Despite Scandal, Catholics Give More
Many Dioceses Report Rise in Parish Donations; Boston Archdiocese an Exception

By John Rivera
Baltimore Sun
February 7, 2003

Despite a year of scandalous revelations involving the sexual abuse of children by priests, many Roman Catholics across the country are increasing their financial support of the church.

Although Catholics express anger in national polls at the actions of bishops and other church leaders that led to the scandal, they also say they like their pastors and local parishes "The bottom line is, for the average Catholic, their life as a Catholic centers on their parish where they go to Mass on Sunday, where their kids made their first Communion, where members of their family were married and buried from," said Matthew R. Paratore, secretary general of the Washington-based International Catholic Stewardship Council.

"They may be very saddened by the bigger picture, but their life and much of their decision-making takes place right there," he said. "And I think most Catholics are happy with their parish."

Dioceses in Baltimore and other parts of the nation are reporting increases in parish collections, annual appeals and long-range capital campaigns. A notable exception is Boston, the epicenter of the sexual abuse scandal.

The reports of increased giving are surprising because a Gallup poll reported in December that 40 percent of Catholics said they were less likely to donate to the church because of the sexual abuse scandal.

In Baltimore, which drew national attention last year when an alleged victim shot a priest, the archdiocese's revenue from its 162 parishes and missions was up by 16 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June. In the first six months of the current fiscal year, from July to December, the increase is a more modest 3.5 percent.

The Cardinal's Lenten Appeal, the major annual fund-raiser in the archdiocese, increased by 22 percent, or $900,000, to $5 million. The appeal was conducted in February and March, as the scandal was unfolding.

Keeler, in a letter accompanying the report released yesterday, the first such financial disclosure in five years, said that "our people in the Archdiocese Of Baltimore have proven that simple faith, lived fully, is stronger than the challenge presented by the failings of some in our Church."

The Diocese of Arlington, Va., recently reported that midway through its $87 million capital campaign, pledges had reached three-quarters of its goal. In the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes parishes in Prince George's and Montgomery counties and in Southern Maryland, collections between July and December were up by 6 percent. Special collections for national church programs were up by nearly 4 percent, and gifts and bequests were up by 3 percent, although its investment income took a hit.

"People have responded very positively during a tough economic year," said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington.

In Chicago, parishioners contributed a record $317 million in the 2002 fiscal year, a nearly 8 percent increase over the previous year.

In Los Angeles, where the church faces a $13.4 million budget deficit, with a substantial portion caused by costs related to the sexual abuse scandal, parish contributions increased by $5.3 million, or 3.8 percent, in the 2002 fiscal year.

The Archdiocese of Boston, where the scandal forced Cardinal Bernard Law to resign, was an exception. Parishioners registered their anger by cutting back at the weekly collection plate in some parishes by 25 percent. A capital campaign that had a goal of $300 million has raised $190 million so far, with donors canceling about $5 million they had already pledged. The annual Cardinal's Appeal brought in less than half of its $17 million target.

Charles E. Zech, a Villanova University economist who studies Catholic church finances, said he's not surprised that parishioners are continuing to drop their envelopes in the collection baskets. "A lot of giving is local," he said. "To the extent that folks in parishes are not impacted by the scandal, and they like their pastor, it should have no impact at all."

Zech said an additional reason revenues are up in Baltimore could be the accounting Keeler made of the sexual abuse scandal. In September, Keeler released the names of 56 priests accused of sexual abuse in Baltimore since the 1930s and made a complete financial disclosure of the $5.6 million in settlements and other expenses that sexual abuse has cost the archdiocese.

"If there's one bishop that stands out in his willingness to be upfront and transparent in his finances, it's Cardinal Keeler," Zech said. "He is a model for every other bishop in the country."

Even though parishioners here didn't cut back on giving, the financial news was not all good for the archdiocese, which posted a $2.28 million deficit. Church officials noted the sluggish economy, causing its investments to lose value, and higher than expected health insurance claims in the archdiocese's parishes, schools and programs.

In his letter, Keeler acknowledged that "2002 was a challenging and often sad year for our Church."

"The crisis surrounding the sexual abuse of children - and leadership that failed to act with sufficient moral clarity in the face of this evil - has challenged our faith," he said.

The biggest challenge for Keeler was the May shooting of suspended priest Maurice J. Blackwell by Dontee Stokes, who accused Blackwell of molesting him as a youth a decade earlier. Keeler had to deal with the issue for months.

First, he was criticized for his decision to return Blackwell to his West Baltimore parish after the abuse was reported, and then for not apologizing to Stokes soon after the shooting. Finally, he had to testify in court in the case.

The sexual abuse scandal also took its toll on several parishes, including two in South Baltimore, Holy Cross and St. Mary Star of the Sea. Their pastor, the Rev. Thomas R. Malia, was ousted after it was revealed that he had hired a friend as an organist who had been convicted of having an improper sexual relationship with a minor.

Joseph Cuddy, parish council president of St. Mary Star of the Sea, said many parishioners were angered at Keeler and church officials after Malia's removal and church donations suffered. But he continues to support the parish.

"We kept our funds going. We know the local church needs it," he said. "Truthfully, when Cardinal's Lenten Appeal comes around, they're not getting anything from me. But I do support my own parish as best I can according to my means. I wish everybody would."

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