Many have become interested in my efforts to expose the group FAST in Pinellas county. FAST is a progressive political group working with congregations to have them push their agenda. The group refuses to allow any democratic procresses and suppresses dissent. The group takes from the offertory of churches and misrepresents the Bible and violates many tenets of the Catholic Catechism (many of its congregations are Catholic).
During the process of attempting to change FAST to a good organization that respected the opinions of its “member” parishioners, I sent this letter to the Bishop of the St. Petersburg Diocese, The Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch. I am endeavoring to gain permission to publish his response. If you have similar concerns, you can contact the Bishop at the address below or at his office: 727-344-1611.
This letter is reprinted at the request of many who are looking to take similar action in their Dioceses or churches. The Sun Beam Times hopes that this provides needed assistance.
David McKalip, M.D.
431 Southwest BLVD N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33703
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg
Bishop Larkin Pastoral Center
P.O. Box 40200
St. Petersburg, FL 33743
September 22, 2011
I am writing to ask you to evaluate and determine if individual Parish involvement in the organization FAST (Faith and Action for Strength Together) is consistent with the Magesterium of the Church. I ask you also to consider if the method of funding FAST, through regular parish collections, is appropriate and endangers the tax exempt status of the local parishes and the Diocese itself.
I would suggest to you that the organization is not pursuing matters that are most consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church. In addition, its main mission appears to be one of advocating aggressively and actively for government funding of various programs that are suspect. They are suspect in that they do not produce good results, they require additional tax dollars that damage the economy, and they produce unintended consequences. In addition, for involved parishes, individual church members may not support the activities of FAST or the government programs that FAST supports. Further, there may be members that actively oppose these efforts. However, their offering to the offertory at church is used against their will to fund these activities. The Dioceses of Cleveland Ohio has declined to join a similar effort there as it evaluates the organization.[a]
While some may claim otherwise, it is clear that FAST is a purely political organization. Nearly all if not all of its activities are designed to pressure elected officials to vote or act in certain ways on various programs and proposals. There is little or no evidence of FAST working privately in the community to achieve any of the objectives it lists as goals. For instance, instead of working in the community to individually mentor children to prevent drug use, FAST advocates a failed program of “Drug courts” to decrease drug use[b]. Instead of helping people find jobs in the community or working to overcome and stop the many impediments to employment in our community, FAST advocates an economically unsound and unjust policy of preferential hiring of local residents by local governments. Rather than get into schools and tutor kids or providing private funding to tutoring and mentoring, FAST demands that only a particular reading program be purchased by the school system.
I am concerned that FAST’s stated mission is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. They state that they are a “congregation based community organization whose purpose us to train low- and moderate-income residents …to work together to identify root causes of community problems and take action…”. The Catechism refers to treating all equally and FAST appears to focus only on “Low- and modereate-income” people. This seems odd since the catechism tells us not to be “partial to the poor” (1807) but to judge all neighbors in righteousness.
Further, FAST misleads church members when it takes credit for results it had little role in producing. For instance, a FAST brochure claims “we go the director of Pinellas Early Learning Coalition to provide funds so all low-income children in Pinellas can attend a full-day pre-k program”. In my conversations with senior staff at the Early Learning Coalition, it appears that FAST support was appreciated by not the chief or necessary factor in creating this program. Further the program has created a considerable burden on Florida Taxpayers to support. In addition, FAST members and Holy Family Pastor have gone to the Pinellas County Commission and openly demanded that the Commission speed up Penny for Pinellas Affordable Housing money to go into a trust fund. Yet there are no details on who would get the money or how it would be used and significant questions about the success of that program and whether the money is being spent appropriately.
I have personally asked to make a presentation to the Board of FAST to request that they change direction or work in the community through private action. I have been advised that only “my representative” can go to the board with such a request. However, I was never allowed to select such a representative. I have asked that my Parish funds not be given to FAST but was told by my pastor that this was exclusively his decision and that he had no obligation to participate in any sort of democratic process relating to the use of church funds.
