Diocese's Fund-Raiser Weathers Tough Times
Albany-- $6.45m Is Short of Goal but Tops 2002 Total Despite Scandal, Economy

By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
July 18, 2003

Citing a lingering scandal and sluggish economy, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany released on Thursday the results of its annual fund-raising drive, which exceeded last year's total of $6.4 million, but fell short of the $6.8 million goal set out earlier this year.

This year's three-month Bishop's Appeal brought in $6,458,657 in contributions and pledges from Catholics in the 14-county diocese, money that helps pay for church activities, schools and social services.

Church officials noted that the tally was up nearly $30,000 from last year's total and said failure to meet the $6.8 million target announced in April would not result in any cutbacks or layoffs.

"As angry and troubled by the scandal as they have every right to be, Catholics in the Albany diocese want the spiritual, charitable and human-service work of our church to continue, especially in these times of economic and social distress," Bishop Howard Hubbard said Thursday.

This year was the first time in several years that the diocese did not raise the assessments imposed on individual parishes.

"Each parish has a responsibility to the diocese," said Jack Manning, the director of the Bishop's Appeal. "But with the pressure of everything, especially the economy, we didn't want to increase the assessment. We didn't want to add to that pressure."

Giving to the church has been largely flat since the diocese took in an all-time high of $6.9 million in 2000. In 2001, the $6.3 million raised was the first drop-off since 1974. Last year, the diocese announced that it met its $6.4 million goal.

A Times Union poll conducted in April found more than four out of five Capital Region Catholics believed the local clergy sex abuse scandal would affect the diocese's ability to raise money.

Last year, with more than 45,000 contributions, the average gift hit an all-time high of $142.40, church officials said. This year, the number of contributions fell to less than 42,000 and the average donation increased to a new high of $154, church officials said. There are more than 400,000 Catholics in diocese.

In the Albany diocese and elsewhere, a smaller group of donors is giving larger individual gifts, as the church's unwavering supporters make up for those who may have cut back in response to the sex abuse scandal, said Charles Zech, an economics professor who specializes in church finances at Villanova University.

"They are still relying on the older, wealthier 'pray-and-obey' types," Zech said. "The big givers tend to be the more conservative Catholics, the ones who tend to think the church has been treated unfairly. You kind of expect that a few large givers stepping up their contributions are making up for others."

Near the close of last year's Bishop's Appeal, Hubbard removed six priests from active ministry due to allegations of sexual abuse. This year, he has placed seven more priests on administrative leave following additional allegations.

The combination of the sexual abuse scandal and troubled economy has hit many dioceses around the country.

In Long Island, the Diocese of Rockville Centre said recently it has collected less than two-thirds of its $15 million goal. In Florida, the Diocese of Venice said last week it expects to be about 10 percent off its $7.8 million goal for its Bishop's Appeal.

The Boston Archdiocese said in May that it fell $100 million short of its $300 million goal in a fund-raising drive that began in June 2001.

Total charitable contributions nationwide remained about the same as last year, dropping by a half percent in 2002 compared to 2001, according to Giving USA, an annual tally of charitable contributions by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel.


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