Archdiocesan Fund off $1M

By Dan Horn
Cincinnati Enquier

August 7, 2008

Donations to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's largest annual fund drive fell by almost $1 million this year, forcing church officials to look elsewhere for money to support a wide range of ministries.

The 26 percent drop in donations - from $3.5 million in 2007 to $2.6 million this year - is the largest year-to-year decline since at least 2001.

Church officials say they don't know why parishioners gave less this year to the Catholic Ministries Appeal. Likely suspects include the struggling economy and increasing pressure on parishes to repay loans to the archdiocese's central office.

Another possibility, church officials say, is a name change that may have confused some long-time donors.

The name of the fundraising effort has changed twice in the past five years, from the Archbishop's Fund Drive to the Archdiocesan Fund Drive to the Catholic Ministries Appeal.

"We're not sure why it's happened," said spokesman Dan Andriacco. "We're taking steps to find out."

He said an advisory council of pastors and a business manager are studying the decline and will suggest ways the archdiocese can better explain and solicit support for the drive, which supports Catholic Social Services, campus ministries, St. Rita School for the Deaf and numerous other ministries.

Advocacy groups and critics of the archdiocese blame the drop on what they see as a failure of the church to be more open about how it spends parishioners' money and how it has dealt with the clergy abuse scandal.

Withholding donations, they say, is a consequence of poor church leadership.

"It is one of two ways Catholics show displeasure," said Kris Ward, leader of Dayton's Voice of the Faithful chapter, which seeks a greater role for lay people in the church. "They either use their feet or they use their wallets."

"This seems to be a pretty significant non-use of their wallets."

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has attributed the decline to lingering dissatisfaction over the abuse scandal.

Church officials say the clergy abuse scandal may have hurt the fund drive years ago, at the peak of the scandal, but they no longer receive many complaints about that issue from would-be donors.

The economy, the name change and increasing pressure on the finances of individual parishes are more likely explanations, said Michael Vanderburgh, director of the archdiocese's Department of Stewardship Services.

The archdiocese began pushing parishes to pay back loans last year in an effort to boost revenue. The central office also has started taking a larger share of weekly collections, raising parish "assessments" from 5.7 percent to 8.7 percent.

"We have a number of parishes making extra efforts to retire debts," Vanderburgh said. "There's only so much money to go around."

He said the shortfall in this year's fund drive is unlikely to lead to immediate cuts to programs and services because the archdiocese has received several large bequests that should cover the loss.

But Vanderburgh said the archdiocese can't count on that revenue every year.

To boost donations next year, he said, the archdiocese will spend more time in the parishes explaining what the fund drive supports and why donations are needed.

Church finances overall improved somewhat last year, when overall assets and revenue increased from $69 million in 2006 to $78 million because of the sale of properties and an increase in investment income.

It was the archdiocese's first year without a deficit since 2001.

Figures for the 2008 fiscal year, which ended June 30, are not yet available.



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