updated 11/11/2008 9:49:34 PM ET 2008-11-12T02:49:34

A community grantmaking arm of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops has cut off all funding for a group embroiled in controversy over claims of voter registration fraud and embezzlement, church leaders said Tuesday.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which supports anti-poverty and social justice programs nationwide, will no longer make grants to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert Morin of New Orleans.

The decision was made following claims that nearly $1 million had been embezzled from ACORN by the brother of its founder.

Morin, who helps oversee the Catholic program, said forensic accountants hired by the church found that "our funds were not involved with those that had been embezzled."

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which has an annual budget of about $10 million, had planned to grant about $1 million to local groups across the country through ACORN this fiscal year, Morin said. None of that money will be distributed.

"There will be no funding relationships with ACORN groups in the future," Morin said, during the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Steve Kekst, ACORN executive director, said Tuesday night that he had just learned of the decision and declined to comment until he could speak with church leaders.

ACORN founder Wade Rathke has defended allowing his brother to make restitution privately, saying that getting law enforcement involved could have risked ACORN's financial ruin.

New Orleans-based ACORN, which has chapters in 110 cities and 40 states, completed a massive registration drive in poor and working-class neighborhoods — which tend to vote Democratic — across 21 states, signing up more than 1 million new voters.

ACORN, which advocates for the underprivileged, has said the registration problems were isolated and that its own workers noticed the problems and alerted local election officials in every state that is now investigating.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development gets most of its funds from parish collections the weekend before Thanksgiving, according to its annual report.

The collection this year is set for Nov. 22-23.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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