The wrong way to ask Catholics for money amid the sex abuse crisis

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

It is that time of year when a portion of Mass is dedicated to the Annual Appeal. The collection used to be called the Cardinal’s Appeal, but this is the Archdiocese of Washington, and we’ve been having some problems with our cardinals lately. Given the ongoing scandals surrounding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and outgoing Cardinal Donald Wuerl, asking Washington parishioners for money is more awkward and delicate than usual.

The appeal was first brought up at Mass the same weekend that Pope Francis laicized McCarrick. The priest waited until the final announcements to make the ask. He made sure people understood that the money would not go to the bishops but to ministries and other charitable works. The priest went on to say that parishioners who do not donate out of anger are punishing those who need this money most. He emphasized how we should move away from anger, especially righteous anger.

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Asking Washington parishioners for money is more awkward and delicate than usual.

The following week, I went to a different parish. This time, the appeal was made via a recorded message from the auxiliary bishop, in lieu of a regular homily. It was one of the most awkward experiences I’ve had in the pews. We all sat there, listening to the disembodied voice of the bishop, who told us that while this may be a difficult year to donate, we should pray about it. The priest then followed this message by reiterating the same points and added that the money would not go to legal fees or lawyers. I heard someone behind me whisper, “Why would he say that?” Another parishioner replied, “Sex abuse.”

I get it. The money goes to work that aligns with the Gospel. I myself received a scholarship to go to a Catholic high school, which helped me become the first in my family to graduate from college. I agree it would be counterproductive to advocate for the causes I believe in and then not offer financial support for those good works. It is also evident that the priests want us to know that our money will not go to the bishops who have caused so much pain and that our donation will not perpetuate this abuse, a concern that I share. And yet I believe in the mission of the Catholic Church, and I want to support it.

So why did these appeals for much-needed funds bother me? As well intentioned as these asks were, they also lacked a sense of humility, reconciliation and repentance. Healing in the church will be furthered by a face-to-face reckoning with the faithful. By making these appeals through a recording, church leaders missed a chance for the human part of this healing. The moment an appeal is used as a replacement for that week’s homily, the opportunity for the community to hear Gospel-inspired messages of hope or forgiveness is lost. Imagine if you came to a Mass here for the first time or returned after many years and were greeted by a recording of an appeal.

Why did these appeals for much-needed funds bother me? As well intentioned as these asks were, they also lacked a sense of humility, reconciliation and repentance.

I do not doubt that there was a lot of preparation and discussion among archdiocesan staff regarding how to bring up the appeal this year. It is never easy to ask for money. Yet, in my experience of the appeal this year, the priests have seemed almost angry that some potential donors might be hesitant to give, and they have failed to acknowledge that it was the largely the institutional church, not the people in the pews, that perpetrated the abuse and the cover-up.

I understand that the priests delivering these messages might be just as angry as most of us lay people, and while I am sure it cannot be easy for them to deliver these messages, they also should take care not to simply move on as if all the news of the past year is just a speed bump on the road of our mission. What we need before these appeals is a full-fledged recognition that we as a church took a complete wrong turn and got our ourselves lost.

A lot of us are in the middle of healing our relationship with the church. Each time we decide to go back to Mass, we are actively deciding to give the church a second chance despite the heartbreak. The institutional church has a right to ask the faithful for the money it needs to continue its good work, the work of the Gospel. But along with that ask, there needs to be an apology. I am being called to acknowledge and repent for my sins and the sins of the church at a communal level, and I expect the priest to do the same. Dismissing our anger or suggesting we pray more does not lead these conversations with the right attitude.

The church was once a place of such joy for me. Each time I return to Mass, I am reminded of the hurt that this year has brought. The sexual abuse crisis is not something we can just move past quickly, and the church needs to recognize that. Come next Sunday, I will show up and try again to heal this wound. I can only hope that the priests and hierarchy will recognize that wound and understand the need to ask for forgiveness before they ask for money.

ROBERT MOORE
1 week 5 days ago

There are many good reasons not to support the diocesan appeal. A large part of the receipts go for the seminary. Seminary education is becoming more inward and traditional. Priests should be educated in an open environment with lay men and women to fully understand the culture. Separate education is harmful to the future priests, and does not serve the laity well. The decision to put so much of the collection into the seminary was made without input from the laity.
We can support Catholic Charities and other worthy ministries of the diocese directly. It is our responsibility to determine the best use of our charitable donations.

