sosa, OTOC organizer at the time, was in the back of the church, watching.

The right of immigrant meatpackers to organize isn’t the problem; the misuse of the Mass as a vehicle for unionizing is. It was an admittedly liberationist act: “[T]he Mass was a visible symbol of something deeper-a long-term coalition between the United Food and Commercial Workers and Omaha Together One Community, a community-based organizing project. Together they are working to re-unionize the Omaha meatpacking industry ….[Father] Zuerlein began organizing workers at Greater Omaha Packing in 1996. …Zuerlein became a magnet for people seeking to apply liberation theology among Latinos in the U.S. One was Sergio Sosa, a former seminarian and veteran of the radical movement that organized poor Mayan peasants during Guatemala’s genocidal war, which took the lives of over 200,000 indigenous people. Sosa was hired by Father Zuerlein and Tom Holler, who started Omaha Together One Community.

Carl Ariston, the lead union organizer and a former meatpacking worker was asked about OTOC’s use of the church for union ends. ‘It adds to our credibility, and that connection makes us seem more familiar to workers.’” 4

[12-12-11 Update:  Father Zuerlein has written to correct Mr. Bacon’s account of these events.  Father writes: “It has come to my attention that you have written about me in your article on CCHD and an organizing group in Omaha, Nebraska called OTOC. I am writing because the part of the story referring to me is in error. …Yes, I was involved in supporting my parishioners who worked in packing houses to organize a labor union. Doing so I followed in a long line of Catholic priests and bishops who have done likewise including Pope John Paul II. Yes, those who were struggling to create a union would gather for Mass to ask for God's help in doing the work encouraged in papal encyclicals. Yes, at the time, the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe was a member of OTOC and OTOC is affiliated with IAF. I am no longer the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe nor is the parish a member of OTOC. Yes, OTOC and UFCW were working together to help the workers form a union. They were successful in organizing in some plants and not successful in others.

“While Mr. Bacon may have wanted to make me into some kind of radical priest, that has never been the case. I am not a supporter of liberation theology, but I do proclaim the gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church. I would agree with Cardinal Ratzinger's critique of some aspects of liberation theology. We were certainly not a ‘magnet for people seeking to apply liberation theology among Latinos.’ There was never a Mass in which the union committee was introduced during the homily or workers invited to ‘speak about your struggle for justice.’ 

Fr. ZuerleinThose events always followed the Mass, they never took place during Mass. Certainly some of the organizers wanted it during Mass, but I never allowed that to take place. We always allowed regular parishioners to leave the church before we went forward with the concerns of those parishioners who were working on the organizing effort. Was the support of the parish crucial to the success of the organizing effort - you bet. Just like John Paul II's support of Solidarity was crucial for their success. Did I ever preach on the Church's teaching on the rights of workers to organize? Yes.

I met many times with Archbishop Curtiss and other Chancery officials during my days at Guadalupe to make sure we were always operating under the guidelines of the church. Since I had been called in before the Archbishop by attorneys for the packing houses, we were extra careful to make sure we followed Catholic teaching in all that we did.”

In another email, Father adds: “If we are correcting the story, then one other point should be made - I did not hire Mr. Sosa. He was hired by Mr. Holler. I was not in a position to hire him since I was not an organizer for OTOC. I did encourage Mr. Holler to test out Mr. Sosa and will accept responsibility for that action, but the many struggles which came from that hire need to be placed upon his supervisors for their slowness in acting.”]

Liberationism is a serious distortion of not only Catholic social teaching but of its doctrinal teachings, as well. Before his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI prepared a Vatican response to the errors being spread by this theological movement, calling it “a perversion of the Christian message as God entrusted it to His Church.” 5

The issues provoking liberationism are genuine. On the other hand, some remedies may be as bad as the evils they seek to correct and “justice” – the professed goal of liberationism – suffers from Marxist roots, particularly moral relativism (no Alinskyian organization will ever tackle the injustice of abortion because it’s “too controversial”) and from reducing the spiritual to mere politics.

This inclination to politicize the spiritual causes the liberationist to undervalue the effects of personal sin and overvalue structural (or societal) sin. As a result, economic or socio-political structures are misunderstood as root causes of evil rather than as a consequence of human actions, done by free and responsible persons. The Vatican document argues: “To demand first of all a radical revolution in social relations and then criticize the search for personal perfection is to set out on a road which leads to the denial of the meaning of the person and his transcendence, and to destroy ethics and its foundation which is the absolute character of the distinction between good and evil.” 6

The Instruction also notes that the radical deliverance of Christ, offered to both freeman and slave, “does not require some change in the political or social condition as a prerequisite for entrance into this freedom.” 7 The Good News cannot be reduced to an earthly gospel, however. 8 Nor can scripture be used to teach that a given political or economic system liberates when “God is the defender and liberator of the poor.” 9

By no means is the Industrial Areas Foundation the only offender. Liberationists Dennis Jacobsen and Cornell West are on Gamaliel’s “First Year Reading List for New Organizers.” 10 Dennis Jacobsen is the director of the Gamaliel National Clergy Caucus,11 and a Lutheran pastor in Milwaukee. His book, Doing Justice, was published in 2001, based on presentations Jacobsen has made at Gamaliel’s clergy-training center.12

The PICO website is rife with liberationist articles and speeches. One, delivered at a PICO conference, twists Jesus’ commissioning of the 70 to spread the gospel of salvation through the forgiveness of sin to the Lord’s confirmation of PICO’s materialistic vision, including the discovery that Jesus “offers a three-part social program” consisting of relationship (table fellowship), addressing self-interest (curing the sick and addressing poverty), and making hope real (announcing that the kingdom of God is near).13

DART is no better. One of its supporters explains that the network “has a very strong biblical training component that includes how to read and use the Bible to do social analysis and to work for corporate and social reform in cities through community organizing. Its annual Clergy Conference is a continuing means for honing biblical interpretation and organizing skills of its pastors and church leaders.”14 The DART website provides ample liberationist materials to assist in this training, including a set of “Biblical reflections on God's call to do justice,” tailored to clergy from various faith perspectives. 15

This isn’t Christian theology – it’s a Marxist perversion. Yet, CCHD gave at least 111 of its 218 grants – about half – to Alinskyian organizations. In monetary terms, that’s about $4,055,000 or more than half of the 2010 grant pie…which is a lot of money to give to groups that are aggressively evangelizing people out of their Catholic faith.

1 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Department of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, “Community Criteria, Guidelines and Policies,” Criteria #2:

2 Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, “Called to be Catholic: Church in a time of peril,” August 12, 1996.

3 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, Department of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, 2010 Grantee List:

4 David Bacon, “Immigrant Meatpackers Join Forces with the Union and the Church,” Labor Notes, 7-1-02.

5 Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation,” 1984, IX.1.

6 Instruction…IV.15

7 Instruction… IV.13

8 Instruction…VI.4

9 Instruction…IV.6

10; Jacobsen’s book Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing, says that Gamaliel is the only network to have an organized and staffed national Clergy Caucus. (p. 26)


12 Bill Wylie-Kellermann, Book Review of Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing by Dennis Jacobsen. (Augsburg Fortress: 2001), for Sojourners Magazine, Nov/Dec 2001.

13 “A Reflection on Congregation…,” p 6-7.

14 Robert C. Linthicum, Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities, Biblica, 2006.

15 All quotes in this section come from here.

Home + Articles

Dissenters Press Releases Speakers Bureau