PORTLAND -- A Catholic organization has decided to cut off long-standing funding to a Portland immigrant rights group that works with day laborers over its affiliation with an organization that supports same-sex marriage.
Voz Workers' Rights Education lost a $75,000 grant in June from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which is the national anti-poverty, social justice program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Catholic Campaign director Ralph McCloud said the group asked Voz to cut ties with the National Council of La Raza, a large Latino civil rights organization that endorses marriage equality, to be considered for the grant. Voz has been an affiliate of NCLR since 2009, primarily as a grantee.
After Voz refused to cut its ties, the organization "self-disqualified" itself from the funding process, McCloud said.
In June, the bishops approved more than $14 million in grants to 205 organizations. The bishops had supported Voz since 1994, via 10 grants, McCloud said.
"It's certainly difficult and painful, because Voz has done some tremendous work," McCloud said. "But it became obvious that they were assisting in something that was contrary to the teachings of our traditions. And we have to honor our donors' intent that this money be spent on issues that are not contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Voz is not the first nonprofit to lose church funding because of ties to organizations that endorse same-sex marriage.
A coalition of conservative Catholic groups led by the American Life League has criticized what it sees as lax administration by the Catholic Campaign and has been working since 2009 to call attention to CCHD grantees with activities, positions or affiliations with other nonprofits that contradict Church teachings on abortion, contraception and gay rights.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops conducted a review of the grant program and adopted several changes in 2010 that were designed to clarify the eligibility rules and strengthen the application review process. As a result of the review, nine nonprofits that were part of coalitions led by groups that supported reproductive rights or same-sex marriage no longer qualified for the funds, McCloud said. Others chose not to apply, or re-apply.
Community organizations serving immigrants and the poor in Colorado, Illinois, California and several other states have either had to decide whether to forgo their grants or sever their relationships with larger groups whose views the church considers problematic.
The lost grant represents a large bulk of Voz's annual budget of $310,000, said Voz director Romeo Sosa. But he said the decision to withdraw from the grant competition allowed Voz to maintain its values.
"Marriage equality is not the focus of our work; we focus on immigrant rights. But we work with everyone, we don't discriminate," Sosa said. "There may be gays and lesbians among our staff or workers, and we can't turn our backs on them."
Local labor, immigrant rights, and groups that support gay rights have vowed to fundraise for Voz to fill the financial hole left by the grant's loss. ----------------- Lisa Leff reported from San Francisco.