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Spotlight Report

Archdiocese fund-raising shows significant increase

Officials still eyeing closing some churches

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 10/2/2003

The Archdiocese of Boston's fund-raising, which took a severe hit during the clergy sexual abuse crisis, has been improving since the appointment of Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley and the tentative settlement of legal claims brought by abuse victims, church officials said yesterday.

The archdiocese is running about 18 to 20 percent ahead of last year's fund-raising pace, and has just completed its best summer in several years, according to Damien J. DeVasto, director of the annual Catholic Appeal.

''This is very clearly in response to the installation of Archbishop Sean,'' DeVasto said. ''Many donors gave again in response to the wellspring of good feeling that came from his installation.''

O'Malley, speaking at a news conference at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, said Boston Catholic Television had its largest telethon ever last week, and the Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston also had a record fund-raiser recently. He called the events ''signs of hope and encouragement.''

''I am hopeful that our people, as they become more and more aware of the need and the good works that are supported by this appeal, will once again step up to the plate,'' O'Malley said. ''I certainly think that people are happy that we are on the road to settlement.''

The strong fund-raising season is welcome news for archdiocesan officials, but will do little to alleviate serious ongoing financial woes for the church. The archdiocese already has cut programs, laid off employees, trimmed the pensions of retired lay employees, and closed schools as a result of a dire financial crunch, and the archdiocese is now evaluating parishes in anticipation of potentially closing a large number of churches.

''Parish closings and school closings will occur where those parishes and those schools are no longer viable -- it really is a different issue,'' O'Malley said. ''We have many areas where parish plants are very close to each other.''

The archdiocese's financial problems are caused by several factors, including weakened fund-raising by Catholics angry over the abuse scandal, a soft economy, and the cost of the $85 million settlement offered by O'Malley. And there are several other factors that could force a round of church closings, including migration by Catholics toward outer-ring suburbs, declining numbers of priests, declining church attendance, and the church's ownership of a large number of aging buildings that are too costly to repair.

The annual Catholic Appeal, which funds the church's central administration and about 80 ministries, is on target to meet its goal of $9 million this year, up slightly from $8.9 million last year but down from $16.2 million in 2001. The annual appeal, which was known as the Cardinal's Appeal until Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned last December as archbishop of Boston, has been harmed not only by the economy and the scandal but also by an ongoing church capital campaign, which ended earlier this year after raising $200 million toward a $300 million goal.

So far, church officials said, the annual Catholic Appeal has raised $6.6 million through contributions from 31,000 people. That is a small fraction of the 2 million Catholics in the archdiocese, but church officials said 11,456 donors this year are people who did not contribute at all last year.

In an effort to bolster fund-raising, O'Malley is writing letters to the residents of 95 parishes that are scheduled to seek contributions to the annual appeal this weekend. And DeVasto said the archdiocese is considering sending fund-raising letters to people who were solicited earlier this year, asking them to reconsider giving, or increase a previous gift, to recognize that the church is trying to work its way through the crisis.

''We are coming through a difficult time and are strongly committed to bringing our Catholic family together with safeguards for the future,'' O'Malley says in a sample letter released by the archdiocese. ''As a family of faith, together, we ask forgiveness for the failings of the past.''

At the news conference and in the letter, O'Malley reiterated that the church will not use contributions to the Catholic Appeal or to parish collections to finance the $85 million settlement. O'Malley has not detailed how he plans to finance the $85 million settlement, but church officials have said they plan to borrow the money and then seek to pay back the loans in large part through insurance coverage and property sales.

The archdiocese staged its news conference yesterday at Boston University's Marsh Chapel in order to highlight the church's campus ministry program, one of the programs financed largely by the Catholic Appeal. The church has 43 Catholic campus ministers at 21 college campuses, and two students attested to how important campus ministry is to their faith lives while at college.

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


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