There is a wealth of reliable data now available to track Catholic giving and involvement in the twenty-first century, which began with the Spotlight clergy abuse reporting in Boston in 2002 and continues through the recent defrocking of the American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. I posted several weeks back that while Catholics continue to donate to their parishes, they are considerably more reluctant to pledge and donate money going outside the parish, particularly to dioceses and “second collections” to outside causes. However, it is also true that recent Church scandals—along with other resentments toward the Church--are spiking another trend today last seen in 2002, that perhaps as many as a third of registered Catholics entertain thoughts of leaving Catholicism for other Christian communities, per a study released last week by PEW research. Aside from the major issue of personal Catholic alienation, it is inevitably true that there is a proportionately smaller pool of donors than a generation ago, with a more critical eye toward the practice of large gift-giving.
Catholic institutions undertaking annual bishops’ appeals and capital campaigns today are doing so against a stiff wind. I’ll start with the annual bishop’s appeal, in my diocese referred to as Our Catholic Appeal. From what I can see, most dioceses in the U.S. hold their appeals just before or during Lent. This is my forty-first annual appeal in the Orlando diocese, and even before the scandals broke, there was always some ambivalence about the campaign, ranging from the assessment goals assigned to each parish to the nature of where the funding actually goes. Orlando is honest in that it does not use the word “Charity” in its official title; administrative charity is listed as one subset of a wide range of diocesan operations—from the office of schools to the needs of elderly priests to assistance with seminarian tuition to liturgical and catechetical training.
A better way to think of the annual diocesan drive is maintenance of the diocesan structure, including all the offices and services required by Canon Law. That would include the time-consuming processing of annulments, risk management, employee benefits and retirement portfolio administration, etc. Not “sexy items,” to be sure, but try living without accreditation of Catholic schools or trained catechists in your parish. Theologically speaking, the diocese and the parish are joined at the hip as executors of the bishop’s apostolic mission to preach the Gospel. The religious principles that underlie this union of mission are rarely the subject of a Sunday sermon or adult education class, but participation in the work of a bishop/diocese falls under that branch of theology called ecclesiology. I have a link here to the Diocese of San Jose, California, an outline of its ecclesiology course for catechists and teachers that makes the full organic union of the Church clearer and provides justification for a bishop to seek the financial assistance of the faithful in the administration of the diocese.
I have heard through the blog and email that some Catholics worry about the use of their diocesan donations in general to meet legal costs and settlements of child abuse cases. I can’t speak for every diocese; to address this, one would need to consult with his or her home diocese’s independent financial audit on-line at the diocese’s website to determine if this is true, and then proceed as your conscience dictates. If a diocese does not have adequate transparency about its finances available to its donors, that is a major issue in the relationship between a Catholic and his or her bishop that needs discussion, and in some circumstances a donor may find a more edification in a direct gift to another specific entity of the diocese [such as a restricted gift to a Catholic high school] or the Church at large, such as Catholic Relief Services, or toward the retirement costs of the religious community [or communities] that educated you.
In fairness, bear this in mind. By the time the abuse crisis became general knowledge, $2 billion in settlements, suits, and services had already been paid out. We often overlook the responsibilities of every lay member to become well-informed on Church finances or, for that matter, the full range of administrative policies that impact our churches. If preaching in your diocese is generally poor, how many of the baptized have written or addressed bishops with the message that “your seminary just isn’t cutting it?” The target of the child abuse investigations has shifted to bishops, i.e., what did they know and when did they know it? But Catholic adults worried about such things throughout my childhood and shielded us from certain “odd clerics” who rotated through the Buffalo Diocese. [Perhaps more to the point, we harbor funny uncles in our own families, too.] One could argue that if collected moneys are going to settlements and victim relief, this may be an appropriate form of wholesale diocesan penance for silence in the face of an overly clerical culture. Just one man’s opinion.
