After this summer of shame a good number of Catholics have expressed both their rage at what is happening, and their absolute sense of frustration at being powerless in the face of the corruption.
They feel the bishops are doing next to nothing to clean out their ranks. They feel the public relations people keep kicking out slick statements that only they believe in. Of course everyone wants to help and care for survivors, but the folks I’m listening to think all the talk about caring for the survivors and listening to their pain is a PR method of deflecting the issue away from the blame and responsibility the bishops should be taking for investigating the crimes and asking for resignations.
We are coming to realize just how unaccountable the bishops and members of the hierarchy of our church really are. There is no system of checks and balances. When you are a bishop, Archbishop or Cardinal the only thing that can spook you is bad press. But you’ve got Public Relations experts on your payroll. You’ve got security guards at your palaces and people in place to deflect the rabble. Smell like the sheep? Not a chance.
So what can the people in the pew do? They only power they have is the power of the purse, and folks are saying they aren’t going to give the church another penny.
Well, OK. I understand the rage and frustration and I’m actually on their side, but people should be realistic and remember some basic truths.
First of all, restricting your giving is not really going to affect the bishop that much. Most bishops have smart financial advisors who, if they have to tighten their belt a little, will just release a few more funds here or sell a few stocks and shares there. They might sell of a property here or raise some rents there. They’re not really going to feel the pinch much at all, and if they do they’ll just roll with it until the crisis blows over. Then a year or so later they’ll hire a fund raising firm and launch a glossy capital campaign to raise millions to offset their little setback.
So get real. With holding your donation isn’t going to make an impact. Not really.
The second thing to remember is this: if you stop giving to your parish, the local work of the church suffers. The bishop is not likely to feel the impact, but your good parish priest and the local staff will really feel the pinch. The bishop has the resources to weather the storm. The local parish probably does not. Do you really want to punish your pastor for the incompetence and corruption of some archbishop or cardinal somewhere?
The third thing is to think it through. There are some collections that you could with hold where it might make a difference. Check out the second collections your diocese takes in your parish. Are there some charities or organizations that are dubious in their efforts? Sit on your wallet that Sunday. Do you disapprove of the Pope’s handling of things? The Peter’s Pence collection each June goes to the Vatican. Boycott that if you want. Do you wish to register your rage towards your own bishop or diocese? Don’t stop giving at the parish level, but you can ask yourself whether you want to donate to the bishop’s annual appeal.
If you do choose to stop donating to certain causes, then take the time to respectfully write or email the person in charge explaining what you are doing and why. Also, don’t just keep the money you would have given. Make your donation to a local Catholic cause that you know and trust. If you don’t want to donate to the bishop you could tell him that you’re giving the donation directly to one of the worthy causes his diocesan appeal says it supports.
When confronted with this dilemma some folks have said to me, “Father, I don’t want a penny of my donation going to the diocese. Not only am I not giving to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, but I don’t want 10% of my parish donation to be skimmed off by the diocese either.”
OK. I hear you, but remember, that diocesan tax is used to support the infrastructure of the diocese which is there to serve all of us. Do you really want to divert every penny from the larger ministry of the church?
If you do, then you could ask your pastor if you could make a donation directly in payment of some bill the church has to pay. You could offer to pay the church electric bill for example, but if you do that you will not receive your tax deduction. Do you feel passionate enough about your dissent to forego your tax deduction? If not, then I wonder how committed you are to your protest!
You can do all these things if you wish, but I counsel people to think it through carefully and pray your way into a decision.
Rather than protesting in a way that will probably not accomplish much, why not decide to get more positively involved in the local work of the church? Don’t just give money to good local causes, but get involved with your prayers and your time helping to support all the good stuff that is going on in your parish, your local Catholic school and your local Catholic charities.
By all means write to your bishop in a respectful way and express yourself, but most of all, remain positive and full of faith.
Learn more of church history and realize that the church has always struggled with corruption and immorality from within and persecution from without.
Remember that the majority of bishops and priests are good men who sympathize with you and are also frustrated and angry with what is going on.
Decide to do what you can with what you have where you are, and that will not only bring light in the present darkness.
It will also help to make you cope with the anger and helpless frustration you feel.