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Spotlight Report

Little drop-off seen by church on giving

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 2/17/2002

While some Catholics have vowed to withhold money from the Boston Archdiocese to protest the church's handling of pedophile priests, church officials say the financial backlash has been minimal so far.

Those officials, however, acknowledge it could get worse.

A recent Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll found that nearly 20 percent of Catholics in the Boston Archdiocese said they would withhold money from the church because of the sexual abuse of children by priests and Cardinal Bernard F. Law's handling of the scandal.

While there is anecdotal evidence of grass-roots efforts at some parishes to withhold donations, Ken Hokenson, chief development officer for the archdiocese, said that so far, church fund-raising has not been dramatically affected by the priest abuse issue.

Hokenson is in charge of both the Cardinal's Appeal, which raised $17 million last year, and the archdiocese's Promise For Tomorrow capital fund, which has already received pledges for roughly half of the $300 million goal Law set when the 18-month campaign was launched last June.

In an interview, Hokenson said that ''less than two dozen'' of some 4,000 donors to the Promise for Tomorrow fund have rescinded their pledges. He said the amount involved was less than one-half of a percent. That would amount to about $75,000 of the roughly $150 million pledged.

While he did not have actual figures for the Cardinal's Appeal, he said that only three or four of more than 100,000 pledges for that fund have been rescinded.

''There will be more,'' Hokenson said, acknowledging that the fallout from the pedophile scandal is not over. ''That number will grow, but it's not been a rush.''

Hokenson disputed the findings in the poll, which suggested that one in five Catholics would withhold financial support from the church to register their dismay about the cardinal's handling of the crisis.

''I think people who give to these funds know the good work that is done by the church in these areas,'' he said.

Law and other archdiocese officials have said that none of the money raised in the Cardinal's Appeal, which funds some 80 agencies, and the Promise for Tomorrow fund, will go to settle civil suits filed by abuse victims against pedophile priests.

While church officials say there has been no major drop-off in donations, they are bracing for more. The Promise for Tomorrow fund was supposed to meet its $300 million goal by the end of 2002. Speaking to a group of priests on Thursday, however, Law said that timetable might need to be adjusted. Hokenson said the campaign may run for 90 to 120 days beyond the initial deadline.

Still, the archdiocese received more than $1 million in pledges last week, ''and it looks like we're doing better than that this week,'' Hokenson said. And so far, no major donors have pulled their pledges, he added.

''Would we have raised more [without the negative publicity]?'' he asked rhetorically. ''I don't know. We'll never know.''

Hokenson said the archdiocese, which represents at least 2 million Catholics in Eastern Massachusetts, received some calls from people claiming to be big contributors who wanted to rescind their pledges. But the names and figures did not jibe with archdiocese or parish records, he said.

''One guy called and said he had given $12,000, but when we checked his name, he wasn't a registered parishioner,'' said Hokenson.

The Promise for Tomorrow campaign is the largest diocesan fund-raising drive in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. The money raised in that drive will pay for education, social services, health care, training, and the renovation of churches. The Cardinal's Appeal fund pays for the agencies, programs, and services run by the archdiocese.

The two top contributors to the Promise for Tomorrow fund, who have pledged $25 million and $15 million respectively, asked to remain anonymous, Hokenson said. Mutual fund guru Peter S. Lynch and John A. McNeice Jr., former CEO of the Colonial Group, have pledged $10 million each.

Last Tuesday, Lynch presided over a dinner that raised a record $4.8 million for scholarships to Catholic high schools for needy students.

''People know the value of a Catholic education, no matter what else is going on,'' said Lynch, referring to the recession and the fund-raising difficulties faced by other charities after Sept. 11.

Anne Tippett, development director for Catholic Charities, said her organization has not noticed any drop in donations because of the scandal. She said the group's Thanksgiving and Christmas appeals surpassed their goals by 10 and 20 percent, respectively.

But she acknowledged that there is no similar barometer of donations since reports by the Globe Spotlight Team focused attention on Cardinal Law's handling of pedophile priests.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/17/2002.
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