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Spotlight Report

Catholic Charities is hurting

Drop in giving is laid to abuse controversy, Law

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 4/11/2002

The president of Catholic Charities said yesterday that Cardinal Bernard F. Law's handling of the widening clergy sexual abuse scandal is alienating donors and could lead to a record deficit for the state's largest social service agency.

Joseph Doolin, the organization's president for 13 years and a member of Law's cabinet, said that donations from corporations and foundations have fallen off significantly since January, when the scandal erupted, and that some donors have cited Law as a reason for withholding funds.

''I can tell you that there have been some people who have told me in writing that they will not give Catholic Charities another gift until we have a new archbishop,'' Doolin said.

Meanwhile, in another sign of Law's eroding support, US Senator Edward M. Kennedy yesterday backed away from an earlier endorsement of the cardinal.

In January, after the Globe's first report that Law kept a pedophile priest in parish work even though he knew the priest had molested numerous children, Kennedy gave Law an unequivocal endorsement. ''Reforms are essential, and I believe that Cardinal Law is taking needed steps to achieve them.''

But yesterday, after learning that newly released church documents show Law allowed a second priest who was a known serial child molester to continue in parish work, Kennedy said, ''I can say that the alleged charges are certainly the deepest wounds against the church in my lifetime.''

Doolin, in an interview held as he prepared to deliver the grim fund-raising news at a board of trustees meeting late yesterday afternoon, said repeated efforts to inform donors that contributions to Catholic Charities will not be used to settle sexual abuse claims have failed to prevent a slide in donations.

''These days any cause that may have `Catholic' in its name is going to have an uphill battle,'' he said.

Although Catholic Charities was created by the archdiocese, its fund-raising and spending are conducted independently, Doolin said. The agency provides an array of services to 170,000 poor people, including homeless shelters, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, and adoption services.

Last summer, after Law filed a legal document admitting that he knew an active priest on his watch had been accused of sexual abuse, the agency sent a letter to donors saying that ''no Catholic Charities money goes to legal defense funds for the archdiocese.''

But last month, in a sign of growing displeasure with Law among Boston's Catholic elite, Catholic Charities also canceled its annual garden party at the cardinal's mansion, a 25-year tradition and the agency's signature fund-raising event.

Doolin then announced that the agency would trim its $40 million budget by 15 percent and lay off 100 to 200 of its 1,400 employees.

At the time, Doolin said the cuts were not related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis and attributed a projected defict to state budget cuts and a weakening economy. Approximately 53 percent of the agency's $40 million budget comes from state social service contracts.

But yesterday, two days after newly released court documents showed that Law knowingly kept a second serial molester, Rev. Paul R. Shanley, in parish work, Doolin said it is now apparent that the scandal of clergy sexual abuse is discouraging donors.

''This late winter and spring has brought a very high number of rejections from foundations and corporations,'' he said.

Doolin said he made the new assessment last week after a meeting of the agency's finance committee, which projected a deficit of between $800,000 and $1.1 million for its fiscal year ending June 30.

To help close the gap, the organization is holding a ''virtual garden party'' by soliciting donations through the mail, hoping to raise $1.5 million, or $100,000 more than last year's gala at the cardinal's residence. Additional fundraising events before the end of June are scheduled to be held in Salem and Lowell.

Other board members interviewed before yesterday's trustees meeting were not as pessimistic. Jim Brett, the president of the New England Council, a business group, said he believes Catholic Charities can meet its fund-raising goals and avoid a deficit.

''The environment right now makes it very difficult but I think we can raise the money,'' he said.

Neal F. Finnegan, the chairman of the Catholic Charities board, said the trustees ''certainly are worried'' about the effect the scandal might be having on donors but are pushing ahead with their fund-raising goals.

''It remains to be seen whether we can be convincing to our supporters in saying that not giving to Catholic Charities is not the way to express one's feelings about the clergy sexual abuse matter,'' he said.

Finnegan, like Doolin, said officials are struggling to let past donors know that the agency's fund-raising and programs are conducted separately from those of the archdiocese.

But in the past, Catholic Charities has underscored its association with the archdiocese and Law.

Law attends the trustees' annual meetings. His name is on agency stationery. And his annual garden party was considered one of the main events on the city's social calendar.

Said Finnegan: ''We have a long history where the identification with the cardinal has been highly positive in raising money.''

Glen Johnson of the Globe Washington bureau contributed to this story.

This story ran on page A28 of the Boston Globe on 4/11/2002.
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