July 29, 2019
By David Crary
For U.S. charities affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, the past year has tested the resilience of their fundraisers and the loyalty of their donors in unprecedented fashion. Even as many donors reacted in dismay to the church’s extensive sex-abuse scandals, the charities faced new challenges trying to address the immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
For the agencies with the most donors, Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services , it’s too early to gauge the overall financial impact of sex-abuse developments last year. Those included abuse allegations that led to former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s ouster from the priesthood and a Pennsylvania grand jury report asserting that about 300 Roman Catholic priests had abused children at six of the state’s dioceses over seven decades.
However, several local Catholic Charities affiliates report a drop in donations linked at least in part to the scandals.
In Pittsburgh, the largest diocese targeted by the Pennsylvania grand jury, local Catholic Charities executive director Susan Rauscher said donations were down this year, though she had no figures yet. The Rev. Nicholas Vaskov, a spokesman for the diocese, estimated that giving directly to the diocese had declined about 10% — due to churchgoers’ unhappiness with a reorganization of parishes as well as dismay over sex abuse. Staff cuts have resulted.
Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, like some bishops elsewhere, has told donors that none of their gifts would be diverted to a new compensation fund for abuse victims; he said the fund would be financed largely through sale of properties.
In western New York’s diocese of Buffalo, many angry parishioners have withheld donations as Bishop Richard J. Malone faced criticism for allowing priests accused of inappropriate conduct to remain in ministry.
Leaders of Buffalo’s Catholic Charities affiliate worried about impact on their programs serving more than 150,000 people. So they offered a deal: Unlike past years, when gifts to its annual appeal were split between the charity and the diocese, donors this year could choose to direct their entire donation to the charity. More than 50% of donors picked that option.
“People are confused. … They’re upset with the Catholic church,” said Dennis Walczyk, president of Catholic Charities of Buffalo. “But don’t take it out on the people that really need help.”