Catholic charity: an oxymoron?

If you had $50 to donate, would you give it to a Catholic priest to help the disadvantaged?

The Catholic Church’s charities have been abusing the separation of church and state for years. There are no laws governing the operations of religious organizations, and there obviously should not be a need. Lawful, decent, ethical, moral leaders of religious organizations hold themselves to a higher standard than any earthbound law. After all, they report to a Supreme Being.

This is a good philosophy unless it involves the leaders of the Catholic Church. Leadership, as we’ve seen lately, that has included an unacceptable number of thugs, bullies, liars, rapists, and, in the latest news from Arizona, murderers. We need to add thieves to the list too.

Not to diminish the horrors of any of the reported crimes committed by Catholic priests this century, the theft of millions upon millions of dollars could possibly be the most far-reaching offense. There are no consequences, no lawsuit settlements, no answers and no justifications required. This theft is legal.

(I’ll never understand why the Catholic Church employs so much legal counsel; it’s so unnecessary.)

Examining and understanding the setup of a typical Catholic charity requires a map, a compass, and a great deal of patience. Most states and some larger cities have Archdioceses or Dioceses depending on the populations in that area. These are the self-governing bodies of the Catholic Church. In addition to Dioceses, there are religious communities that are set up as non-profit organizations. They, in turn, set up more non-profit organizations to raise money to support the communities in which they reside. To actually provide the community services, more non-profit organizations are formed to administer the programs.

One such organization in existence in rural Mississippi since 1942 raised over $20 million per year in the 1990s and donated $4-$6 million each year to its Mission founded in 1992 to provide “parish, educational, social and housing services in northern Mississippi”. The fundraising arm owned by a religious community in Wisconsin sends trinkets like Jesus refrigerator magnets, Jesus key chains, Jesus dashboard statues, Jesus notepads, etc., to millions of names on multiple mailing lists in return for small, typically cash donations. The average and targeted donor is a widowed, elderly female in the Northeast.

The Missions built a school from the $10 million sale of a movie produced with donations called The Spitfire Grill in 1996 and, in the mid-1990’s, they built a $3 million (heavily subsidized by federal grants) community village of 38 tenement homes to serve as temporary housing for people gaining self-sufficiency. The project was well intentioned but has become completely neglected and ignored. Dehon Village is known as the most dangerous area in Desoto County and its residents are really just living in low-quality, government subsidized housing.

Other than these two accomplishments, there isn’t much evidence of where well over $200 million in just ten years has been spent. Granted, this place in particular was plagued for 40 years with a corrupt Director who retired in 2002 owning several custom homes and a condo in Puerto Vallarta, hoarding funds and securing lifetime benefits for himself, his family, his friends, and his boyfriend (who worked for him for 22 years). However, the Diocese and religious community priests knew about all this and chose to ignore it making them ultimately responsible.

I worked for the fundraiser for almost half of 2002 and researched extensively as soon as I found out the place was a fraud. I wrote a letter with my specific findings to the religious community priests who responded by thanking me for my interest in their missions and directing me to the Human Resources Manager if I had any further questions.

Though this is just one example, the corporate structure, operation and missions are the same throughout the country. If one is corrupt, more than likely there are many others. And if not, they should be anxious to prove otherwise.

Even if you’re fortunate and donate to a decent priest in a moral organization, do you know how much goes to the people you want to help? With no published financial information for any Catholic charity and none required by law, there is no way of knowing. Requests for information, investigations or complaints are not accepted at the Secretary of State, Attorney General, or Better Business Bureau offices. And the Catholic Church certainly isn’t going to volunteer.

They have vast assets to tap, so the only way to affect them is to stop future revenues. People must not assume good will and start demanding financial information. And if a Catholic organization refuses to readily and eagerly comply, refuse to donate to them.

Trust me, community services won’t suffer.

-- Karen Rutherford, July 2003
-- ~ 800 words