Peter Schwimer
1 week 5 days ago

Fact is that lay persons have no vote in how the Church is run. They've been lied to and abused for decades. I am aware that the local hierarchy swears up down and sideways that parishioner money will not go to the payoffs. How is that possible since the only money the church has originally came from parishioners?
Priests and bishops need to look at themselves before they start asking folks to trust them. We did that, it didnt work out too well for us, did it?

desimoneg@goeaston.net
1 week 5 days ago

George DeSimone

desimoneg@goeaston.net
1 week 5 days ago

George DeSimone

James M.
1 week 5 days ago

Such requests are obscene. They prove - yet again - that the US bishops are no better than hucksters like Hagee or Popoff or Dollar. If the men in mitres had even a shred of human decency, it would not so much as cross their minds to ask for money from those whom they and their racket have for many years exploited, manipulated, deceived and abused.

Toby Gillis
1 week 3 days ago

Indeed! Excellent comment.

Rick Bauer
1 week 5 days ago

Insightful article, but pulling up short of the brutal truths that the church must all agree upon. "Healing in the church will be furthered by a face-to-face reckoning with the faithful." The reckoning begins not with fluffy marketing and weaponized ambiguity, such as was sadly witnessed earlier this year in the sexual abuse meetings in Rome (when even the secular media identify the dissembling, it's doubly sad), where over 80% of the clerical homosexual predation was purposefully ignored. It would be sadly ironic if the coffers were 80% less full this year, but somehow the laity can only register their disgust with their pocketbooks. The church needs to decide--from the top down--what the sexual morals and standards are going to be as she moves forward. The faithful will reward those who are equally faithful to 2000 years of teaching, and will starve out the open embrace of the secular world's vices and sexual perversions. I don't hear too many leaders calling for priests and bishops to repent, and I certainly don't hear these sins being called out in sermons and homilies, either. Why would anyone expect "business as usual" when the plate goes around? I'm not sure if it was St. Augustine or Roger Daltrey who said "We won't get fooled again." Church leaders have to learn that expensive lesson, and I don't see anything that resembles many people taking the red pill on this. And Melissa, good luck at HDS; I'm living proof that you can graduate there and still keep your Catholic faith.

Stefan Svilich
1 week 5 days ago

Sorry boys, I'm done giving to the Roman Catholic Church. I have picked a charity with which I agree, I can see where my money is going, and I know and trust the auditors. To steal a line from Tom Wolfe in "The Right Stuff", you screwed the pooch.

MICHAEL GRIFFIN
1 week 5 days ago

In the uproar of ( now retired) Bishop Murphy’s tossing out nuns to build a gourmet kitchen in his facility in the diocese of Rockville Center, the Bishop's Appeal was changed to a diocesan appeal to deflect the public's anger at the Bishop.
This annual appeal, no matter how worthy the cause, is the only place one can object to diocesan actions such as not releasing the list of predator priests in the Rockville Center Diocese on Long Island, New York.
Since the local church is part of a corporation of which the Bishop is the head, a portion of the Sunday collection goes to the Bishop weekly.

Anne Jeremy
1 week 5 days ago

Michael, my family and I live in Australia, which sadly hasn't been immune to the various horror stories engulfing the Church of late across the entire world, (which I see as part of a needed purging process, proof that no person committing evil, really getting away with anything in the long term!) Out of interest, in ref to your comment, I did a search on Bishop Murphy's 'spending bonanza', learning his pursuit of the luxurious lifestyle came at a cost of not just displacing loyal and hardworking nuns that really didn't want to leave a setting where they had also much history there, but that his great spending also came at the expense of cutting funding to other needed Church Charity work (like the housing of 500 very vulnerable & poor people living in another nearby centre!) - I find the whole business so incredulous; bringing me to tears of disbelief, and ponder whether there was any independent scrutineer involved at all say by way of more senior clergy aware of his obscene indulgences. http://www.natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives/102502/102502d.htm I can only conclude that Bishops like him must possess such little faith in Jesus Christ, because one should expect that a Bishop would be very familiar with Scripture (its references to the poor in spirit; of not building your treasures in this life; of one's duty to care for the least and vulnerable!) And that is the saddest part about these terrible scandals of late, that it must diminish faith and trust by ordinary lay people towards the whole Church, which must also discriminate against good religious, and good charity works that the Church might capably still do. On the other hand, one feels it is appropriate for the laity en masse to also send a very strong message, that such abuses of office and trust can never be tolerated. Indeed one must exercise great discernment in everything nowadays, including what to put on the collection plates. Fortunately, I can separate these revolting shenanigans, to the true path of faith offered by Jesus Christ, the Church He foundered, still more real than ever, as I accept how much the world also needs God, in this sea of confusion and madness. I think there needs to be an environment of transparency and accountability - maybe where there is a balance especially when it comes to the financial affairs of the Church (from laity collections etc), of clergy and lay persons to ensure integrity and honesty in Church operations, for example. A Very very sad business though for all the faithful. Cheers to you!

