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Spotlight Report

Refocused church seeking donations

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 12/22/2002

 Gallup Poll
Q. Does the issue of sexual abuse of young people by priests make you less likely to contribute money to the church, or not?

Note: Poll surveyed 270 Catholics. Margin of error +/ 7 percentage points.

Source: Gallup Organization

 Falling short
Two major local fund-raising campaigns are falling well short of their goals:

Source: Archdiocese of Boston

T wo months ago, Ken Hokenson, who is the Archdiocese of Boston's top fund-raiser, got an angry note in the mail from a man who had received a request for money.

"I will not give anything as long as Cardinal Law is in Boston," the man wrote.

The letter was not particularly unusual, given the high level of anger among local Catholics.

But this week, Hokenson got a surprise phone call from the same man, with a message that would make any fund-raiser smile.

"The check is in the mail," the donor said.

Now that Cardinal Bernard F. Law has resigned as archbishop of Boston, the local church is hoping to repair the damage he caused or countenanced, by reaching out to victims, implementing better child protection policies, and trying to heal a divided community.

But the church is also hoping to jump-start its fund-raising efforts, which have been badly damaged by the clergy sex abuse crisis. The archdiocese's ambitious capital campaign, launched in June 2001 with a goal of raising $300 million by the end of 2002, has raised just $190 million in gifts and pledges to date, and appears unlikely, even with a six-month extension, to meet its goal. The annual Cardinal's Appeal, which funds archdiocesan operations, has raised just $8 million toward its $17 million target, forcing deep cuts in spending. And some parishes report that weekly offertory is down by as much as 25 percent.

Church fund-raisers, who have had a nightmarish year trying to collect money for ministries in the midst of an unprecedented scandal, a prolonged economic downturn, and the threat of a bankruptcy filing by the archdiocese, are now hoping Law's departure will help them fund causes like Catholic schools, hospitals, and social services.

"We can all agree that the biggest single negative has been the sexual misconduct situation," said Hokenson, who added that about $5 million in pledges have been canceled by unhappy donors. "I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that that is the most important factor."

Hokenson is now preparing a letter that will go out within the next few weeks to the thousands of people who had said they were refusing to give to the church as long as Law was in office. The development office, which debated but ultimately rejected advice from 35 priests to suspend or postpone the capital campaign, says it will redouble its efforts to help the 135 pastors who are supposed to raise money from their parishioners in the final phase of the campaign, which begins next month. And, in an acknowledgement of Law's unpopularity, the archdiocese no longer expects that parishes will choose to show a fund-raising video featuring Law asking for money.

"We are going to ask people to reconsider their ongoing financial support of the church in Boston," Hokenson said. "Many people have given in the past and are very loyal, but, because of the anger and pain they felt over what has occurred this year, indicated they would not continue their support until they saw a change in administration. Now there is a change in attitude, and hopefully people will give Bishop [Richard G.] Lennon an opportunity to demonstrate that he can bring this church together."

Hokenson and other church officials acknowledge that it is too early to determine whether there will be a surge of good will toward the church in the wake of Law's ouster, which was forced by a public uproar over his repeated failure to remove abusive priests from ministry. Contributions at some parishes were up last Sunday, the first after Law's resignation, but giving is often stronger in December because of the Christmas season and the approaching end of the tax year.

A Gallup Poll released this week found that 40 percent of Catholics say they are less likely to contribute money to the church because of the sexual abuse of young people by priests, up from 30 percent in March.

"Catholics are deeply disturbed by this scandal," said Frank Newport, editor of the Gallup Poll. "Catholics have consistently given the church hierarchy low marks for handling this situation, and I don't know whether that one event [Law's resignation] is enough to cause a turnaround."

Nationally, foundations that give to Catholic dioceses are increasingly wary. Some are demanding assurances that their money will not be used to fund sex abuse settlements, or are imposing restrictions designed to ensure that if a diocese files for bankruptcy, their contributions will be used for the intended causes, and not to pay off creditors.

"We believe that the church needs to move much more vigorously in the areas of transparency and accountability in its finances, and until that's done, I think you're going to see donors a little leery of making donations to Catholic dioceses in the present atmosphere," said Francis J. Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities Inc., whose members give an estimated $200 million each year.

Lennon, who is serving as the administrator of the archdiocese until Pope John Paul II names a permanent archbishop, did not list fund-raising as among his top priorities, choosing instead to focus on more direct responses to the clergy sex abuse issue.

And many potential donors say it will take more than Law's departure to change their attitude.

"This is a first step in a very long journey back," said Jack Connors Jr., the chairman and chief executive officer of the advertising firm Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. "One robin doesn't make a spring. We'll have to see."

In September, Connors, a onetime confidant of Law and a major local philanthropist, told an audience at Boston College that he thought laypeople should consider withholding money from the archdiocese. "One part of the temple of power is money," he said then, "and that's an important asset that needs to be redirected where it's going to do the most good, and for the moment that may be at the local level."

For the moment, he says, he's still directing his giving to local causes, such as parishes or individual Catholic charities, and he expects others will share his wait-and-see posture.

"I don't think the floodgates are going to open wide now -- there is no more blind faith, and there is a healthy skepticism," he said. "I want to say to the new bishop, let's welcome this tsunami of lay interest. The new model is greater participation and greater trust. Let's turn that faucet into a firehose of good will, and dollars, for the many underserved missions of the Catholic Church."

Frank Mastrocola Jr., a real estate investor in Everett and a member of the finance council of Saint Catherine of Siena Church in Charlestown, also said rebuilding trust will take time.

"The problem is, the church doesn't give you an opportunity to express your opinion, so refraining from contributing provides that opportunity," Mastrocola said.

"The trust in the hierarchy has been shattered, and even if the next cardinal is worthy of trust, the institution is so damaged by this crisis that I don't think giving will approach the old levels," he added. "So many people in the hierarchy conspired to support Law and support the cover-up that you wonder to what extent an individual can make change."

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/22/2002
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