“Let Him Eat Peanut Butter” San Francisco Catholic Charities scandal (August 2000)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has advised the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to stop funding Catholic Charities altogether, following the summer revelation that local Catholic Charity CEO Frank Hudson recently spent $73,000 of charity funds on such perks as meals and wrinkle treatment. His salary tops $170,000 a year, not including benefits.

“We believe that the scandal involving Catholic Charities–which receives more than half of its budget from city taxpayers–requires not just an investigation into its finances, but a re-evaluation of the city’s policy to fund religious organizations,” Foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote Board Chair Tom Amminao on July 3. “As is so often the case, when it comes to charity, religion gets the credit, and taxpayers get the bill. “Public policy requires that where public money goes, public accountability must follow.”

The San Francisco Chronicle recently revealed that Hudson charged Catholic Charities $51,770 since August 1998 for meals at high-priced restaurants, sometimes dining alone. He charged the charity $1,788 for five nights for himself at a four-star hotel, at the same time Catholic Charities may be closing a shelter for the homeless, contending it would need new contracts for more money from government agencies to keep many programs afloat. Hudson unapologetically told the Chronicle (6/2/00) he had to eat in lavish restaurants to be seen by power brokers. “Believe me, I’d much rather be at home eating a peanut butter sandwich.” The Foundation suggested the city spend the millions of public funds it now funnels to a church group to create “accountable, secular, city-run services which will place the client first, not theology–or its CEO’s over-the-top lifestyle.”

In 1986, the Freedom From Religion Foundation formally urged the U.S. Agency for International Relief Services to strike Catholic Relief Services from eligibility in the Food for Peace program, after an AID-conducted audit revealed the group had charged famine victims for food donated by the U.S. government. It refused food to African mothers and children who could not afford the fees, according to an article in the New York Times (Oct. 21, 1986). The Catholic CEO in August belatedly repaid $3,158 for facial cosmetic surgery he billed the charity, saying in a classic understatement:

“I’m not perfect.” Update Since the above story was reported, Frank Hudson has resigned his position.

Freedom From Religion Foundation