Today, more than ever, America needs her Catholic credit unions. In the Catholic tradition, what we do with our money is important. It helps define who we are as human beings and demonstrates where our true priorities lie. Money is never an end in itself. Rather, it is a tool with the potential to do great things.
The cooperative, member-owner structure of a credit union allows us to channel significant resources into helping each other in a spirit of solidarity. This structure attempts to maximize the well-being of each individual member and reduces the risk of developing a “profit for the sake of profit” mentality that seems to be cascading through much of the traditional banking sector today.
Catholic credit unions provide a much better path. Catholic credit unions place the dignity of each individual – both members and employees – at the center of the economic and moral universe. Such behavior brings the light of the gospel into the marketplace. It’s no wonder every pope in the past 120 years has encouraged and promoted credit unions.
In 1960, there were over 825 credit unions in the United States with a Catholic affiliation. The role and impact of these Catholic credit unions was so profound that the NCWC, the precursor to the USCCB, actually had a standing committee to promote the creation and promotion of Catholic credit unions. Bishops and dioceses were leading advocates for Catholic credit unions.
Not content simply to encourage each parish to open a credit union, many dioceses helped their people by facilitating access to larger Catholic credit unions. By simply writing a short letter asking for the Catholic population in the diocese to be eligible for membership in these credit unions, these dioceses removed the biggest obstacle to allowing credit unions to compete on a level playing field with for-profit banks. This healthy competition between the not-for-profit credit unions and the for-profit banks benefitted the people in the pews immensely.
The concept of not-for-profit cooperative banks is so thoroughly Catholic that Pope St. Pius X, when he was still a parish priest, founded credit unions at his parishes. In Michigan, Catholics even celebrated annual “Gold Masses” to pray for the success of the movement and strengthen it.
Despite their proven value and track record of doing great good, there are fewer than 100 Catholic credit unions left in the country today. While the cause of their demise is complicated, one contributing factor has been their small size and inability to collaborate as a cohesive group of partners. In today’s world, very small credit unions just aren’t sustainable like they used to be.
To address the alarming demise of this treasured Catholic apostolate in the past 50 years, Catholic Credit Unions of America (CCUA) was formed in 2016 to facilitate collaboration among the surviving Catholic credit unions in the United States. Pope Francis himself has strongly reaffirmed the role of Catholic credit unions in bringing economic justice to more people. He recently challenged Catholic credit unions to rise up and become more relevant, innovative, and dynamic. Holy Father, we accept your challenge and we call on all Catholics to do the same!