WASHINGTON (September 19, 2005)—Little Rock Bishop J. Peter Sartain, Chairman of the Committee on the Home Missions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), announced that the CHM will give more than $3 million in hurricane relief to both mission and non-mission dioceses affected by Hurricane Katrina.
What makes the action extraordinary is that the Committee on the Home Missions is not an emergency assistance agency like Catholic Charities. CHM grants go to support ongoing programming and personnel in some of the poorest dioceses in the country that rely on outside help year in and year out, irrespective of natural disasters. There are about 90 such home mission dioceses in the country receiving CHM grants.
The Committee does maintain a $200,000 emergency fund specifically to assist mission dioceses affected by natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. But CHM guidelines do not permit the Committee to use this money to help non-mission dioceses.
The catastrophic effects of the hurricane are mostly confined to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Biloxi. A number of other dioceses from Texas to Alabama to Tennessee also face substantial costs in offering relief to refugees from the devastation. Some of these affected are home mission dioceses, while others are not.
For this reason, Bishop Sartain and the CHM Committee sought permission from the USCCB Administrative Committee, which met here September 14-15, to distribute emergency funds to affected dioceses in the most equitable way possible, without regard to the distinction between mission and non-mission dioceses. Approval to this one-time-only exception to CHM guidelines will enable the Committee to assist such non-mission dioceses as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Mobile as well as the mission dioceses in the impacted area.
The CHM also sought and received approval from the USCCB Administrative Committee to expend up to $3 million of its reserve funds for hurricane relief. After consulting with the bishops of all the affected dioceses and with the Catholic Church Extension Society, the Committee will design a comprehensive plan for dispensing funds in the most equitable way possible. These funds will be used either for the immediate relief of persons, or for ameliorating damage to diocesan/parish infrastructure and to ministry programs. The money will be disbursed during the current funding year.
"This hurricane has had an enormous impact on countless persons and the Committee on the Home Missions wants to do all it can to help them put their lives back together," Bishop Sartain said. "Grants will be made both to mission and non-mission dioceses, taking into account the losses each sustained and their own financial resources," he said. "Again, this would constitute an exception to our Guidelines for Funding, which would otherwise remain unchanged.
"Since the funds would come from reserves, the CHM's regular grant program for home mission dioceses would not be affected," Bishop Sartain stated.
The Committee on the Home Missions is the successor to the American Board of Catholic Missions begun in 1924. It is funded by an annual April appeal conducted in the 195 U.S. dioceses.