Covenant House Alaska (CHA) was created in early 1987 by the late Anchorage Archbishop Francis T. Hurley of Anchorage and Father Bruce Ritter, a Franciscan priest and President of Covenant House International (CHI).
Father Ritter founded Covenant House as a refuge for runaway and throw-away youth in New York City. He was in Anchorage at the invitation of Archbishop Hurley to give a public talk on youth on the streets. He agreed to open a Covenant House program in Anchorage if the archdiocese would provide a suitable building for the crisis center as it was then called. The crisis center was to be a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year shelter where any youth could come for safety, care and, most importantly, Christian love.
Archbishop Hurley asked me to take the lead in establishing a Covenant House in Anchorage. I was on the Catholic Social Services board at the time and had, along with others, worked with him to create two other shelters, Brother Francis and Clare House.
I escorted Father Ritter on a tour of downtown Anchorage during which I showed him the old Armed Forces YMCA, which had just closed. The building satisfied his criteria. I negotiated the building’s purchase, headed the fund-raising committee, lobbied the legislature for a grant, and became the first board member of the new CHA. All of Father Ritter’s requirements had been met, and Covenant House Alaska opened on October 31, 1988. I had almost 35 years of service when I resigned in January 2022.
Covenant House was a Roman Catholic charity from the beginning. The president was a Franciscan priest. The national corporate bylaws stated: “The Directors shall at all times have due regard for the Roman Catholic origins of Covenant House and the Roman Catholic traditions and philosophy that have guided the administration of Covenant House and its subsidiaries and affiliated organizations.” No site, including Anchorage, would be created without the invitation or consent of the local Catholic bishop.
In 1994, then CHI President Sister Mary Rose McGeady, D.C., issued a directive titled “Religious Principles and Values,” which stated that while Covenant House respected the personal views of its employees, “where there is a conflict of views, particularly in the area of sexual ethics, the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church prevails.” This directive was binding on all sites and programs of CHI. Donors and supporters, Christians, and those of any faith or no faith, knew and relied on the Catholic identity and actual practice of Covenant House in Alaska and throughout the world.
At a CHA board meeting in December 2021, CHA formally severed its connection with the Catholic church and, in particular, its moral principles. This was done by amending the local bylaws to delete the phrase “. . .the Roman Catholic traditions and philosophy that have guided the administration of Covenant House.” This action was approved by the parent body CHI. CHA is now not a Catholic institution. In policy directions and actual practice it now acts directly contrary to fundamental Catholic moral teaching.
This testament is my effort to explain, to the best of my knowledge and ability, how this fundamental and disastrous conversion to a post-modern secular organization occurred and the part I played while the conversion was in process.
Beginning in early 2018, a few people began asking me whether Covenant House was still Catholic. They had heard or seen some things which troubled them, particularly in respect to issues related to homosexuality and similar issues. I assured them it was, and promised to inquire of Covenant House executives. In April of that year, I had lunch with a CHI executive in New York regarding the questions I had been asked. Over the next three and a half years the responses I received were contradictory, vague, and evasive.
The process was long drawn out and unresolved until the CHA board meeting of December 8, 2021. I learned in advance of that meeting that a subcommittee was recommending that language regarding the Catholic nature of CHA be deleted. After a contentious debate, where some board members demeaned and dismissed the Catholic faith, the board, as previously stated, voted to approve the deletion, thus confirming that CHA was a secular institution that was no longer bound to follow Catholic moral principles, particularly in the case of sexual ethics.
It means that CHA has embraced the sexual revolution that has hit our society like a huge tsunami. It inevitably harms the very people CHA exists to help
The “Religious Principles and Values” directive mentioned earlier was now stated by CHA management to no longer be in effect. The termination of this directive and other related policy changes have had catastrophic results. It means that CHA has embraced the sexual revolution that has hit our society like a huge tsunami. It inevitably harms the very people CHA exists to help and further damages the family and child rearing, the very foundation of society. As one scholar of the Hebrew scriptures put it: “To enable the people to live justly … they will need comprehensive legislation touching on those aspects of human life where, left to their own devices, unregulated human beings will usually get it wrong – injuring their neighbors, defiling themselves, and worshiping idols.” (The Beginning of Wisdom, Reading Genesis,” by Leon R. Kass)
The need for God’s legislation to bind us is true for our time just as it was in the time of the Patriarchs.
As a result of the statements and action of the CHA board, Father Scott Medlock – a priest of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, CHA’s second Pastoral Minister, and a 25-year board member, joined me in resigning from the board on January 7, 2022.
ALASKA WATCHMAN DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
We wrote a letter to the CHA board and the CHI president and board explaining our reasons for resigning. No answer to our letter has been forthcoming from any of the addressees. Copies of the resignation letter were also sent to the Archbishop of Anchorage-Juneau and the Bishop of Fairbanks to inform them of our conclusion that “CHI is no longer committed to being a Catholic institution.”
On January 26, 2022, Father Medlock and I jointly sent to the CHA board a second letter asking what principles and values would govern CHA “now that the Catholic value system has been rejected as normative by CHA.” The CHA board did not respond to the substantial questions posed by the letter. While the two letters to the board were a joint effort, this column consists of my reflections only.