The Catholic Services Appeal and Similar Frauds
Written by Father Celatus
One of the principal responsibilities of parish pastors is to protect the faithful from ravaging wolves. But wolves are not always readily recognized for what they really are. Remember the folk tale Little Red Riding Hood? “Grandmother, what big arms you have!” “All the better to hug you with.” Grandmother, what big ears you have!” “All the better to hear you with.” Grandmother, what big teeth you have!” “All the better to eat you with.” And the wicked wolf pounced upon Little Red Riding Hood and ate her all up.
Wolves in disguise are found not only in fairy tales and on Wall Street but within the hierarchy of the Church. Perhaps you are thinking that this Last Word concerns the Wolf of Rome but for now our focus is on wolves closer to home: The U.S. episcopal wolves who fleece the flock with a plethora of collections.
A quick Google search of USCCB approved annual collections produced the following overly long list:
Special Collection Sunday
Church in Latin America
Church in Africa, Central & Eastern Europe
Global Solidarity Sunday
Rice Bowl Collection
Holy Land Shrines
Clergy Benefit Trust
Seminarian Fund Collection
Holy Father – Peter’s Pence
Catholic Relief Services
Catholic University of America
National Needs Combined
Clergy Health and Retirement Trust
World Mission Sunday
Campaign for Human Development
Black and Native American
Retired Religious Sisters Collection
Clergy Health and Retirement Trust
Add to these typical diocesan collections occasional spontaneous collections for natural disasters such as hurricanes and humanitarian crises such as immigration inundation and we are up to twenty-two total. Add two more for Diocesan Capital Campaigns and Diocesan Annual Appeals and we now have an even double dozen. That averages out to one collection every two weeks throughout the year. Some of you are thinking, “But we do not have that many collections in my parish.” Then consider yourselves fortunate to have a strong pastor who takes seriously his responsibility to protect the faithful from ravaging wolves.
Now let’s look more in depth at the last of these collections we have noted: Diocesan Annual Appeals. It has become a nearly universal practice in dioceses across the United States to have an annual collection to fund certain programs, projects and positions, as determined by the local ordinary, that is, bishop. In the past these annual collections were commonly called “Archbishop’s Appeals” or the equivalent, depending upon the title of the ordinary—bishop, archbishop, cardinal. The more recent trend, however, has been to rename these appeals with more attractive titles such as Living the Joy of the Gospel or Sharing God’s Blessings or Together in Mission or Many Roads One Path or Catholic Services Appeal or equivalent.
Why the change? Diocesan statements will typically assure you that these titles better reflect the scope of the appeals but in reality much of this is driven by slick marketing and scandal. Yes, scandal. One of the first to change its title was the Archdiocese of Boston, following the national scandal of clergy sex abuse and the resignation of its Cardinal in 2002. Since then other dioceses exposed for clergy abuse cover up or some other scandal associated with an ordinary have followed suit. In at least one diocese the annual appeal has not only disassociated itself with any connection to its ordinary, it has reconfigured itself as a separate non-profit organization in order to protect donated funds from seizure via bankruptcy. How ironic and revealing of the times that appeals once bearing titles of bishops now avoid mention of them.
Regardless of the title of an annual appeal the modus operandi remains the same. In a typical diocese there is a standard process that is followed which spans months of preparation, execution and follow up. It all begins with rah-rah rallies to get pastors and key benefactors excited weeks in advance; pastors are requested to provide names of individuals to serve as chairs; sample bulletin announcements and prayers of the faithful are provided to parishes; video and audio discs are distributed with the expectation that these will be played at Masses; there are In-Pew weekends in which the faithful are led through scripted processes in which they fill out donation envelopes in the pews; the diocese does direct mailings to all registered parishioners in every parish; finally, professional telemarketers hound the faithful at home.
Unsurprisingly support for diocesan annual appeals is dwindling among the faithful and pastors as well. Some dioceses provide incentives to parishes to contribute mightily, such as rebates back to parishes that achieve certain financial goals. For some pastors this carrot works wonders but others could care less. Some dioceses use the stick approach instead, by simply assessing parishes whatever amount they fall short of the financial goal that has been set. In such cases it should be titled “Archbishop’s Extortion.”
The Last Word is proud to say that it has never contributed a dime to Diocesan Annual Appeals and it does the minimum to promote them in the parish. If the faithful search diligently they may find a stray contribution envelope somewhere in the church but not in the pews. For as pastors know and the faithful should be made aware, parishes are already taxed substantially based on collection incomes, at a rate of about 10%. Additionally, many dioceses are secretive about the disbursement of funds and some provide funding to unconscionable causes. One diocese provided tens of thousands of dollars to an organization appropriately known as COW (Commission on Women) whose purpose was to insure gender inclusivity.
The faithful have a duty and right to donate money to causes as they see fit but they are well advised to discriminate carefully among the many causes that compete for their contributions. One diocese went so far as to post this statement on its Diocesan Appeal website: “In the spirit of Pope Francis and Laudato Si, his encyclical on the environment, please consider going green with electronic pledge reminders.” Gag!
But instead of that approach to “going green” how about this alternative as proposed by The Last Word: Take any greenbacks you might otherwise have donated to a diocese and send it to The Remnant instead. We promise you that your green money will be much more appreciated and spent for a more godly cause!