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  Troubled Archdiocese Tries New Fund-Raising Approach
Donors May Choose Specific Causes; Money Won't Pay Louisville Settlements

By Peter Smith psmith@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded October 5, 2003

As it begins its first major fund-raising campaign since settling 240 sexual-abuse lawsuits for $25.7million, the Archdiocese of Louisville is taking extra steps to urge Catholics to support its programs amid a tight economy.

Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly and other church leaders say they recognize that some Catholics are angry about the church's handling of the abuse crisis. So, for the first time, donors have the option of designating contributions to the Catholic Services Appeal toward specific charities or ministries.

Kelly and lay leaders are also speaking at special Masses to promote the fund drive under the slogan, "Now more than ever."

"We own up to the fact that we have just come through a terrible period where the church has had to face up to its weakness and failings with regard to the sexual abuse crisis," Kelly told about 200 Catholics in a Mass at St. Helen's Church in Shively last week. It was one of four regional Masses since late September in which Kelly and lay leaders have urged support for the campaign, which last year funded one-third of the church budget.

"I am not here tonight to ask you to replace the money in the settlement that we paid out," Kelly said.

The archdiocese has set a $3million goal for this year's appeal. The church fell 5percent short of the same goal last year, when the abuse crisis was at its peak, raising $2.85million. The year before, the campaign raised $3.2million.

While the archdiocese said no money from the program will go to legal costs associated with the sexual abuse cases, church officials said that providing donors the option to designate where their money is used allows them to reinforce that it won't go toward the settlement. "Some people are still going through their emotions" about the church's handling of the abuse crisis, said the Rev. Tony Smith, who is the pastor of Holy Spirit Church and a member of a pastors' committee supporting the campaign.

Low on funds

The fund drive is especially crucial this year because the archdiocese used almost all of its unrestricted investments for the abuse settlement. That eliminated most of its investment income. Earlier this year, it cut 48 jobs, canceled grants and announced plans to raise assessments on parishes and sell three properties.

People attending the archbishop's Mass at St. Helen's said afterward that they would support the fund drive despite the abuse crisis.

"Being a Christian, it's the thing you do, and you don't let anything that happens change things," said Virgil Dorsey, a member of St. Augustine Church. "As Christians, we forgive and we move on."

In an interview last week, Kelly acknowledged that many Catholics are angry about his handling of the crisis, such as his decisions to keep some priests in ministry despite knowing they had abused.

But Kelly said he hoped Catholics would recognize that the fund-raising appeal benefits charities, education, youth services and other missions of the church. He added that the economic downturn may also pinch donations while at the same time increasing the need for charitable services.

"The fact of the economy and the abuse problems, those are two very negative factors, but I've been here before when the economy was down and people were mad about something," Kelly said. "Catholic Services Appeal always seems to run on a different track. People see it as a form of giving to the support of the gospel."

Directing the money

Pledge cards distributed to the 200,000 Catholics in the archdiocese allow them to designate gifts to one of four categories:

As needed by the archdiocese (but not to legal fees or settlements).

Education and formation (ministry training).

Social Services and Outreach.

Youth and Family Ministries.

Kelly has already spoken at four Masses throughout the archdiocese and plans to speak at a fifth Mass on Thursday at St. Raphael Church in Louisville. Other lay leaders have spoken at the Masses, urging people to contribute as they have in the past.

"Why should this year be any different?" John O'Neil, head of St. Helen's stewardship committee, said at a Mass at his church. "Aren't there people out there who still need our help?"

After the Mass, St. Augustine member Clarissa Dorsey said she would support the campaign because she has seen the cuts first-hand. Her pastor, the Rev. Paul Scaglione, has seen his budget and staff reduced in the archdiocese's Office of Pastoral Care, where he directs outreaches to Catholics in nursing homes, hospitals and other areas, she said. "Some of the things he does kind of prompted me to go ahead and try to do a little more," she said.

Julia Schweri, a member of Holy Name Church in Louisville, cited recent Census Bureau statistics showing that 1.7million more Americans were living in poverty in 2002 than in 2001. "It's even more important to give this year," she said.

The Rev. Thomas Gentile, pastor of St. Helen's, said he was optimistic about the response in spite of the recent abuse crisis. "There are some people who are a little upset, of course," he said. "We gave them reason to. But by and large, when we've got a need, they respond."

But Shannon Whelan, an organizer of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a national lay reform group formed in the wake of the nationwide abuse scandal, said she has spoken to people who are unlikely to give to the campaign, or if they do, they plan to designate it to church charities.

She said people are upset about the archdiocese's handling of the crisis and its recent increase in parish assessments. She said the church should have more discussions and listening sessions with Catholics angry about the crisis.

Budget concerns

The Catholic Services Appeal has traditionally been one of three main sources of revenue for the archdiocese, which was cut this year by $2.4million, or 26percent, from last year.

The second source of revenue is the annual assessments on parishes, now set at 5percent, which the archdiocese will raise to 7percent in January and to 8percent in July 2005.

The archdiocese has emphasized that it did not touch parish savings or properties in the settlement, though some Catholics have maintained that the increased assessments are an indirect way in which parishes are paying for the settlement.

The third source investment income has been drastically reduced as the archdiocese paid out virtually all its unrestricted assets in the legal settlement.

"In the past, if we ran out of money from Catholic Services Appeal, I could always dip into the interest from our investment fund," Kelly said at St. Helen's. "That's gone now. We need to be right up to (the) mark in making the goal" for the fund-raising appeal.

 
 

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