Scandals Shadow Bishop's Appeal
Albany-- Diocese Hopes for Another Successful Fund Drive Despite Revelations of Abuse

By Andrew Tilghman
Times Union [Albany NY]
April 24, 2003

Faced with a sex-abuse scandal and sagging economy, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese is poised to begin its annual Bishop's Appeal on Sunday, a multimillion-dollar fund-raising drive that helps pay for church activities, schools and social services throughout the Capital Region.

Although some Catholic dioceses around the country have seen declines in fund raising, the Albany Diocese recently told its more than 400,000 members that last year's Bishop's Appeal was a success, exceeding its goal of $6.4 million.

The new, $6.8 million campaign will be announced from pulpits starting this Sunday, but much has changed since the start of last year's campaign.

During the past 12 months, Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard has removed from active ministry 10 priests accused of sexually abusing children. The diocese has also revealed that it paid more than $2.5 million to victims of sexual abuse during the past 25 years.

While church officials have said none of the Bishop's Appeal money goes to cover costs related to the sexual abuse scandal, some churchgoers said they cannot help but consider the revelations when reaching for their wallet.

"It does definitely weigh in my mind, I struggle with this one," Darryl Green, a 40-year-old computer project manager who works for General Electric Co., said of the scandal.

In years past, Green and his family pledged several hundred dollars to the diocese, he said. "We probably will make a donation and I am expecting that we will remain the same" as last year. "But after looking at all this stuff, it does leave me with kind of a bitter taste in my mouth," Green said.

Most costs related to the sexual abuse scandal are covered by the diocesan self-insurance fund, which is created with annual payments from local parishes, church officials said.

A Times Union poll last week indicated more than four out of five Capital Region Catholics think the sexual abuse scandal will affect this year's fund raising. Males and college graduates -- groups likely to include big donors -- were slightly more likely to express concerns about fund raising, according to the poll.

Money raised in the annual Bishop's Appeal pays for services to the nearly 200 parishes and their priests throughout the 14-county diocese. In addition, the money goes to Catholic schools, campus ministries, scouting programs and a variety of other activities, church officials said.

About 14 percent of the money raised last year -- almost $1 million -- went to Catholic Charities' programs and services, church officials said.

Some parishioners said they feel annual giving is an opportunity to vent their frustrations with the church hierarchy and their sense that regular churchgoers were left uninformed about where their money was spent.

"Most of the parishioners think they've been had," said Walter Pologa, 73, of Albany. He said he has no intention of giving this year. Instead, he plans to give to the Salvation Army.

Others see no reason to stop giving money at a time when the church needs it most.

"We as Catholics must do that financially, we must support our church. I think we have an obligation," said Patricia Maloney, 62, of Albany.

The Albany Diocese said it would make public later his year the total cost of the sexual abuse scandal, which may include settlement payments, legal fees, and therapy bills for victims.

Nationwide, the numerous lawsuits targeting the church are a serious threat, and may severely damage the institution during the next five years, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic scholar and editor of the Jesuit magazine America.

"If these court cases continue to be in the tens of millions of dollars, we are going to see dioceses go bankrupt. We are going to see programs cut to the bone. We are going to see church employees laid off. It's going to be grim," Reese said.

"Especially since people in the pews don't want to pony up to pay for these settlements," Reese said.

Church officials have declined to say how many victims have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse and requests for cash payments or other forms of assistance. Local attorneys said there are dozens.

The Albany Diocese is facing three lawsuits stemming from alleged sexual abuse by priests. One suit seeks $450,000 and the other two do not list specific figures.

Any financial problems this year could compound existing declines the Albany Diocese has endured during the past few decades because of a constituency that is older, more secular and more likely to move out of the area than in past generations.

From 1977 to 2002, the number of active diocesan priests has fallen about 45 percent, from 351 to 192. The number of parishes with a resident pastor has fallen more than 20 percent, from 204 to 160; and the number of students in Catholic schools has dropped about 35 percent, from 86,698 to 56,412, church records show.

On Long Island, the Diocese of Rockville Center said that during the first three months of this year's appeal donations were down more than 50 percent compared to the same period the year before.

In the Diocese of Norwich in Connecticut, last year's annual bishop's appeal declined 15 percent.

In the Diocese of Richmond in Virginia, contributions were down 10 percent this past year. Church officials there said they were unsure whether the decline was due to the scandal or the troubled economy.


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