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Spotlight Report

In rift with Law, agency to accept lay group's funds

By Stephen Kurkjian and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 7/24/2002

 In-depth
A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
In a rebuff to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, officials with Catholic Charities, the principal social service agency for the Boston Archdiocese, said yesterday that the organization will accept donations from the newly formed lay group Voice of the Faithful and criticized Law for rejecting the group's fund-raising plan for church schools and programs that benefit the urban poor.

''We will not turn down any donation,'' declared Maureen March, the spokeswoman for Catholic Charities.

On Monday, church officials said Law would not cooperate with Voice of the Faithful's proposal to raise money from Catholics boycotting the annual Cardinal's Appeal due to the clergy sexual abuse scandal, because the plan did not recognize Law's role and responsibility in funding church programs. Church officials also said Catholic Charities and Caritas Christi, the Catholic health care network founded by Law, had also agreed to reject Voice of the Faithful donations.

But yesterday, prominent Catholics, several priests, and board members at Catholic Charities said they were shocked by Law's decision and vowed to support Voice of the Faithful's plan.

''I was surprised because it was inconsistent with what we've been saying about accepting donations from people who perhaps are not comfortable giving to the Cardinal's Appeal,'' said Geri Denterlein, a Catholic Charities board member and public relations specialist.

Thomas P. O'Neill III, the former lieutenant governor and a one-time adviser to Law who supports Voice of the Faithful, characterized the cardinal's decision as ''another example of the archdiocese not listening and not understanding the flock.''

O'Neill, one of a group of prominent Catholics called to the chancery in January to advise Law on the unfolding clergy sexual abuse crisis, also said, ''Some people, in light of the scandal, are just choosing to financially boycott the archdiocese, and Voice of the Faithful is trying to fill the void to make sure social services for the poor are maintained.''

Meanwhile, church officials yesterday retracted a portion of their statement issued Monday, saying instead that Catholic Charities, Caritas Christi, and other church-affiliated organizations with their own boards of directors may choose to accept donations from Voice of the Faithful. Only those programs administered directly by the church, the officials said, would be prohibited from accepting money from Voice of the Faithful.

The Cardinal's Appeal, the primary source of operating funds for the archdiocese, is launched annually during the first weekend in May and supports about 80 church programs with a wide variety of missions, including urban Catholic schools and parishes, ministries for the deaf and elderly, computer services, and financial management.

Church officials did not provide a list of the programs and the amounts of money those programs receive through the Cardinal's Appeal. But Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday a handful of organizations that receive the funds would make their own decisions on accepting Voice of the Faithful funding. In addition to Catholic Charities, those organizations include St. John's Seminary in Brighton and Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston. Caritas Christi, which also has a separate board, does not receive funding through the Cardinal's Appeal. As a result, its finances have not been jeopardized by the decline in donations to Law's fund-raising drive, and the group has not been slated to receive Voice of the Faithful funds, although that could change.

Joseph Doolin, president of Catholic Charities, said the executive committee of the organization's board would meet as early as today to formally discuss Law's position on accepting Voice of the Faithful funds, but several board members said they would support accepting donations through Voice of the Faithful's fund-raising arm, known as Voice of Compassion. Catholic Charities was the only organization affiliated with the archdiocese willing to challenge Law's edict that no Catholic group, church, or mission accept funding from Voice of the Faithful.

Coyne said that although Catholic-affiliated groups with their own boards of directors could choose to accept Voice of the Faithful funding, it is Law's wish that they do not, primarily because Voice of the Faithful would direct the money to specific programs and ensure that no donations were used for administrative expenses.

''Just as it is out of order for a bishop to carry out the pastoral work of the archdiocese without consultation with the laity, it is just as out of order for a lay church group to seek to carry out the pastoral work of the church without consultation with the bishop,'' Coyne said.

Although Law has influence with Catholic Charities and other affiliated organizations, his authority over them in some cases is indirect.

Coyne said Law remains open to further discussions with the Voice of the Faithful, adding that Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, Law's second-in-command, would seek another meeting with the group in the near future. But David Castaldi, a former archdiocesan chancellor who is now a financial adviser to Voice of the Faithful, said that based on previous discussions with Edyvean, he is not optimistic about Law's willingness to engage in serious talks about an alternative to the Cardinal's Appeal.

''We don't want to compete with the Cardinal's Appeal; we want to supplement it,'' Castaldi said. ''We need to be given an opportunity to explain how we intend to do that.''

In Toronto, where Pope John Paul II is attending World Youth Day, the top Vatican official overseeing lay organizations said the pontiff is aware of Voice of the Faithful but that it is up to Law to deal with the group.

''There are very legitimate concerns that have surfaced in the United States,'' said Cardinal James F. Stafford, who is president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. ''I know this group has been spreading ... but each bishop has the responsibility for responding to them.''

Stafford also said, ''I have always felt that there is greater room for the laity within the church,'' but would not elaborate.

Several priests, particularly those in urban areas who run parishes subsidized by the archdiocese, said they were dismayed by Law's decision to reject donations from Voice of the Faithful.

''I wouldn't turn it down,'' said the Rev. Francis H. Kelley of Sacred Heart Church in Roslindale. ''I need it for the schools.'' Kelley oversees Catholic schools in Roslindale and Jamaica Plain that are subsidized by the archdiocese.

Some said they understood Law's position. ''I think it was probably the only thing he could do,'' said Rev. John A. Dooher of St. Mary's in Dedham, explaining that the Voice of the Faithful plan would make it difficult for Law to manage the archdiocese while equitably funding programs for the poor and disadvantaged.

Others, such as Rev. Phillip B. Earley, pastor of St. Thomas Villanova in Wilmington, were hoping for a compromise that would help close the rift between parishioners and the archdiocese.

''The depth of the anger is quite deep out there, and I don't think church officials realize that, even though they say they do,'' Earley said.

Last month, church officials said donations to Law's annual fund-raising drive had fallen off sharply compared to a year ago. With a goal of $17.4 million, the church had received pledges totalling $4.8 million, compared to $7.5 million a year earlier.

Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Michael Paulson of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe.com. Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2002.
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