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Spotlight Report

Church refuses group's money

Voice of Faithful decries decision

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 4/1/2003

Bishop Richard G. Lennon, who has been closing schools, cutting programs, and laying off employees because of a severe budget crunch, has decided to refuse any money raised by the lay group Voice of the Faithful.

Lennon, the interim leader of the Boston Archdiocese, has gone further than his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, by not only declining to accept the money but also by specifically barring Catholic Charities from accepting donations from the group. The charitable organization, which serves 200,000 people each year, took money from Voice of the Faithful in December after the group was spurned by Law.

According to a spokesman, Lennon believes Voice of the Faithful's fund-raising effort, called Voice of Compassion, is undermining the church's fund-raising efforts. Lennon also believes Voice of the Faithful has imposed unacceptable restrictions on its donations by demanding that the money not be used for administrative expenses of the archdiocese.

''Bishop Lennon stated that it is his firm belief that you cannot separate the charitable works of the church from the office of the bishop,'' said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman. ''Catholic Charities has been directed not to accept the money, and all the other entities of the archdiocese are also being informed of that directive as well.''

Peter G. Meade, vice chairman of Catholic Charities, said last night that the agency's board decided in December that to turn down money from any contributor would be a mistake that might alienate other contributors, or even threaten the charity's state funding. He said he was not sure how the board would respond to Lennon's action. ''The board's position has been very clear -- we are continuing a hundred-year-long position of accepting money from those who contribute, and it would be profoundly sad if we had to revisit this issue,'' he said. ''This isn't about power or politics, but about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.''

Lennon's decision was decried by the president of Voice of the Faithful, a national organization of lay Catholics, headquartered in Newton that was formed a year ago by Catholics upset over the church's failure to remove sexually abusive priests from ministry. The group now counts 30,000 members nationwide.

''This action is creating a new wave of victims in an archdiocese that is not being run on Gospel values of charity and love, but is being run on hierarchical power,'' said James E. Post, a Boston University management professor. ''This is going to have a brutal effect in the face of budget cuts, layoffs, and school closings, and it's a slap in the face to hundreds of donors.''

Post said Lennon's decision, made during the penitential season of Lent, violates the Lenten imperative of almsgiving. ''During Lent he is imposing this extra amount of pain on people, and undermining unity,'' Post said. ''This is a highly divisive act, and it is the antithesis of pastoral care. It is behavior that hurts people.''

According to Coyne, Lennon signed the letter declining the contributions on March 21 but decided not to make his decision public. The National Catholic Community Foundation, the Maryland foundation chosen by Voice of the Faithful to administer its Voice of Compassion fund, said that it received notification of Lennon's decision yesterday.

The Voice of Compassion fund has raised $49,000 so far this year. Last year, the organization raised $56,000, which Catholic Charities accepted after Law declined the funds. Post said more than 600 people have given to the fund thus far, which is intended to provide an outlet for Catholic charity for people who are unwilling to give directly to the archdiocesan fund-raising campaign.

Edward Robinson, president of the National Catholic Community Foundation, said Lennon's action yesterday will affect $35,000 raised in the fourth quarter of 2002. He said the foundation will now offer the money to Catholic Charities and if Catholic Charities declines to accept it, the foundation's board will look for other Catholic organizations within the archdiocese that are willing to take the money.

''We will look for somebody not under the jurisdiction of the diocese,'' he said.

The Archdiocese of Boston is in dire financial straits, as the down economy and the clergy abuse scandal have depressed fund-raising. Last year, the annual cardinal's appeal, which raises money for the church's operations, raised $8.6 million, compared with $16.2 million in 2001. Lennon called the church's financial situation ''severe'' in January.

The church's Finance Council met last week to decide how to trim $4 million, or 20 percent, of the church's operating budget. The archdiocese has thus far declined to say what action the council took.

The new cuts will come on top of a 30 percent cut in the church's budget last year and the closing of three schools this year.

Catholic Charities has been hit hard by the state budget crisis, which has limited spending on services the agency performs for the state. It has also been hurt by the church scandal and has had to cancel its main annual fund-raiser, the Cardinal's Garden Party, because of the plummeting popularity of Law, who resigned in December.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/1/2003.
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