Anne Jeremy
1 week 5 days ago

Michael, my family and I live in Australia, which sadly hasn't been immune to the various horror stories engulfing the Church of late across the entire world, (which I see as part of a needed purging process, proof that no person committing evil, really getting away with anything in the long term!) Out of interest, in ref to your comment, I did a search on Bishop Murphy's 'spending bonanza', learning his pursuit of the luxurious lifestyle came at a cost of not just displacing loyal and hardworking nuns that really didn't want to leave a setting where they had also much history there, but that his great spending also came at the expense of cutting funding to other needed Church Charity work (like the housing of 500 very vulnerable & poor people living in another nearby centre!) - I find the whole business so incredulous; bringing me to tears of disbelief, and ponder whether there was any independent scrutineer involved at all say by way of more senior clergy aware of his obscene indulgences. http://www.natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives/102502/102502d.htm I can only conclude that Bishops like him must possess such little faith in Jesus Christ, because one should expect that a Bishop would be very familiar with Scripture (its references to the poor in spirit; of not building your treasures in this life; of one's duty to care for the least and vulnerable!) And that is the saddest part about these terrible scandals of late, that it must diminish faith and trust by ordinary lay people towards the whole Church, which must also discriminate against good religious, and good charity works that the Church might capably still do. On the other hand, one feels it is appropriate for the laity en masse to also send a very strong message, that such abuses of office and trust can never be tolerated. Indeed one must exercise great discernment in everything nowadays, including what to put on the collection plates. Fortunately, I can separate these revolting shenanigans, to the true path of faith offered by Jesus Christ, the Church He foundered, still more real than ever, as I accept how much the world also needs God, in this sea of confusion and madness. I think there needs to be an environment of transparency and accountability - maybe where there is a balance especially when it comes to the financial affairs of the Church (from laity collections etc), of clergy and lay persons to ensure integrity and honesty in Church operations, for example. A Very very sad business though for all the faithful. Cheers to you!

Paul Hierholzer
1 week 5 days ago

Donation to the Catholic Church is a bit like prayer--you don't really know where it's going, but on some level you trust it's the right thing, so you do it anyway. That said, this patron sees himself as a bilge pump in a swamped boat about to sink. Origen should not have
castrated himself, and the other Church fathers should not have made the denial of sexuality central to a relationship with God, or at least the present Church leaders (eg: Benedict) should not still be blaming sexuality for the Church's ills. People are done with that.

Christopher Minch
1 week 5 days ago

I see this comment is going to be out of character to the other comments here but the situation is as I am stating here.

I gave my usual amount this year. Our bishop in the Harrisburg, PA diocese, Ronald Gainer was open from just about the beginning about naming the priests and bishops who were apart of the abuse crisis or were complicit and did not treat the subjects or families of the abused correctly. And these bishop's and in one case a cardinal's names were removed from diocesan rooms, buildings and properties. The only thing this bishop did that I was not happy about was opposing the legally extended period of time of when the victims could come forward. But he did extend the period of time victims could come forward to claim reparations from the diocesan fund, which was all done above board and open to the public. The bishop advertised everywhere that diocesan funds to run the diocese would not be used for this fund and only diocesan resources such as investments, interest and sold properties would be used. The bishop has scheduled parish held diocesan meetings throughout the diocese to talk to groups of parishioners throughout the diocese to explain and listen to the people of the diocese about what they thought of what was being done. The bishop even before the crisis by written diocesan policy had all parish and diocesan personnel working with children be legally checked out and given training in how to deal with sexual abuse of children and minors with reporting to proper legal authorities. He’s not perfect but he handled the situation in this diocese pretty well. So, it seemed appropriate to support this well-meaning bishop and the diocese.

To be completely honest though and this was started before Bishop Gainer came all the parishes in the diocese are pre-assessed a parish amount it expects from a certain parish and if the diocese doesn’t get it then the parish has to pay it out of their coffers. If the parish gives more than the pre-assessed amount then the parish gets that overage back. Kind of unfair but I guess it does assure that each parish gives a fair amount to the diocesan total. But it also seems to me like a “tax” on the parishioners/their parish to assure a certain amount is given to the diocese whether we approve or not what the diocese or bishop is doing or can afford to give or not. Of course every parishioner can give only what they want or can afford to give.

