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Spotlight Report

Catholic Charities shifts on lay group's fund-raising

By Sacha Pfeiffer and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 7/26/2001

A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
Contrary to earlier statements, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities said yesterday that the organization will not accept donations from the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful until its 50-member board of trustees has voted on the issue.

''If we were approached by Voice of the Faithful we would seek to work out an agreement with them,'' said Catholic Charities spokeswoman Maureen March. ''We would bring it to the board of trustees.''

Her statement was the latest in a series of conflicting responses from church and charity officials after the Boston archdiocese's announcement Monday that it, Catholic Charities, and Caritas Christi, the Catholic health care network, would reject funds raised by Voice of the Faithful for church agencies, schools, ministries, and hospitals.

But in an interview with the Globe on Tuesday, March said that Catholic Charities, the principal social service agency for the archdiocese, ''will not turn down any donation.'' And a board member with the agency criticized Cardinal Bernard F. Law's decision to reject donations from Voice of the Faithful, which has launched an initiative to raise money from people boycotting the Cardinal's Appeal because of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The confusion of the week's events has left many potential donors unsure who will and won't take their money.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman, reiterated yesterday the archdiocese's position that Voice of the Faithful's fund-raising initiative would undermine the Cardinal's Appeal, the church's main annual fund-raising drive, and that it is Law's role, in collaboration with lay Catholics, to distribute money to charities.

''We have to support all the agencies, all the works of the church, whether it's the support staff or a soup kitchen or a nursing home or school,'' Coyne said. ''To set up another instrument that's going to funnel funds away from that is something we can't accept.''

But Coyne said the archdiocese remains willing to accept donations from individuals or groups who want to fund the church's charitable works, as long as the donors ''are not making any conditions on the gift.''

Coyne was referring to Voice of the Faithful's requirement that donations made through the group, unlike donations made directly to the Cardinal's Appeal, could not be used to pay the archdiocese's administrative expenses or any costs not directly related to providing services to those in need.

Voice of the Faithful's fund-raising initiative, known as the Voice of Compassion, also requires the archdiocese to provide an accounting of the money it receives from the fund, an idea the archdiocese dislikes.

Donations made to the Cardinal's Appeal can be earmarked for specific charities within the archdiocese, Coyne said.

Caritas Christi officials did not return a call for comment yesterday.

The Voice of Compassion fund had collected $10,000 in pledges from the group's officers as of Monday and wants to distribute funds quarterly to the archdiocese in a way that would mirror donations made by the Cardinal's Appeal, minus church administrative expenses. But the archdiocese has not responded to the group's request for a list of the roughly 80 charitable programs supported by the Cardinal's Appeal, including urban Catholic schools and parishes, and ministries for the deaf and elderly, and the money those programs receive.

If the archdiocese refuses to share a list of its charities with Voice of the Faithful, the Voice of Compassion fund is structured to give its donations to Catholic Charities by default, according to Edward Robinson, president of the National Catholic Community Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit philanthropic organization that helped establish the Voice of Compassion fund.

If Catholic Charities refuses to accept the donations, Robinson said, the money would be distributed to Catholic charitable organizations in Massachusetts chosen by the foundation and Voice of the Faithful.

Before Catholic Charities accepts donations from Voice of the Faithful, its board must determine whether the group meets Catholic Charities' requirements for organizations that collect money on its behalf, March said. The board will discuss the issue when it receives money from Voice of the Faithful, or at its next meeting in September, she said.

March declined to comment on whether the board is likely to vote to accept Voice of the Faithful's donations, but said she expects a ''lively discussion'' over the issue.

James Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, said the organization will begin distributing funds to charities at the end of September. Post also said he had been contacted by between 15 and 20 charities facing financial difficulties, including an AIDS support group and a Boston parish.

Matt Carroll and Kevin Cullen of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at

This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2001.
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