Capital campaigns, on the other hand, are not annual. You will encounter them a few times in your life. They are unique intense fundraising events for specific needs and future expansion. I liked the definition provided by the Society of Non-Profits: “Nonprofits use capital campaigns to raise money for large capital projects (construction of a new facility, renovation of existing facilities, purchase of equipment, furnishings, etc.) They use endowment campaigns to build an endowment fund (a reserve fund to take care of emergencies and assure the organization's survival). An organization need not be large to conduct a capital or endowment campaign, but it does need to be well established and financially healthy.” [Emphasis mine.]
From years of observation I can say that many parishes and schools run “from paycheck to paycheck” [or Sunday collection to Sunday collection] and nearly any unexpected capital expenditure has a “crisis” element. Parishes with frequent special appeals are probably working with unrealistic budgets, if they are living within a budget at all. As one professional explained it to me, “no major donor will open up for a penniless instrument.” The previous paragraph underscored the reality that a capital campaign cannot rescue a failing parish. Again, it is obvious that all parties—bishop, pastor, parishioner—need be in constant honest dialogue about a parish’s health on a regular and continuing basis, to the point where future options take on clearer focus and less divisiveness. Hence the need for the annual public accounting.
There are multiple types of capital campaigns. In my own head I break them down along the lines of new church construction, school construction, and major improvement needs. New churches are an “easy sell” in the sense that everyone expects a parish to have a church, and for most parishioners the church building is the only brick and mortar facility they will expect to use in their lifetime. However, there are some hurdles: many expect a new church to look like the edifice of their childhood, a style and layout which has been outdated by the directives of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium [though SC is often ignored in church design.] And few people understand how costly churches really are.
I coordinated two new church campaigns in my life as a pastor and participated in two as a layman. [My next capital gift will be coming from my will.] From either side, they are grueling events that if done properly will ask a donor for more money than has ever been asked of him or her before. There is no getting away from the fact that, as in most businesses, major investors want to deal with the executive, which in a diocese would equate to the bishop for a diocesan-wide capital campaign, or a pastor in a parish capital campaign. It took me a long time to understand this. As a young pastor, the solicitation of major gifts did not come naturally to me, and in my first campaign I refused to do it on the grounds that it offended our parish’s collective sense of egalitarianism. The campaign flopped in the sense that we did not raise enough to get diocesan clearance to start. Three years later, we conducted a phase two after I was thoroughly schooled by a major officer of our local annual Jewish appeal. We doubled the gifts of the first campaign and built the church in 1988. [As an aside, nobody could foresee at the time that the publicity director for the second campaign would go on to fame in 2001 as the writer of “Menopause: The Musical.” The world of big-time fund-raising.]
School capital campaigns tend to focus on long-needed enhancements of schools built in the post-World War II era; only 16 new Catholic schools were built in the U.S. last year per the NCEA. While much brick and mortar go into these renewals, the more critical improvements are those harder for the public to see, i.e., raising standards to meet the higher costs and expectations of private faith-based education. This includes access to the advanced technology expected of graduates who hope to attend the major colleges; the research resources [or what we used to call the library], competitive salary and benefits to attract the best and the brightest in faculty and staff, and two particular priorities: quality religious instruction for the full faculty at the college level, and the establishment of permanent endowments for the sole purpose of tuition assistance.
Capital campaigns for schools must make the case for the subtle range of needs that are much less visible than, say, re-sodding the sports field. Catholic schools themselves are the subject of considerable debate and have been so through my entire adult life. Many [most?] Catholic families assume they cannot meet the challenge of tuition. Bishops and pastors disagree on whether Catholic schools are leaven in the community, enclaves of Catholic orthodoxy, or white flight destinations from public education. These are the kinds of questions that need thrashing out locally before a capital campaign becomes a public reality, but I fear that the instructional buildings themselves will fall before there is general agreement on Catholic educational philosophy. [See Kansas City, Kansas]
There are two points still to be addressed in this stream, diocesan capital campaigns [different from and more intense than the annual bishops’ appeal], and legal wills/bequests. Each deserves a separate post. But don’t worry. The “wills/bequests” post will not carry the title “shrouds have no pockets.”