Hard Times

May 22, 2003
VOL 122 NO. 20
Hard Times
By Catholic News Service
By Jerry Filteau / CNS

While Catholic Charities agencies are facing new demands for assistance, an April poll showed that nearly three-fourths of Catholics across the nation are hesitant to give more money to charity because of concerns about their own personal finances.

The poll results, released May 14 by Catholic Charities USA, followed announcements by several dioceses that financial pressures were forcing them to cut back on budgets and personnel. “These are very challenging times for Catholic Charities and the millions of people who are served by our agencies,” said Father J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities USA. “While more and more people are turning to Catholic Charities,” he said, “the government contracts, donations and other vital sources of revenue needed to provide those services are declining or not keeping pace.”

“Our nation is at a unique juncture where our homeland security and the personal economic security of many Americans are both at risk and both competing for limited resources,” he said. Catholic Charities USA, based in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., is a national umbrella organization for more than 1,600 local Catholic agencies and institutions that assist more than 7 million people a year.

The survey was based on telephone responses by 622 Catholics. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points. According to the findings, 74 percent of Catholics said they would donate more to charity if they felt more secure about their personal finances. Fifty-seven percent reported that the amount they gave to charity during the past year had stayed the same, 20 percent said they were giving less and 23 percent said they were giving more. Along with the economy, the survey found Catholic contributions have been hurt by the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Twenty-two percent of those polled said they reduced their donations to faith-based charities in the past year because of the reports of misconduct by priests.

Father Hehir said he was encouraged by a finding that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed expressed a willingness “to dig deeper to help out those in need.” Catholic Charities budgets across the country are being strained by “tight revenues and increasing requests for service,” he said. Just two days before the survey findings were announced, the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., announced plans to cut its budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year by $2 million and reduce its work force by 12 percent, from 270 employees to 236. Those who remain will receive no salary increases. The Denver Archdiocese May 9 informed about 30 staff members that they were being laid off in an effort to trim the budget by $1.3 million.

The Louisville cutbacks were prompted by expectations of major settlement costs in sexual abuse lawsuits. Of 250 suits filed since April 2002, the archdiocese has settled six out of court. It is seeking to settle the others as well. In Denver, however, it was the economy that caused the cuts. “Our investment income has dried up over the last two-and-a-half years,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.

In April the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., announced that a combination of decreased revenue and increased health insurance costs was forcing it to lay off nine employees and freeze the salaries of the rest of its pastoral center staff for the coming fiscal year. When the Chicago Archdiocese kicked off its annual appeal this spring, it raised the goal to $7.5 million, even though last year it attained only $6.3 million of a $7 million goal. It found that one unanticipated loss in last year’s campaign was a $100,000 decline in matching corporate contributions — traced mainly to companies that had collapsed or sharply reduced their Chicago-area staffing. The Cleveland Diocese, which reached only $9.6 million of its $11.4 million goal in last year’s annual Catholic Charities appeal, announced in May that it is lowering the goal to $10.5 million this year. In April the Diocese of Springfield, Mass., set a goal of $2.9 million for this year’s diocesan appeal, the same as last year, even though last year it came up $300,000 short of the goal. Bishop Thomas L. Dupre said he considered the “tough economic times” in western Massachusetts a bigger obstacle to reaching the target than the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The Boston Archdiocese, epicenter of the abuse scandal since January 2002, last year got only $8.6 million of the $17 million goal for its annual Cardinal’s Appeal. When this year’s campaign, renamed the Catholic Appeal, was launched in March, the announced goal was $9 million. The Boston Archdiocese had a $24 million budget in the 2001-02 fiscal year. It slashed that to $16 million in 2002-03 and plans to reduce it to $12 million in 2003-04. In May archdiocesan officials announced plans to publish details of the current and upcoming budgets on the archdiocesan Web site before the end of June as part of an effort to restore trust in its finances. Its budget-cutting efforts have included moving two auxiliary bishops out of their own homes into rectories shared with other priests.

Contributing to this story were Rob Cullivan in Rochester and Michelle Martin in Chicago.

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