Diocese Sets $8.5m Fund-Raising Goal

By Donna Porstner
Hartford Courant
February 2, 2003

STAMFORD -- Despite the sex abuse scandals that have hampered fund raising in the Roman Catholic Church in other areas, the Diocese of Bridgeport exceeded its expectations for last year's Bishop's Appeal and has set the bar even higher for this year.

Last year, about 24 percent of the 115,000 Catholic households in Fairfield County contributed to the appeal, raising $8.1 million, according to the diocese.

This year's goal is $8.5 million.

Each of the 87 parishes in the diocese will have a fund-raising goal that will be published in next month's issue of the diocesan newspaper, Fairfield County Catholic. In past years, parishes were given goals based on the size of the parish.

"This year we're really stressing participation," diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said. "Participation means, however, you can help out. It doesn't mean a big gift or a small gift. It's not as much about how much you give. It's about participation in the mission of the church."

This year's campaign kicked off last Sunday with a visit by Bishop William Lori to St. Mary's Church on Elm Street in Stamford. The thrust of the drive is from next month to May, coinciding with Lent, a season of sacrifice and spiritual renewal that precedes Easter.

Funds raised through the appeal, the diocese's biggest fund-raiser of the year, support dozens of church programs and the diocese's administrative offices.

The money supports Catholic Charities, Catholic schools, the Office of Catechesis, which oversees religious education programs, Fairfield County Catholic, seminaries, marriage preparation programs, priest retirement homes, elderly housing, and pays chaplains who serve in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons.

Many programs have other sources of income, such as tuition or fees. Catholic Charities, for example, gets funding from the United Way and parishes typically charge registration fees for enrollment in religious education programs.

This year, for the first time, officials said, a portion of the proceeds from the Bishop's Appeal will go toward the multimillion dollar renovation of the 136-year-old St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport.

"People understand. They know where the money goes," McAleer said. "They know their parish is going to benefit."

In Stamford, money raised through the appeal will benefit the New Covenant House of Hospitality soup kitchen in the Yerwood Center, St. John Fisher Seminary, Queen of the Clergy retirement home, the Bishop Curtis homes in Glenbrook, four Catholic elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, and pays for the chaplains at Stamford Hospital and St. Camillus Health Center.

Last year, 75 of the 87 parishes in the diocese met their financial goals, McAleer said.

Of the five parishes with the highest participation rates, four were in Bridgeport in some of the poorest areas of the diocese.

"You've got three inner-city parishes in distressed neighborhoods and these people love their church and they want to see it grow, and they give whatever they can," McAleer said.

None of the funds donated to the annual Bishop's Appeal are used to pay settlements reached with victims of sex abuse, McAleer said. The diocese has insurance for settlements, he said.

The diocese pays the insurance premiums with taxes levied on parishes, called Cathedraticum, and with investment income and profits from Catholic cemeteries, but not the Bishop's Appeal, according to McAleer.

"We've been very careful that the Bishop's Appeal money is reserved for the good works of the church in society and we never use that money for anything other than helping people," he said.

Priests' salaries are paid by their assigned parishes, he said.

Living stipends paid to inactive priests, such as the eight who left their pulpits last year under the shame of sexual misconduct, are paid for with the taxes levied on parishes, McAleer said.

Under canon law, dioceses must support priests financially even if they are removed or have resigned amid sexual abuse allegations.

Asked whether the money parishioners put in collection plates pays for stipends for inactive priests, McAleer said, "I guess, indirectly, yes. But an organization like the Diocese of Bridgeport has insurance premiums to pay, heating bills to pay and parishes belong to a diocese and parishioners have a responsibility to support their diocese as well as their parish."

In Boston, Voice of the Faithful, a lay organization that sprang out of last year's sex abuse crisis in the church, has created an alternative program for Catholics who want to continue giving to soup kitchens, counseling programs and other ministries while showing their disdain for the church's handling of abuse allegations.

The Voice of Compassion -- Boston Fund has raised about $86,000 since it was created in July, spokesman Mike Emerton said.

About $56,000 of that amount has been offered to the Archdiocese of Boston with the stipulation that the church produce a balance sheet to show how it was spent, Emerton said. After three written offers and several phone calls elicited no response, he said, the money was donated directly to Catholic Charities in mid-December.

The message of Voice of the Faithful, Emerton said, is "don't withhold your money because you're unhappy with the hierarchy and the scandals. Get your money to those who need it."

The Long Island chapter of Voice of the Faithful has a similar fund.

"You're in a dilemma as an average Catholic because the only way we can show disapproval is through our money. We don't elect our parish councils; we don't pick our pastors," said Sheila Peiffer of Southampton, N.Y., regional coordinator for Voice of the Faithful in Long Island. "I think Catholics are becoming more educated than ever about where their money goes."

The Fairfield County chapter of Voice of the Faithful does not have a fund and so far has not discussed creating one, said chairman Joseph O'Callaghan of Norwalk.

Of the three dioceses in Connecticut, only Bridgeport reached its fund-raising goal last year.

The Archdiocese of Hartford raised about $6 million, about a half-million dollars short of its goal.

Donations were down 8 percent from 2001, said the Rev. John Gatzak, archdiocese spokesman, presumably because of a poor economy, Sept. 11 donor fatigue and the scandals in the news.

The Diocese of Norwich, which has 78 parishes, raised $2.9 million last year, about $150,000 under goal. The average gift increased but participation was down 15 percent.

Richard Costello, executive director of the Norwich appeal, said in a statement that "the good news is that the 2002 average gift and pledge in the general campaign was $148.21, or an increase of $12.13 over the 2