Catholic Church Officials Weigh Financial Impact of Sex Scandal

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

Dallas, Texas (CNSNews.com) - Financial officers from several U.S. Catholic dioceses Thursday said the Church's sex scandal has had only minimal affect on the amount of money parishioners are willing to donate. However, one protester at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, insisted, "there is no doubt, they have taken a hit."

The bishops are meeting in Dallas this week to, among other things, adopt a policy on how to deal with priests involved in cases of sexual abuse.

Jon Benware, chief financial officer for the diocese in Savannah, Georgia, said donations are actually on the rise.

"As I look at the revenues, they are up ten percent from the previous year, so it looks as though there has been no impact on the giving on the part of Catholics to the local parishes."

Frank DeRosa, communications director for the diocese in Brooklyn, N.Y., said the same is true in his region, both with weekly collections and with the diocese's annual fundraising drive.

"That's not to say the people have not been concerned with the issue, but it is to say that because their parishes are going to benefit from their generosity, they seem not to be affected by this situation," DeRosa said.

Phillip Reis, director of finance for the diocese in Orange, Calif., said preliminary reports show mixed messages coming from parishioners.

As far as capital fundraising drives are concerned, Reis said, "Some of the parishes are going upward while others are down-sliding."

With regard to weekly donations, however, Reis said he has "seen some go slightly down, so we are definitely affected."

Reis said several donors have sent letters wondering whether their contributions would be used to cover the Church's legal expenses given the fact that several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of individuals who say priests sexually abused them.

"We are restricted by Catholic and civil law to honor and respect the wishes of the donor and we have often temporarily restricted funds to make sure that they are not spent for what they are not meant for," Reis said.

When money is needed to pay legal expenses, it usually comes from Church funds set aside for expansion and growth, according to Reis.

"Throughout the years, we have been able to set aside funds from operations to buy land for new parishes, etc. ... For some of these settlements, we have had to dip into those resources," Reis said.

Kevin Heffernan, chief financial officer for the diocese in Burlington, Vt., said there's no way to verify how much money the U.S. Catholic Church has paid to settle past sexual abuse cases.

"I think it is very funny how people throw these numbers around because I have heard everything from $1 billion to $300 million, but because of the uniqueness of each diocese and their financial structure, there is no clear way to tell how much has really been paid out," Heffernan said.

Bill Betzen, standing outside in the rain, across the street from the hotel where the bishops are meeting, held a sign reading "No More Secrecy."

"I have quit giving, my family has quit giving and several people in my parish have as well," Betzen told CNSNews.com. "There are also not as many people in the pews on Sundays so they cannot be doing nearly as well as they say they are."

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