When Bishop Edward Slattery was appointed to the Diocese of Tulsa in 1994, he took stock of local Catholic social services and was impressed. Generous financial and volunteer support from Catholics and the broader community made it possible for Catholic Charities of Tulsa to serve the poor with minimal government funding and a lean staff.
â€œI inherited a good situation: Catholic Charities in Tulsa had about 10 agencies to help the poor, from food distribution to homeless shelters and free medical and legal care. Just 6% of those services were funded by the federal government, and that was for refugee resettlement,â€ noted Bishop Slattery, as he recalled that early assessment.
Over time, he saw an opportunity to enhance that legacy: â€œAs I got more mileage here, I realized the buildings had gotten run down and there wasnâ€™t enough coordination. We needed a new campus at one location accessible to the poor.â€
But it was never just about bricks and mortar. Bishop Slattery had a spiritual blueprint in mind: He wanted the buildings centered around a chapel that would anchor the religious identity of Church-based social services and make prayer and the sacraments available to personnel, volunteers, clients and schoolchildren on service trips.
In a city thatâ€™s just 12% Catholic, the diocesan capital campaign raised an impressive $19 million for the project, completed two years ago. Meanwhile, Catholic Charitiesâ€™ annual appeal continues to set new records â€” possibly with some help from Oklahomaâ€™s growing oil and gas-exploration business.
â€œHere in Tulsa, we are not â€˜privatizingâ€™ Catholic Charities; we are simply carrying on the way we have been,â€ said Bishop Slattery, expressing gratitude that he does not face any imminent financial or political issues that could force the diocese to retrench.
Government budget cuts and political threats to the free exercise of Catholic institutions are leading many U.S. bishops to reassess the contemporary model for providing Catholic social services. In 2011, after the state of Illinois legalized civil unions, Catholic adoption agencies in that state refused to place children with unmarried or same-sex couples and then scrambled to respond to the loss of state contracts. One diocesan agency was spun off into a secular agency because government funds covered almost all of its budget and administrators didnâ€™t want to abandon the children under their supervision.
â€œThe actions in Illinois since the civil-union law took effect in June [have] led to outcomes that we believe are not the solution â€¦ for our network,â€ said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA in a December 2011 statement. â€œThe care and commitment of our agencies is deeply rooted in our faith,â€ which canâ€™t be set aside in order â€œto partner with government.â€ [More]