As Lent approaches, I was interested to read across at In hoc signo vinces that CAFOD donated £295, 970 to Islamic Relief in 2009. (CAFOD is the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development - the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales.) I mention it in connection with Lent as in many parishes but especially in our "Catholic" schools Lent has become synonymous with CAFOD. I know that many priests and even some bishops have become a little uneasy / unhappy with this complete Cafodization of Lent. In our schools I suppose it is a very easy way for the many non-Catholic teachers and the many Catholics teachers who are lapsed or in irregular life-partner situations to make a link with Lent that doesn't necessitate any actual mention of the Faith (spirituality, dogma, Church teaching) - just a very general "helping those less well off than us". Laudable in itself but hardly the whole richness of embracing salvation that God offers us through His Church. The Faith is, after all, more than social justice (and - this may come as a surprise to some - priests who wear a biretta can also feel passionatley about social justice!
Some years ago when the news broke about CAFOD's fudging on the use of contraception to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids I tried to find out exactly what their policy was - but without any straightforward answer to my questions. Of course we can have a realistic and nuanced view to this terrible problem, as the Holy Father has made clear but it must go hand in hand with a call to conversion. Like dieting, the only really effective way is to change your habits and behaviour to achieve any real and long-term effect. Many in the Church have lost the confidence in Her and in the Gospels to preach a lifestyle radically different from the pagan world about us.
But to return to CAFOD. I can't see why CAFOD needs to distribute its funds (OUR funds) through Islamic organisations. I know the response will be that an Islamic agency would be the most effective means to get aid to victims in some areas, like the earthquake in Pakistan, but I find some difficulties with this.
1. There are Catholic agencies and charities - Catholic diocese - in such places as Pakistan. We know this because the Church there is persecuted. See here for an example. The only Christian in the Pakistan government, Shahbaz Bhatti, has just been murdered (see here for comment by Damien Thompson) and he is the second politician who has been calling for tolerance for Christians there to have been assassinated while the government has been slow (to say the least) to do anything about those calls.
2. There is an issue with corruption in many of these countries - Pakistan being one of them. See here for how UN aid was linked to extremist Islamic groups.
I would like to give money raised in the parish to Aid to the Church in Need who often give their funds directly to Catholic diocese in areas of need but CAFOD is the official charity. Two obligatory collections are listed in our diocesan yearbook. The printed envelopes we get for weekly donations automatically include these extras for CAFOD. As a parish priest I think I may be within my rights to decide not to hold these collections or make it clear that we are collecting for a different charity on those Sundays but then can my nerves stand for another little disagreement with the diocese?