Catholic Church Officials Say Donations Remain Consistent

By Don Jordan
The State News [Michigan]
Downloaded December 2, 2003

Almost two years after the Catholic Church's sexual child-abuse problems became public, parishioners around the country continue to donate funds to the church, despite the slump that experts predicted.

Locally, as Catholic parishes have received consistent donations over the last two years, donations to the Diocese of Lansing have decreased by 27 percent.

"People have a different relationship with their parishes than they do with the larger church in general," said Liz Schweitzer, a member of St. John Catholic Student Parish's pastoral team. "If there is any fallout, perhaps it takes a larger toll with national church collections."

The Diocese of Lansing's collections fell from more than $1.1 million to just more than $825,000.

Experts estimate that national parish collections rose by 4.9 percent to $5.8 billion last year, while giving to bishops dropped by 2.3 percent to $635 million.

St. John seems to follow the national trend.

"Our collections continue to slightly increase over time," said Schweitzer, who is responsible for the church's finances. "People are pleased with their parish experience, and, if they can keep giving, they do."

Schweitzer said she thought the Catholic Church has handled the tough situation well - and parishioners have noticed it.

Since the troubles arose, the Catholic Church in the United States has made it mandatory for all church workers, including priests, to attend a three-hour session called Virtus Awareness Training.

The training teaches leaders in the church to identify perpetrators and figure out how to stop it, and also keep the problem in perspective.

The church already was doing extensive criminal background checks, Schweitzer said.

"What I love is that the church is being proactive now," Schweitzer said. "We have a clear understanding of what we're looking for and how to handle it."

The Rev. Bennett Constantine is a priest at St. Peter's Catholic Church, 515 E. Knight St., in Eaton Rapids. It is a church where the parishioners donate generously and are eager to move on with their lives after the scandal, he said.

"People here have a lot of reverence for the Holy Father and the Bishop (Carl) Mengeling, so they do not let these things concern them," Constantine said.

In an annual donation to the Diocese of Lansing, the diocese set the goal for St. Peter's Catholic Church at $17,585. Bucking the national trend, the parish gave $28,515, which was 170 percent of what was requested, Constantine said.

Some people are surprised donations keep increasing.

Advertising sophomore Chelsea Church works for the St. John's Catholic Student Organization's newsletter The Voice and attends Mass regularly.

At her church at home in Otisville, Mich., Church said the mostly elderly parish faces a problem: They're dying, and donations are decreasing.

St. John, however, is different, she said.

"It's about the size and location," Church said. "Here the group is constantly growing as more young people going to school here are coming into the church.

"And the permanent parishioners are very, very generous."


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