I believe that FAST, while well meaning, is not achieving positive results for the community and is causing unintended consequences. It is also endangering the tax exempt status by funneling money from church collections to an overtly political organization. It is also violating basic tenants of democracy and transparency by refusing to allow any feedback from parish members that would like a different approach for the organization. Father Tapp was quoted in the St. Pete Times as follows: “Neither, Tapp says, is this some top-down agenda decided by a few insiders. FAST develops its priorities based on what members say they care about the most.” Unfortunately, it is exactly the case that a “few insiders” develop a top-down agenda. Meetings of FAST members are designed only to have members pick from a limited list of options for action and all options involve action to advocate for a government program.
I believe FAST misrepresents the book of Nehemiah when it holds its “action assembly” and thus bears false witness. In Nehemiah, the people were gathered by a man who was the “cup holder” of the Persian king occupying Jerusalem. Many historians consider that man to be the second in command of the empire. He confronted many debt holders with an assembly of people to forgive debts – debts that were assumed because the empire was imposing taxes so high that people had to borrow to pay their taxes. They sold their children into slavery in order to pay the interest on the loans required to pay their taxes. The debt-holders, according to the book, were NEVER approached privately by Nehemiah to forgive the debt. They would have done so at the request of a man who was so powerful. However, the illusion is offered that an assembly of people caused the lenders to forgive the debts. In fact, it was one powerful man who was an official of the Persian empire who caused this. In addition, if FAST wanted to correct the basis of the injustice that was causing people to go into debt, FAST would organize its members to demand lower taxes in Pinellas. While I don’t advocate that churches be involved in this way politically, it is clear that this would be a better position for FAST. Currently FAST’s efforts necessarily increase taxes causing more people in Pinellas County to lose their homes. Finally, the main message of Nehemiah had little to do with the assembly and its results. The main message was that the people of Jerusalem had strayed from a moral life and would only enjoy a good life if they returned to that moral basis and Mosaic law. FAST could accomplish much by working to have all members of our community return to a moral life that involved two parent families, ridding themselves of drug use, responsibly learning in schools and spreading the word of God. FAST does none of these things.
Further, FAST arguably misquotes the bible and refers to Michah 6:6-8 in saying that “He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”. This is a quote from the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Bible. The New American Bible on the Vatican Website and the second Edition printed version I own offers: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Although it appears that for the New American Bible Revised Edition the quote at the USCCB website has been changed to “do Justice”. This may be part of the ongoing disagreement between the Holy SEE and the USCCB on translation of the bible[c][d]). These words “do justice” have great meaning as the foundation for FAST which has described itself as having a “social justice” goal. Unfortunately, the words “social justice” in the secular culture are vastly different than the words “Social Justice” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1928). I have offered my thoughts on that to you in the past but as I read the catechism, Social Justice requires that we respect individual rights and ensure that the common good is served all within the confines of the principle of “Subsidiarity” which states that a “neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies”. FAST is asking that our local governments substitute themselves more and more for family and local community action to solve our own problems. The history of government action in solving problems is a well known failure despite enormous authority and funding. This road is hopeless and further efforts to ask the government to solve problems such as addiction, affordable housing, education and the like are not worth pursuing. Further, such efforts distract individuals from acting on their own in their community and give people a false sense of security that they have helped their fellow man when all they have done is hurt other segments of society (families, home owners, business, taxpayers, some workers and others). This failure to produce intended results and producing unintended results violates catechetical teachings on moral action (1755: “1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”)”.
Further, FAST is an offshoot of a larger organization called “DART” that is self-described as a community organizing group. DART provided training for key staff members hired by FAST. DART proclaims that they train groups to do “community organizing” . Community organizing is a known tool of groups that support a certain political point of view. FAST has worked hard to recruit support for its work in local groups like Boy Scout troops and neighborhood associations – key methods of a “community organizing”. The Catholic Campaign for Human development (CCHD) has provided funding for DART and other “community organizer groups” in the past. Unfortunately it had to stop supporting a similar group (ACORN) after providing $7.3 million in parishioner’s money when major scandals became public with ACORN. The opportunity for scandal exists with DART and related groups as it pursues its one-sided agenda and the Diocese and the larger Catholic Church could be hurt by our association.
