Catholics Boosting Church Donations

By Patricia Wen and Martin Finucane
Boston Globe
January 27, 2012

Parishioners at Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Boston are boosting their donations to financially strapped parishes, according to the annual financial report released yesterday by the archdiocese.

The report shows that parish collections and other fund-raising rose by about 4.5 percent, after several years of being flat or declining. In the budget year that ended in June, Catholics in the pews gave about $146.6 million to their parishes, compared with $140.3 million the year before. Meanwhile, church officials said Mass attendance remained relatively flat.

“Ordinary people are digging deeper into their pockets,’’ said John Straub, executive director of finance and operations for central ministries for the archdiocese.

For the second year, the central operations of the archdiocese reported a balanced budget after a series of deficits that were a legacy of the sour economy and the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Investment income also rose, by 19 percent.

The central ministries of the archdiocese achieved the balanced $34 million budget after austerity measures that included employee layoffs, freezing of open positions, and salary cuts.

“We have made great progress in moving the archdiocese from a position of financial freefall just a few short years ago to one of stability, fully committed to supporting our parishes, schools, and ministries,’’ chancellor James P. McDonough said in a statement accompanying the archdiocese’s financial report for fiscal 2011.

Still, the annual budget document suggests looming fiscal problems for the archdiocese, among the largest in the United States. About one-third of the 290 parishes operated in the red, roughly the same as the year before. Enrollment in Catholic schools continued to erode; although at 1 percent, it was the lowest rate of decline in the past decade. The church’s pension fund remains underfunded, with projected liabilities of nearly $96 million.

David W. Smith, the former chancellor of the archdiocese, criticized the church for failing to highlight the pension liabilities more prominently. The report chose to emphasize the balanced budget sheet for central operations, an account that does not reflect the pension costs.

Smith and another prominent critic of the church - Peter Borre, chairman of the Council of Parishes, which fights to reopen closed churches - said the budget report is so complex that it is difficult to judge the true financial health of the archdiocese.

“It’s easy to balance a budget when you shift costs,’’ Smith said.

Still, Smith acknowledged that the church can find encouragement in increased giving by parishioners. “If offerings are up, that’s a good thing,’’ he said.

The church has paid $148.7 million to settle 1,150 cases of sexual abuse. The money for those payments, the archdiocese said, came from insurance or the sale of properties, among other sources, not from parishioners.

Martin Finucane can be reached at

Patricia Wen can be reached at








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