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Spotlight Report

Catholic Charities accepts donation from lay group

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 12/17/2002

A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
In an act of independence that has angered some officials of the Archdiocese of Boston, Catholic Charities has accepted $56,035 raised by the lay activist group Voice of the Faithful, even though Cardinal Bernard F. Law was wary of the group and had not decided whether to accept the funds.

The letter accepting the donation, written by the charity's board chairman, Neal F. Finnegan, and vice chairman, Peter G. Meade, was sent Wednesday, just hours before Voice of the Faithful members voted to call for Law's resignation.

Joseph Doolin, the president of Catholic Charities, received a telephone call yesterday from a top archdiocesan official objecting to the decision, according to officials familiar with the call.

Doolin, reached last night, declined to discuss the issue. It could not be immediately determined whether Bishop Richard G. Lennon, Law's interim replacement, was aware of the donation or upset that Catholic Charities accepted it.

Asked last night whether the decision to accept the money was an act of defiance by Catholic Charities, Meade said: ''I'd say it was an act of wisdom.''

Donna M. Morrissey, the archdiocesan spokeswoman, said she was unaware of the donation and would have no comment.

The action by Catholic Charities could provide an unanticipated early test for Lennon, as lay Catholics look for signals about his openness to a newly assertive laity.

Meade and Finnegan said in an interview that Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the archdiocese, has a century-long tradition of accepting donations from contributors. They said the donation will add to a fund of about $500,000 being used to buy food, clothing, and toys for poor families this Christmas.

The two men said the overwhelming majority of the charity's 52 board members - all appointees of Law, and many his friends - were in favor of taking the donation.

For several months, the cardinal and Catholic Charities were on a collision course over the prospective donation, which is made up of contributions solicited by Voice of the Faithful from Catholics unwilling to donate directly to the archdiocese because of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The money raised was offered to the archdiocese, but with strings attached: It could not be used for archdiocesan administrative costs, but only for programs and services funded from the annual Cardinal's Appeal. The appeal has been in a fund-raising slump that analysts attribute to the scandal.

All along, Voice of the Faithful and the National Catholic Community Foundation, which was the conduit for the alternative donations, said it would offer the money to Catholic Charities if the archdiocese turned it down.

At first, the archdiocese rejected outright the notion that it would accept funds with conditions. Last July, Morrissey said, ''This approach of donating money to the mission of the church which has been proposed by the Voice of the Faithful does not recognize the role of the archbishop and his responsibility in providing for the various programs and activities of the Church.''

Law met with Voice of the Faithful officials Nov. 26. At that meeting, he did not agree to the group's request that he accept the money. Nor did he say he would allow new chapters of the group to meet on church property.

But when the archdiocese did not accept or reject the funds by the deadline set by the lay group, the $56,035 was offered Dec. 9 to Catholic Charities, according to Meade. Meade said that when he and Finnegan accepted the gift on Wednesday, they were unaware that Voice of the Faithful's leaders had scheduled a meeting for that night to demand Law's ouster.

''The unusual move would have been not to accept the money,'' Finnegan said. ''The need is real. This winter is off to a pretty cold start, and there are more needy families that need the help of Catholic Charities.''

Walter Robinson can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/17/2002.
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