Centro Campesino loses Catholic aid over birth control clashby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Centro Campesino, the southern Minnesota organization that helps migrant workers, is among a handful of nonprofits across the country that have lost funding from a branch of the U.S. Conference of Bishops because they are at odds with Catholic Church's position on birth control.
Centro Campesino started distributing free condoms at its Owatonna office in 2009, after the group received a three-year HIV Prevention grant from the Minnesota Department of Health.
But the requirements of that grant conflicted with those of another grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which requires recipients to follow church teachings against contraception. When campaign officials learned of the condom distribution program they stopped payment on $17,500 awarded to Centro Campesino, or half of its entire grant. That represented about 2.7 percent of the nonprofit group's roughly $650,000 budget that year.
"We're still here; we're still doing our work," Centro Campesino Executive Director Ernesto Velez. "It is funding that we lose, but that happens every year. It's just like any other grant that we get — you qualify, you don't qualify."
Velez said the organization will stop distributing condoms at the end of the year. But he said the group's mission of improving the lives of newcomers remains the same.
"I don't think we've ever compromised our work over funding because we always try to make sure that the funding we're applying to fits the organization's mission and vision," Velez said. "We have to figure out whether we continue to provide the services and if we do, how much is that going to cost us."
Centro Campesino is often the first stop for many immigrants and seasonal workers in southern Minnesota looking for a variety of social services, including tax information, basic blood tests or information on doctors and hospitals. The organization spends about a quarter of its overall budget on health programs.
Just last week, state health officials reported the number of sexually transmitted diseases — including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — rose to 19,547 in 2011, up from 18,009 in 2010 and 16,912 in 2009. Of those, nearly 17,000 cases were of chlamydia.
Health officials reported that the chlamydia rate last year was three-times higher for Latinos than for whites in Minnesota. Most cases involved teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.
Although Centro Campesino programs to respond to AIDS and HIV are helpful to the community, Velez said sex education isn't a critical priority for his organization, which largely focuses on worker justice, college access and legal services.
"At the end of the day, what we want to do is see something that creates some systemic change, or institutional change, within our community or within the region or within the state," he said. "So providing workshops about AIDS and HIV doesn't really mean we're creating systemic change."
The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits urges its members to diversify revenue sources, as donations and grants are harder to come by. But doing so can bring its own set of problems.
"There's often not a perfect match between the funding available and what an organization wants to do, which is kind of the existential dilemma for these organizations," said Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
Pratt said it's common for multi-service organizations like Centro Campesino to constantly adjust their services or programs based on funding changes. But he worries when funders require organizations to meet the donor's goals to receive money.
"We want these organizations to be independent centers of initiative and creativity and that it's local people making the decisions," Pratt said. "And when funders are adding requirements and even prohibiting activities, that's something we really don't like to see."
Officials with the Washington D.C.-based Catholic Campaign for Human Development declined to comment, but say the campaign is up front about not funding groups whose practices are contrary to Catholic Church doctrine. They say all grants go through a lengthy review process and have to be approved by officials at the local diocese.
Joel Hennessy, director of Mission Advancement for the Diocese of Winona, said Centro Campesino can reapply for the grant if it meets the grant requirements.
"Obviously, given that we think highly of their mission and know they're doing great work for the Latino community, if they do plan on discontinuing the distribution of condoms, that would basically be removing the issue that we had," Hennessy said. "So that would be a positive."
Velez said Centro Campesino will continue distributing condoms through the end of the year to satisfy the requirements of the state grant. He said the organization will stop doing so next year to apply for a new grant from the Catholic campaign.