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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

The politics of giving


Skip the middle men, all of them.

Sister Margaret Leonard will take your money. She is not in the habit of turning down donations to Project Hope, the food-shelter/education-and-training program she runs for homeless families in Dorchester.

Bridget Shaheen won't send your money back, either. She needs it to operate Lazarus House, the emergency shelter/food pantry/soup kitchen/job training program she directs in Lawrence.

And, count on my cousin Debbie Chausee to cash any check made payable to the House of Hope, the family shelter and substance abuse program she operates in Lowell. The former Sister of Notre Dame could use the help for the 18 families her program houses and feeds.

Your donations need not go begging if the clergy sex abuse scandal has undermined your confidence in the integrity of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. There is no shortage of programs, with Catholic roots and ecumenical hearts, that would be happy to take your money if you are more interested in helping the poor than in making a political statement about power and its sundry abuses by the man on Lake Street.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law this week is giving Voice of the Faithful an object lesson in the limits of conciliation. You can't negotiate with a man who won't come to the table. The archbishop of Boston says he does not want the $10,000 raised for the poor by the polite folks in the grass-roots reform movement who gathered almost 5,000 strong at the Hynes Convention Center last Saturday. The price, having to answer to the laity for the use of that money, is just too high for a man hanging onto power by a fingernail.

It's hard to say who is more naive: the discredited cardinal clinging to moral authority he has already squandered or the earnest reformers emphasizing their process at the expense of their results.

''Any setup that separates the role of the bishop from pastoral works is something the church can't accept,'' said the cardinal's spokesman, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, seemingly oblivious to the reality that Law himself created the ''setup'' that separated him from pastoral work when he knowingly assigned predatory child molesters as parish priests.

Delusional as such statements from the chancery are, the well-intentioned laity could use a primer on the equally hard realities of running a bare-bones antipoverty program. The Wellesley-based group has spent weeks setting up an alternative funding mechanism for disenchanted Catholics who did not want to contribute to the Cardinal's Appeal but did want to support the mission of the church to assist the poor. Convoluted does not begin to describe the process.

Donations to Voice of the Faithful's Voice of Compassion Fund would be channeled to Boston charities through the nonprofit National Catholic Community Foundation, which would send a quarterly check to the Boston Archdiocese, specifying which charities should benefit and stipulating that none of the money could be used for administrative or legal expenses.

Can you tell that the newly elected president of Voice of the Faithful is a management professor at Boston University? The circuitous funding plan was a nonconfrontational attempt to wrest some small amount of power from the cardinal without causing offense. But, as the man said: If you're going to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.

There aren't a lot of management types working at Project Hope in Dorchester, at Lazarus House in Lawrence, or at the House of Hope in Lowell. Those on the front lines in the war against privation find that direct action, in the form of negotiable currency, eases hunger and homelessness a lot faster than even the most well-meaning deliberative process.

Checks can be made payable to: Project Hope, 45 Magnolia St., Dorchester MA 02125; Lazarus House, PO Box 408, Lawrence MA 01842; House of Hope, 812 Merrimack St., Lowell MA 01854.

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2002.
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