Abuse scandals may result in withheld donations

By The Associated Press

For decades, Michael Drweiga has opened his wallet whenever the donation basket comes around at church, but the latest revelations of priests sexually abusing children brought him to the conclusion that he can no longer justify giving.

Brice Sokolowski helps small Catholic nonprofits and churches raise money, but he too supports the recent calls to withhold donations.

And Georgene Sorensen has felt enough anger and “just total sadness” over the past few weeks that she’s reconsidering her weekly offering at her parish.

Across the U.S., Catholics once faithful with their financial support to their churches are searching for ways to respond to the constant sex-abuse scandals that have tarnished the institution in which they believe, with back-to-back scandals in the past two months.

The most recent came last Tuesday when a grand jury report revealed that hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children in six dioceses since the 1940s — crimes that church leaders are accused of covering up. The report came two months after Pope Francis ordered disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick removed from public ministry amid allegations the 88-year-old retired archbishop sexually abused a teenage altar boy and engaged in sexual misconduct with adult seminarians decades ago. Last month, Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation as cardinal and ordered him to a “life of prayer and penance.”

The most recent “whopper of a report” from Pennsylvania, Drweiga said, was enough to make him wonder where his money was going and whether it was being used to cover up abuses.

“In an organization that spans the whole world like the Catholic Church, you don’t know where your money is going. And when you read about these priest-abuse scandals it just raises that question to the highest power. What is this money going for?” said Drweiga, 63, who lives in Wilmette, Illinois.

Sokolowski, an Austin, Texas, resident who founded Catholicfundraiser.net to provide advice to Catholic nonprofits and churches, said he’s heard from many who are “really sick and tired” of hearing about priests abusing children.

“So the big thing that people are saying is, ‘We just need to stop funding their crap,'” said Sokolowski, 36. He said he encourages people to stop giving money to their diocese, which oversees the network of churches in an area, but to keep supporting their local parish and tell their priest and bishop what they’re doing.

Calls to financially boycott the Catholic Church are not new. Five years ago, after sex-abuse scandals rocked the archdiocese in St. Paul, Minnesota, parishioners talked about withholding their donations in protest.

But Catholics face a delicate balance because some of the money dioceses raise are shared with parishes, cautioned Dr. Edward Peters, the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

“I’m just saying, be careful about punishing the Spouse of Christ and her dependent children because some priests and even bishops, men presumably wedded to her as Jesus was wedded to her, abandoned her so shamelessly,” Peters wrote in a blog post Thursday, referring to the Catholic Church.