A Wealthy Catholic Donor Rebels
His name isn’t ‘Steve’. He’s a recently-retired Midwesterner, a convert to the Faith and a married man.
He also donates in the mid five figures to the Catholic Church every year.
Recently, he’s decided to divert a significant portion of that money away from his diocese. With the horrific revelations about America’s highest-ranking Cardinal’s decades-long sexual abuse of young boys, seminarians and priests – and the bishops and media who were aware and complicit –he’s one of a number of wealthy Catholic donors who are growing increasingly uneasy about what their donation dollars are funding.
Steve sat down with REGINA to explain his reasoning.
REGINA: How long have you been contributing to the Church?
STEVE: My wife and I have been contributing since we have been married. Let’s just say Pope Paul VI was pope when we began our support.
REGINA: How did your thinking change?
STEVE: The first time my thoughts changed in regard to our contributions happened years ago when our bishop started a direct diocesan appeal to fund diocese programs. All parishioners were told they had to contribute to this appeal in order to meet our parish’s obligation. If they did not, then parish funds would have to fill the gap.
STEVE: That came as a bit of a surprise to me. After I digested it and became accustomed to the idea (and complied), our contributing more or less went back to normal for our parish.
REGINA: How would you describe your giving over the years?
STEVE: Over the years my wife and I have responded charitably to many major parish funding initiatives in addition to filling the role of a leader for fund raising for a new parish. We actually increased our contributions significantly about ten years ago. As we get older our interest in learning more about the faith increased and our contributions followed along.
REGINA: After the 2002 sex abuse scandals, did you change your contributions?
STEVE: No. We were told (and we wanted) to believe that it was a very small number of priests nationally. Very few incidents seemed to be happening around us.
REGINA: Yep. Sex abuse doesn’t play well with the laity, especially the wealthy laity.
STEVE: As a result, we went along with our normal giving habits and even gave occasional larger contributions.
REGINA: Business as usual.
STEVE: I can remember watching the movie ‘Spotlight’ and reflecting back to 2002 when the scandal broke. Being in the Midwest it seemed like the Boston problem was isolated, exposed and dealt with even though the victims are still suffering today.
REGINA: Probably lots of people thought the same thing.
STEVE: Over the years I would run into former Catholics who left the Church because of the scandal. I always thought that it would have been better for them to stay because the Church needs members of strong character in the laity. The answer is not to abandon Her but to stay and help Her return as the moral authority.
REGINA: Interesting that you thought that the people with strong characters would leave the Church. In the last 16 years, did you have the sense that the ‘mess has been cleaned up’?
STEVE: Yes – until the past couple of years.
REGINA: What happened?
STEVE: Through different media and groups, we now make a practice of learning about the true faith. What we have learned has heightened our awareness. We now know that the mess was not cleaned up. It has been exposed as being far-reaching and the ‘mess’ IS still going on.
REGINA: Do you have a sense that the dioceses are starting to hurt for money?
STEVE: I have no real evidence of this. On the surface, they seem to be operating in the same manner they have for years.
REGINA: How have you have started changing the way you contribute?
STEVE: We made the decision earlier in 2018 to divert a significant portion of our regular Church (and as an extension the diocese) support to other worthwhile and safe apostolates.
REGINA: Why divert funds?
STEVE: We did not take this decision lightly. We are disheartened with the USCCB’s stand on various issues but more importantly their collective silence and typical response when they do comment on matters relating to all the confusion within the Church and how her moral authority has been compromised.
REGINA: And what’s been the result?
STEVE: The feedback we have received from these entities has reinforced that we made the right decision. The current Cardinal McCarrick disaster and the non-response of the USCCB show that we made the right decision earlier this year.
REGINA: So where do you stand now?
STEVE: We still contribute our obligation to our parish, but the excess is supporting Catholic causes outside of our diocese.
REGINA: Do you think that other wealthy people are also troubled by what they are contributing to?
STEVE: If you are an informed member of the laity, I do not know how you cannot be troubled. These are intelligent people, so I believe they are troubled.
REGINA: What are they doing about it?
STEVE: The problem lies that many devout Church members have limited resources for finding alternatives in lieu of contributing directly to their parish or diocese. Who do you trust?
REGINA: That’s exactly why we are doing this ‘Safe Spaces for Catholic Money’ series. Every dollar contributed today is far more valuable than it was in the past — mainly due to the lack of contributions that have resulted from people a) leaving the Church, b) not attending Mass, and c) not willing any of their estate to the Church. Do you think that wealthy contributors are aware of this fact?
STEVE: Probably not.
REGINA: Are wealthy people thinking about all of this?
STEVE: I do hear of others considering reducing their contributions that make their way to the bishops.
REGINA: How do the bishops respond?
STEVE: From what I have seen, if you do express your concern to your bishop and you are lucky enough to get a response, the response is typically vague and non-committal.
REGINA: What’s different about the 2002 scandals and today?
STEVE: There are two significant differences. First, we are now starting to hear how much the Church has paid to settle these abuse cases. I am reading it is in the billions of dollars. These are dollars contributed to the local parish and then funneled to the bishops. Good Catholics honor their duty to support local parish expenses and programs. Now when I hear that a settlement has been paid by a diocese, I know that part of the money is extracted from parish funds or direct diocesan appeals.
REGINA: So Catholics are still paying off victims of homosexual abuse by priests.
STEVE: The other difference, and it dwarfs the billions paid out – if that is even possible – is the scandal at the seminary level. It puts into doubt just what is happening during the formation of our priests.
REGINA: Yep. The kind who will ‘play ball’ so to speak.
STEVE: When we have been told by our Lord that we are blessed because we believe without seeing (faith) – the revelations of the Cardinal McCarrick scandal has to have an effect on that faith. That alone makes this far different that 2002. That said, now is not the time to leave the Church. My wife and I remain faithful to the Church and pray for strong moral leadership.
Drawing by Jane Privett