As Diocese Begins Fund Drive, It Finds It Has a Competitor

By Bruce Lambert
New York Times
January 18, 2003

hen he got a letter last week soliciting for the Roman Catholic bishop's annual fund-raising drive on Long Island, Gene Zirkel did not respond with his usual donation.

Instead, Mr. Zirkel, who supports Voice of the Faithful, a lay group that has been banned from meeting on Roman Catholic Church property on Long Island, said he wrote back, "If I can't use the building, why should I pay the rent?"

This year's Bishop's Appeal campaign has prompted a new dispute between the church hierarchy on Long Island and the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, the national lay movement organized in response to the church's sex-abuse scandals.

Competing with the bishop's fund, Voice of the Faithful has now started an alternative fund, called Voice of Compassion, for Catholics like Mr. Zirkel who are reluctant to donate to diocesan headquarters but still want to help Catholic causes.

Last Sunday was the kickoff of the traditional fund drive, by Bishop William F. Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which covers 1.5 million Catholics in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Voice of the Faithful leaders have predicted a sharp falloff in donations because of concerns about the church's record on sex abuse and criticism of the renovation costs for a new bishop's residence.

"People are saying, `Why should I support the Bishop's Appeal when he doesn't even tell us what he's doing with the money?' " said Kevin J. Connors, a co-chairman of the finance committee of the Voice of the Faithful's local chapter.

Initially, the group wrote to Bishop Murphy offering to support his fund if he would agree to give the group a say in the diocese's plans to disclose more of its financial data to church members. The diocese did not directly answer the group's request, but said that the church would issue new fiscal reports, after internal and external audits and a lay panel's review. A spokeswoman for the diocese, Joanne C. Novarro, said, "It's going to be a pretty complete report."

But Voice of the Faithful said it was unsatisfied with the official response. "Secrecy is a concern, and openness is a solution," said Thomas Murphy, a spokesman for the local chapter.

In setting up the Voice of Compassion fund, the group's leaders said, they were not conducting a boycott. They are neither discouraging donations to the bishop's fund nor encouraging donations to their own fund, but rather offering it as an alternative, they said.

Ms. Novarro said she hoped that Catholics would continue their donations. "The bishop's annual appeal funds much of the charitable work, educational work and religious work of the diocese," she said, "and it would be a terrible shame if people withheld money from something that does such good work."


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