Lighter Collection Baskets

Twenty percent of churchgoing Catholics say they have stopped contributing money to their diocese. One in nine have reduced what they give to their parish. These figures come from a Gallup poll commissioned by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA). Parishioners want to know how much money bishops have spent on sexual-abuse settlement claims, and how much money is likely to go for such claims in the future. Until there is more transparency in church finances, it appears that a significant number of churchgoing Catholics will be withholding financial support from the church. Francis J. Butler, FADICA’s president, told the New York Times (November 9) that his organization had commissioned the Gallup poll to persuade the bishops of the importance of making public the full cost of abuse cases. So far only Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore has disclosed such information. "The bishops are heading for trouble if they think they can continue to run things like so many multimillionaire barons," Butler said.

FADICA hardly represents the Catholic radical fringe. Yet many bishops continue to rebuff the efforts of mainstream groups such as FADICA and Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) to open church administration to lay inspection, and, where warranted, lay participation. Especially obtuse bishops have even banned VOTF from meeting on church property, despite the group’s repeated assurances that it is interested in accountability from the bishops, not in changing church teachings.

Theologically confident and pastorally adept bishops have nothing to fear from meeting with concerned and committed Catholics, even (dare it be said) with "dissenting" Catholics. When 64 percent of your flock think you’ve bungled the most serious crisis ever to have hit the American church—as the Gallup poll found—perhaps it’s time to stop issuing denunciations, to start listening, and to open the ledger books for inspection. Otherwise, the only sound the bishops are likely to hear is the sound of parishioners closing their wallets.

Published in the 2002-11-22 issue: 

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