Michael Bindner
1 week 5 days ago

The scandal of Uncle Ted indulging in the sexual antics of an 11 year old with a real 11 year old or with seminarians is both pathetic and did not happen in our Archdiocese. Cardinal Wuerl not reporting priests also happened somewhere else. The sad fact is that all this public hand wringing about events that did not happen here is a distraction and not why I don't give even a token amount (which would almost be a widow's mite).

The reason I refuse to give is that the political side of the pro-life office is funded through the appeal (not just Project Gabriel). If the Church wants to speak for me in abortion, It needs to ask me what it should say.

Drop the Federalist Society dream of bringing back state power over everything from school segregation to marriage equality. It is Republican partisanism. Instead, advocate for a refundable child tax credit of $1000 per month per child distributed with pay. It is exactly what Catholic Doctrine says we must do and what the GOP will never do. Pius XI was very clear in this point.

The other big thing the appeal goes to is training seminarians. That is all well and good, but they won"t see a dime from me until they admit and ordain women.

While I love Wilton (a friend of my wife) who is taking flack for not releasing the names of dead priests who cannot respond to charges, I would rather see a Mother Superior or LCCW order president consecrated as our next bishop and created a Cardinal. Her Eminence has a nice ring to it.

Phillip Stone
1 week 5 days ago

Close the purse and the wallet.
The money going onto the Sunday collection is for the support of the pastor and upkeep of the parish properties.
Give money for the poor to the poor; personally, face to face.
The idea that you put some of your surplus purchasing power into a fund to do "charitable works" is lazy and shallow and fails .

Randal Agostini
1 week 4 days ago

This has to be the most difficult question that faithful Catholics have to face at this time. We are obliged to support the physical attributes of the church, otherwise the buildings will deteriorate and the Clergy will disappear. Unfortunately the other side of the coin is that the Clergy are not speaking to the Laity and this is the only means that the Laity have of getting their attention. Unfortunately they are unable to speak to the Laity, because they have nothing to say, they are unable to change anything. Canon law has the Bishops and priest tied up so that they are unable to make any significant changes. We are used to Corporations cleaning house when they fail to deliver, but that is the one thing the Church is unable to do - so we are told to pray. A Child of God is motivated through Love and true love may only exist in an environment of Trust. The Church has lost the trust of the Laity and the only way that may be restored is to share the problem.

Vincent Gaglione
1 week 4 days ago

“….the priests ….. also should take care not to simply move on as if all the news of the past year is just a speed bump on the road of our mission.”

If I may be so very cynical, in most parishes throughout the United States, they – our priests - just don’t get it or they don’t know how to deal with it or they just don’t care. Prayers and supplications are important but certainly no substitute for mature discussions and conversations with parishioners in the pews.

John Barbieri
1 week 4 days ago

"You can fool all of the people some of the time. If you are clever, you can fool some of the people all of the time. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time." -Abraham Lincoln
The only power that the laity have in the church is the power of the purse. The clergy in general and the hierarchy in particular have perpetrated this continuing, world-wide, evil scandal. Why should anyone support these corrupt individuals?

Will Nier
1 week 4 days ago

I won't give one dime anymore. I do not believe they are not using my money in this sex abuse mess. I want nothing to do with that. I cannot even see why the Bishop has the nerve to continue his Hope Appeal every year demanding money from all parishioners within his dioceses.

sheila gray
1 week 4 days ago

Now we’re at the center of the Catholic Clergy Abuse Crisis - Money... Secrets were kept for one reason: To protect the flow of money into Diocesan and Religious Order coffers. Everyone knew that the truth about massive sexual abuse of minors would slow, maybe even stop, the flow of money. It was always about Money. It’s still about Money.

Lily Valley
1 week 3 days ago

Totally agree.

Toby Gillis
1 week 3 days ago

Any person giving one thin dime or one short minute more of your time is a fool.

Timothy Garrity
1 week 3 days ago

I give to Pro Life causes.I refused to give to Catholic Charities this year because the diocese is very tepid in the defense of unborn human life.When I see priests in front of abortion mills and hear sermons emphasizing the Gospel of Life, then I will give again.

Lily Valley
1 week 3 days ago

I'm not contributing to any Lenten Appeal and am giving a dollar only for my Sunday tithe - indefinitely. However, I will support charitable works esp. for women directly. Our parish priest is an expert at the infamous Roman Cold silence when there's a slightest difference of opinion made known to him. The hypocrite seems to think that he's above us mere mortals in his parish. Purse strings are permanently tightened.

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1 week 1 day ago

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