Our Pastor has done so much to improve the status of our parish and to teach me personally and our parish collectively the holy message of God. However, I think he is straying in his support of FAST. Offering FAST as an organization in which members of his parish can voluntarily participate seems reasonable. However, he took a lead role in forming FAST and has personally testified on behalf of FAST at government meetings. It seems to contradict a teaching of the catechism which states:
“2442 It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. Social action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity “to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.”
I would suggest that the current involvement of Parishes of our Diocese in FAST raises serious question that require attention quickly. We can and should encourage the lay faithful to “act on their own initiative” to work for the common good through moral action. But we need not proceed in the current manner with FAST.
I believe that any concerns could be addressed by any or some of the following options:
- Parishes should dissociate themselves entirely from FAST but individual members interested in FAST participation should be advised of the opportunity to participate.
- Individual parish members should be afforded the opportunity to publicly debate and recommend to the Pastor if their parish participates in FAST.
- Donations to FAST from individual parishes should come from voluntary donations of church members only. A special collection in an individual parish for this purpose seems reasonable. To divert support for the parish to support for FAST from individual parishioner contributions seems inappropriate and may violate the Churches teaching on moral action.
- If a parish chooses to participate in FAST, other parishioner should have the opportunity to gain support for their parish to participate in other organizations that have missions supported by parishioners. For instance, the “Faith and Freedom Coalition” works to advocate smaller government and more community based action at the individual level.
- If the parish is involved in FAST, there should be an open and democratic process to elect representatives to FAST committees. There should be a similar process, at the general parish level, to select the actions of FAST. If there is voluntary donation, only the donors need be involved. If it is an involuntary donation, the entire parish should be involved.
- FAST Board meetings should be announced and open to all members of each member congregation for comment. These leaders should hear concerns and answer questions. They should be receptive to other ideas besides government lobbying that produce good results in our community.
- The Diocese should request that FAST incorporate action in the private sector for at least 50% of its activities and work toward >90% of private sector action in the next few years. Action in the private sector is more likely to produce sustainable and beneficial results for the community. FAST should consider unintended consequences of its actions and provide honest reviews of programs successes and shortcomings to FAST members prior to proceeding.
- FAST is famous for publicly demanding in large assemblies that elected officials comply with its demands. The Diocese should ask that FAST similarly “call out” large organizations that are engaging in immoral acts in our community. For instance, they should invite Planned Parenthood to the stage and demand that they stop doing abortions. (I have been told by FAST leaders that not all church members of FAST would agree to this and therefore we can’t consider this action. That is concerning).
- Every year, FAST should engage in major private fund raising for money that would be directly used to benefit members in our community who need assistance. For instance, the meals on wheels program, drug recovery programs, tutoring programs, job training program and similar programs would be helpful for many.
10.FAST members should be offered opportunities to directly participate as individuals in the community to help their fellow man and solve major social problems. For instance, FAST churches could engage in inter-racial, interdenominational worship to build trust between social groups. FAST members could help feed the hungry through meals on wheels or staff Pinellas Hope.
I appreciate your attention to this matter. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this in person if you wish. I hope you recognize that I am animated by correcting what I believe to be an injustice in our church’s current method of supporting FAST. I am animated by my understanding of the teachings of the church as annunciated in the bible, the catechism and papal encyclicals. I am certain that my knowledge will always be lacking, but I believe I have analyzed the situation correctly. I believe it is also my duty as a parishioner to raise these issues and that raising such concerns is supported by the church.
I look forward to hearing from you and hope that positive steps can be taken on this matter.
[d] “There seems to be a process in the works of Catholic Biblical scholars, in translating, editing, and commenting on Sacred Scripture, whereby, as each decade passes, the works become more and more secular, less and less faithful, with a continual progression of errors, ever greater in number and in severity. Scripture translations have continually become ever more loose, with ever more distortions added to the text. Annotations have become secular, faithless, even tending toward heresy. This process must be reversed or grave harm to the whole Church on earth will result.” http://ronconte.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/new-american-bible-revised-edition-review-part-2/