The Archdiocese of Portland has put a pause on grants for the Community Alliance of Tenants in Portland. That’s because the housing advocacy organization associated itself with a human rights coalition that for 2017 decided to lobby the Oregon Legislature for expanded access to abortion.

Community Alliance of Tenants, which works to protect the rights of low-income tenants and people who are homeless, had received grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development over the course of more than 20 years. Last year, it got $75,000 from the national CCHD program. The 2016 national CCHD grant amounted to $65,000. CAT has helped thousands of renters step up for better treatment.

But the alliance joined Fair Shot for All. That coalition includes NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon in addition to groups promoting housing, labor rights, racial equality, good wages and access to health care. Fair Shot for All leaders did not vote to promote abortion rights during the 2015 legislative cycle. Nor is abortion on the list for 2019.

But when the 2017 Fair Shot for All platform deliberations took place, access to abortion emerged as one of the priorities because of House Bill 3391, legislation proposed that year to expand state funding of abortion. Tenant protection was another priority for 2017. Community Alliance of Tenants representatives told coalition leaders they could not support the abortion part of the agenda but had no authority to block it. CAT did decide to stay in the coalition.

The archdiocese did not become aware of the conflict until after the alliance submitted its 2017 application at the end of 2016 but before leaders signed (in July of 2017) a CCHD grant agreement that expressly prohibits a grantee from engaging in activities that contradict fundamental Catholic moral or social teaching.

“The Archdiocese of Portland would not have supported a funding grant for CAT if these associations had been in place prior to the application process or if they had been known at the time the grant agreement was signed,” says a statement from David Renshaw, the archdiocese’s spokesman. “None of these associations were present in any of the previous years that CAT received CCHD funding. The Archdiocese of Portland has a strong record of supporting life issues, especially through the Oregon Catholic Conference, and it remains committed to maintaining the integrity of the Catholic Church’s teaching on all social and moral issues.”

Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Matt Cato, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace, oversees CCHD grants in western Oregon. He confirms that CAT would not have received money had the affiliation been known. But he adds that CAT “sticks to only one issue, housing” and is linked to abortion only by association. 

This is not the first time the archdiocese has severed ties with a helping agency over pro-life values. Cato has turned down grant applications from a handful of other groups. In 1997, Catholic Charities of Oregon parted ways with United Way because the consortium included Planned Parenthood.