Joseph Shaw

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Be careful which charities you support at Christmas

December 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – There’s a little ritual in my street in the run-up to Christmas. A man dressed up as Father Christmas (as we call him in England) in a mock-up sleigh complete with model reindeer, the whole thing on a kind of trailer pulled by a car, arrives. Fr. Christmas’s assistants ring my doorbell and ask for a donation. And I tell them that I don’t donate to their charity, the Rotary Club.

It’s a bit sad, as I’m sure they are all good people, but Rotary International has long been involved in population control campaigns. Why would I donate to them and not to someone else?

Oxford, near where I live, has a well-known charitable hospice for the dying, Douglas House, for many years a beacon of good practice in an ethically difficult area of medicine. I was brought up short, back in 2007, when I read that they had arranged, and paid for, a prostitute to service one of their patients. As if that was not enough, they show-cased this patient for a national TV program.

No doubt those running these charities do so with the best of intentions. Well, let’s just make that charitable assumption. The problem is the gap between what is common sense for a member of our do-gooding classes, and what is common sense for a faithful Catholic. Charities sometimes present themselves as more socially conservative than they are, to maximize donations, but the internal culture of mainstream charities is very often based on a set of presuppositions completely alien to a believing Catholic.

Attitudes to sexual morality, most obviously, can sometimes take one’s breath away. How did things come to the stage when Stowe, an expensive English independent school founded in 1923, managed to generate the headline “boarding chief admits emergency contraceptive pills ‘ran out’”?

But things can operate at a slightly more subtle level. The role of the family in society, for example, is something which is seen by a lot of the liberal types who dominate major charities as either irrelevant or actually negative. But how can you help people, any people at any stage of life, if you believe that the support network provided by the family is something to be sidelined, undermined, or actually destroyed? That people suffering the effects of the atomization of society – loneliness, depression, and that cultural poverty which leads to the loss of social skills and even of the ability to look after oneself – need above all to “free themselves” from cultural traditions and family ties?

Then there are cases in which one has to put aside assumptions about charity workers being well-meaning. It has been an eye-opener to read that Oxfam, one of the most respected charitable brands on the planet, had on its staff those who wished to exploit destitute Haitians suffering from the earthquake, sexually. It seems this is a common practice among aid-workers in the field. Supposedly Catholic charities are, of course, not exempt from such criticisms.

It is, however, impossible for individual Catholics to undertake due diligence about every charity which asks for a donation. One might hope that Catholic bishops’ conferences would check out major charities in their countries, but it would seem that in many cases they would prefer as little scrutiny as possible: the Canadian Bishops’ indirect funding of pro-abortion groups is a notorious and long-running example, reported on LifeSiteNews here.

It is entirely natural that, in the context of the clerical sex-abuse scandal, many Catholics are less willing to give to their parishes and dioceses. One worry is about the money being used for immoral purposes, as when Archbishop Weakland used diocesan funds to pay off homosexual lovers. Another is about dioceses’ alarming tendencies to declare bankruptcy, at which point the faithful’s donations will disappear, with the rest of the loose change.

The early Christian teaching document, the Didache, tells us, “Let your alms sweat in your hand until you know to whom you should give.” It is a serious responsibility to give wisely, and unlike with the money wrung from us in taxes, or the profits made from us, we can avoid cooperation in evil without suffering ourselves.

The fact is that, bad as things are, there are still some good causes which we know are above reproach. This may be because we know their work well, because we are personally involved, or because they are local. I’m not going to plug the charitable causes with which I am personally involved – though they are no secret. I just say: don’t regret not being able to give to this or that cause. Be glad that there are still people working in the vineyard of the Lord, doing things you actually want to associate yourself with, and which will not make you ashamed when you come to your own judgement.

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Joseph Shaw

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and has edited a forthcoming book on the liturgy: The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and eight children.