The Continuing Decline at First Things

by Michael Sean Winters

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It is sad to see the once prestigious journal, First Things, turn into a mouthpiece for extremist, crackpot conspiracy theories peddled by those who attack the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. But, they have an article up by Father Val Peter that repeats some of the baseless charges leveled against the bishops' anti-poverty program. It is indicative of Peter's bias, intentional or not, that he repeatedly leaves out the first "C" for "Catholic" in the acronym that identifies CCHD.

Two lines caused me especial distress. Peter writes: "Unfortunately, the pastoral needs of today are very different from what they were forty years ago. Rather than change with them, the CHD [sic] has mutated into irrelevance."

Peter is half-right when he claims that the pastoral needs have changed. In America today, compared to forty years ago when CCHD was founded, the rich are even richer and the poor are even poorer. Social mobility has declined even while wealth has become more concentrated, the worst of both worlds. The needs of our poor brothers are sisters are greater today than they were forty years ago. What has not changed, however, is the specifically pastoral quality of the work. We do not only help the poor because of their circumstance, we help the poor because of our circumstance. We are baptized and, just so, we possess the most solemn obligation, and grace sufficient to that obligation, to help the poor. And so, CCHD helps farm workers in Florida earn an extra penny for every bushel of tomatoes they pick. CCHD helps a poor community in Cincinnati organize to extend a bus line an additional half mile so it reaches a supermarket so that the poor and the infirm do not have to walk a half mile with groceries. If this is somehow tainted because CCHD joins forces with those who have read Saul Alinsky, so be it.

It is true that the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, former editor of First Tings, also joined in the attack on CCHD. But, he never would have permitted an article so poorly argued as Peter's to grace the pages of his magazine.

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