Catholic Charities forgoes government funding, stays true to values
Deacon Kevin Sartorius, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa, discusses the advantage to the ministry of offering nearly all of its services without relying on state or federal funding. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa is getting national attention for its rejection of government funding.

It’s a position that enables the organization to remain true to its Roman Catholic values and to act swiftly to help people in need without wading through a bureaucratic morass, said executive director Deacon Kevin Sartorius.

“We’re very different,” said Sartorius, who was interviewed recently along with Tulsa Bishop Edward Slattery by EWTN, the global Catholic radio, television and news network.

Sartorius said he, and people at EWTN, know of no other diocese whose Catholic Charities is funded like the Tulsa Diocese.

In nearly all of the 180 Catholic Charities organizations nationwide, one in each of the nation’s Catholic dioceses, most of the budget comes from government contracts, often as much as 80 percent, Sartorius said.

And that can create problems.

In Massachusetts and some other states, for example, local Catholic Charities have shut down their adoption and foster care programs rather than submit to new government requirements that they place children with same-sex couples, which violates the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality.

Tulsa Catholic Charities is not at risk of that because it does not receive government money to run its adoption and foster care programs, Sartorius said.

Dr. Corey Babb examines Daysi Perez at Catholic Charities on Tuesday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

“And we’re very pro-life. We use our ultrasound machine for diagnostics, but we can also use it to show a woman that she has a child in her womb. A government program might say we could only use it for diagnostics. … That would limit our ability to give the whole picture to the women we serve.

“The difference is, we represent Catholic people, not the government, in our funding. … This allows us to represent the values of our donors. … It’s natural to want to please the one who is providing the money for your program,” he said.

“I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with the government. They provide a lot of wonderful services to the poor.

“But we have a mission, and that mission is not to provide housing and clothing and medical care and food to the needy.

“Our mission is to give someone Christ, and we give them Christ through the food or the clothing. We don’t beat them over the head with the Bible, we just love them.”

Sartorius said the organization seeks staff and volunteers, of any church affiliation, who are comfortable with the Catholic Church’s positions.

“We ask people to represent the church’s positions, and you can only do that effectively if you truly believe what the church teaches.

“If not, they won’t be very effective in their job, and they won’t be happy.”

He said some dioceses that receive government money have faced problems hiring only like-minded employees.

Catholic Charities in Tulsa has 30 full-time and 30 part-time employees.

“We prefer Catholics in hiring, but many of our employees are non-Catholics who share our vision, and we highly value them.”

Just over half of the organization’s 2,500 volunteers are Catholic, including grocery packers, attorneys, physicians and dentists.

“I love it,” said Donzetta Seals, retired medical technologist who helps out in the clinic on Tuesdays and in the adoption area on Wednesdays.

“The ethic I grew up with is giving, and I’m comfortable with that here.”

The ministry provides a full range of social services at its new, 72,000-square-foot facility at 2450 N. Harvard Ave., from free dental and medical help to food and clothing, legal counseling, car repair and more.

“If someone’s car breaks down and they can’t get to work, they can quickly spiral downhill into homelessness,” Sartorius said.

“They don’t want that, and we don’t want that.”

While staff and volunteers are expected to be in agreement with the values of the church, aid recipients are not. Some 85 percent of the ministry’s 50,000 clients each year are non-Catholic.

Sartorius said that rejecting government money also eliminates bureaucracy.

In one small area – a federal refugee resettlement program – the ministry is required to accept federal money along with refugees, about 6 percent of the ministry’s $3.5 million annual budget.

He said the mountain of paperwork required for that one program creates an “incredibly different staffing environment … It’s just such a bureaucratic mess. We’re completely devoid of that in all our other programs.”

And not accepting government money allows the ministry to move quickly to help anyone in need, regardless of their legal status, he said.

Last year when a Tulsa apartment complex unexpectedly closed and many families faced sudden homelessness, about a dozen agencies came together to help out, he said.

When they learned that many of the victims were undocumented, none could help but Catholic Charities, he said, because they were all operating under government rules that help only U.S. citizens.

“We’re not bound by all these bureaucratic issues that are thrown on these other organizations,” he said. “We help people in need.”

Catholic Charities is trusted by both undocumented residents and the government, he said, and is able to work with both to get people on the path to legal residency.

“We thank God we have the funders we do, because we know if we were funded in a different way, it would create lots of barriers and lots of difficulties for the people we serve.”

Operating without government money, Tulsa’s Catholic Charities relies on a variety of income sources, including an annual appeal in the Catholic churches, and the annual Cooking Up Compassion fund-raising event, private grants, special gifts and investment from an endowment.

“We’re a community-based organization, and we’re better off for it,” Sartorius said.

“We’re in solidarity with the poor. We both have to figure out how to get by.”

Catholic Charities program

What: EWTN television special

Where: KTUL-TV, channel 8

When: 11:30 a.m. Dec. 25
Original Print Headline: Staying true to values

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