Merrimack Parish Refusing to Send Collections to Diocese

Downloaded March 17, 2003

MERRIMACK, N.H. (AP) - In large part because of the priest sexual abuse scandal, parishioners at St. John Neumann Catholic church are keeping church collections in the parish, rather than sending them to the Diocese of Manchester.

Church attendance is down 11 percent from last year and 20 percent of those attending mass say they've either reduced or stopped contributing to the church.

According to a church survey, most of those who stopped or cut their contributions cited the priest sexual abuse scandal or Bishop John McCormack. Some also cited the theft of the Christmas collection by the pastor.

"People are withholding money because they are angry with the bishop," said parishioner Ed Kirby. "And they think if they put money in the collection pan, it will end up in the bishop's hands to pay (sex abuse) victims."

In a presentation last month, the parish announced it would be $101,292 short of its projected budget of $561,694, forcing difficult choices.

To keep the parish functioning, the church's finance committee has decided not to pay the diocese's $84,649 annual assessment.

Diocese spokesman Patrick McGee said the assessment is based on the income of the parish. Typically, he said, at least 80 percent of the donations collected at the parish stay there.

The diocese uses the assessment to pay for centralized expenses, such as Catholic schools, clergy pensions, health benefits, pastoral services and insurance. The insurance program covers liability, slips and falls, and sexual misconduct lawsuits.

McGee said the Merrimack parish would not be punished for not paying the assessment.

"We'll work with them any way we can," he said. "We work together to solve our problems like any family would."

Aside from withholding their assessment, St. John Neumann will postpone an $18,676 payment on mortgage principal.

Deacon Richard Cloutier, who is acting as St. John Neumann's administrator, emphasized the programs their parish has and will continue to offer to the community.

He said the parish gives food to 50 families a week and distributes $50,000 a year to residents who need help paying for rent, heating bills and medicine. The deacon also said the parish provides "A Day Away" program that assists families with an Alzheimer's patient.

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