Despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of their churches and schools, Roman Catholic parishioners continue to offer financial support to their beleaguered Spokane diocese.
Donations are up this year to the Annual Catholic Appeal, a diocese-wide campaign to raise money for ministry and the major source of funds for its programs in Eastern Washington.
The number of donors and the total pledge amount are higher compared with the same time period last year, figures show. So far, about 6,800 Catholic households have pledged $1.56 million – nearly 92 percent of the diocese’s goal of $1.7 million. Last year, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane had collected only $1.3 million from 6,400 parishioners by mid-April. Money given to the appeal is in addition to weekly tithes that people donate to their churches.
“We have to keep the ministry alive,” said Frank Cheyney, a member of St. Paschal’s in Spokane Valley.
Faithful face decision
Like other Catholics in Eastern Washington, Cheyney wants to help victims of clergy sexual abuse, but he also wants to ensure the diocese’s survival.
“Cutting the church off (from donations) is not a Christian approach,” he said. “We have to keep the church going. We have to keep our focus on the Lord and what our roles are as Christians.”
Although appeal donations have increased, figures show that the vast majority of Catholics – more than 70 percent of the nearly 25,000 households in Eastern Washington – have yet to give or have chosen not to.
Parishioners still have the rest of the year to send their donations, but the big push for contributions ended earlier this month. Those who haven’t made a commitment may still get follow-up letters from the diocese, but the reminders likely won’t have the same effect as pastors’ appeals, which were made from the pulpit in February.
Many Catholics remain wary of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and the diocese’s proposed settlement offer of $45.7 million to 75 of the victims. Some worry they may lose their parishes and schools. Others have been disappointed with the diocese’s response to victims and the bishop’s decision to file for bankruptcy in the first place.
To express their disappointment, some have made the tough decision to withhold donations.
“As adult Catholics, we, too, agree that faithful stewardship calls us to care for those beyond our door,” wrote Linda Kobe-Smith of St. Ann’s. “But faithful stewardship also requires that we use our heads as well as our hearts.”
Kobe-Smith will continue to support Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi and other organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church, she said, but not the Spokane diocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal.
“At this time in our church history, we find that to ignore the wisdom God has given us and rescue the church organization from the choices it has made is to interfere with God’s call to conversion,” she wrote in a letter to the bishop. “We trust that God is present and working in this time of heartache and failure. As adult Catholics if we do not call the church to conversion, who will?”
In response to parishioners’ requests, the diocese provided donors the option of restricting their gifts this year. By checking a box on the pledge envelope, donors can indicate that they want their money used only for diocesan services and that none of it can go toward legal fees incurred by the bankruptcy.
This year’s appeal goal is $300,000 less than last year’s goal of $2 million, but it still accounts for 91 percent of the funds needed to continue the diocese’s services, according to its Web site.
‘Down to bare bones’
In a letter sent last month to Catholics throughout Eastern Washington, Bishop William Skylstad conveyed desperation and urgency.
“We truly are down to bare bones,” wrote Skylstad, who noted that the diocese has had to lay off personnel and close down the offices for youth ministry and parish services. “There are no funds in reserve to see us through the storm. We are in a make-or-break situation. The mission of the Catholic Church in our diocese quite literally lies in the hands of you, the faithful.”
Fifteen of the diocese’s 82 parishes have exceeded their fundraising goal, according to the latest statistics on the Web site. However, participation at most parishes remains around 30 percent to 40 percent.
“The 2006 Annual Catholic Appeal is still in progress,” the Rev. Steve Dublinski, vicar general, wrote in an e-mail. “The real goal of the Appeal is stewardship: 100 percent participation in the bishop’s ministry by 100 percent of the Catholics in Eastern Washington.”
Dublinski did not respond to questions about the average gift amount, the numbers of letters sent out and other specifics pertaining to appeal donations, except to note the following: “This is an opportunity for Catholic laity to thank God by sharing some of the many blessings God has given them.”