**Update: The timing of this was unfortunate on many levels. Though it coincided with the onslaught of priest scandals throughout the country at the time, Bush announced the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The press that had expressed interest in the story had to understandably refocus. And now, four years later, I am at a distance and have only heard rumors that the charity has reorganized and is running cleaner. Although, with no inside information, I have no way of verifying this. Even so, it certainly doesn't right the wrong of years after years of corruption. And I still don't see the tiniest mention of financial information on their websites, which makes me still question the intentions. We all should. And that was my goal in the first place.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been donated to a Catholic charity in Walls, Mississippi, whose primary goal is to raise money to support the nine northernmost counties of the state. Has your county received its share?
In the last decade alone, The Sacred Heart League has typically had annual revenues in excess of $20 million dollars. Over just these years alone, that’s over $200 million that has been raised to support your county.
The Sacred Heart League (SHL), founded in 1955 by The Priests of the Sacred Heart (POSH) out of Wisconsin, and originally known as the Sacred Heart Auto League (of plastic dashboard Jesus fame), raises money by sending prayer cards and religious trinkets nationwide in return for donations. They finance a sister organization, the Sacred Heart Southern Missions (SHSM), whose primary purpose since its inception in 1994 is to provide social and community services in the nine northernmost counties of Mississippi - Desoto, Tunica, Tate, Marshall, Benton, Tippah, Alcorn, Prentiss and Tishmingo. (From 1955 to 1994, the League raised funds for its supposed missionary work, but had no official charitable arm.)
Northern Mississippi should recognize these organizations for at least two or three fairly recent and significant contributions:
1. The then League’s Director, Roger Courts (he was asked to retire in 2002), spent $6 million to film “The Spitfire Grill” in 1994. He sold the movie rights to Castle Rock Entertainment in 1996 for $10 million that he used to build The Sacred Heart Elementary School in Southaven. The school has been self-sufficient since its first year of operation.
2. The building of Dehon Village, a community to temporarily house poor people, in Walls cost $3 million. However, SHSM obtained and still uses federal and private grants to fund and operate the community. According to an article called “Improvement of Housing and Infrastructure Conditions in the Lower Mississippi Delta” published by the Housing Assistance Council in 2000, very little donor money has ever been involved. You should drive through it sometime to see how much money is spent on its maintenance.
3. The League recently spent $5 million in reserve funds to build Christ the King Catholic Church in Southaven. Donations are dangerously low due to the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, and the priest scandals all over the nation, and, in theory, this should be a good way to bring in revenues. Until they can turn a profit again from the church, they are currently in the process of laying off employees.
But where has the other $185 to $190 million (remember, just in the past ten years) been spent?
*A thrift store near Hernando that I’ve been unable to locate? (Shouldn’t they be giving things away instead of selling them?)
*Nuns’ salaries and living expenses?
*The prison ministry?
*Extravagant operating expenses for the 100-person office and warehouse in Walls? Including salaries, bonuses, travel expenses, professional and consultant fees, meeting expenses, maintenance fees, etc., which, according to the unpublished annual budgets I’ve seen, total $17-$19 million each year.
*Unreported monies for Roger Courts’ and Mark Ratay’s (Roger’s protégé and life partner) custom home at 5160 Tchulahoma Road or the vacation condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, or the vacation home in Diamond Head, Mississippi, or management’s (including POSH priests’) umpteen “business trips” and “retreats” to film festivals and foreign lands in the name of research and charity?
Because religious charities, unlike non-profit charities, aren’t required by any law to publish or even maintain financial records, it would be virtually impossible to obtain concrete or accurate data from POSH, SHL or SHSM. They remain tight-lipped on anything financially related, because in their eyes, it’s simply not anyone’s business.
What we can do is look for the $200 million worth of generous services they’ve provided over the past decade alone and be grateful for everything they’ve done for our communities.
But, more than likely, you’ve never even heard of any of these organizations. Or, if you have, you probably aren’t sure exactly what, if anything, they’ve done for the people in your county.
If either is the case, I hope you are not only outraged, but also sad for the innocent donors who thought they were sending money for a good cause. The Catholic Church either owes you or needs to return some money to their donors!
Archdioceses throughout the country are starting to file bankruptcy to avoid paying the sexual abuse lawsuits that continue to be made public. In a July 6, 2004 CNN article titled “ Archdiocese in abuse lawsuits to file bankruptcy”, the Archbishop of Portland, John Vlazny arrogantly said, “ The pot of gold is pretty much empty right now.”
It’s only a matter of time before Catholic charities like The Sacred Heart League that are losing THEIR pot of gold from American donors do the same. Contact them before they file bankruptcy too!
Father Richard McDonald
Father Brian McCollough
Priests of the Sacred Heart
6889 South Highway 100
Hales Corners, Wisconsin 53130-0900
Mr. Ed Savage, Acting Director
Father Charles Yost, Spiritual Director
The Sacred Heart League
Walls, Mississippi 38686
(After 50 years in business, they finally have a website and public email contact as of two weeks ago telling you what they’ve done for you!)
Or contact Roger Courts at his new company in Southaven (He actually formed this company in the late 1980’s to exclusively provide the only travel services to The Sacred Heart League while he was Director, meaning that not only did he get to travel on donor money, but he billed for his services as well.):
Travel 'N' Tours, Inc.
5160 Tchulahoma Road
Southaven, Mississippi 38671
Toll Free: (800) 528-6877
Fax: (662) 349-9922
E-Mail: i email@example.com
For more information:
-- Karen Rutherford, August 2003
-- ~950 words