Catholics consider withholding donations to the midst of abuse scandals

For decades, Michael Drweiga has opened his wallet when the donation basket comes around at church, but the latest revelations of clergy sexual abuse of children led him to the conclusion that he can no longer justify.

Brice Sokolowski helps small Catholic non-profit organizations and churches raise money, but he also supports the recent calls to refuse donations.

And Georgene Sorensen has enough felt anger and “just total sadness” over the last few weeks that she is reconsidering her weekly offerings at her parish.

In the US, Catholics as believers, with their financial support to their churches are looking for ways to respond to the constant sex-abuse scandals that are affected by the setting 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 — the crimes that the leaders of the church is accused of hiding. The report came two months after Pope Francis ordered the disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick removed from public ministry amid allegations the 88-year-old retired archbishop of sexual abuse of a teenage altar boy and engaged in sexual misconduct with adult seminarians decades ago. Last month, Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation as a cardinal, and ordered him to a “life of prayer and penance.”

The most recent “whopper of a report” of Pennsylvania, Drweiga said, was enough to make him question where his money was going, and whether it is used as a cover for abuse.

“In an organization that all over the world, such as the Catholic Church, you don’t know where your money is going. And if you read about this priest-abuse scandals, it simply raises the question as to the highest power. What is this money going for?” said Drweiga, 63, who lives in Wilmette, Illinois.

Sokolowski, Austin, Texas, resident who founded give advice to the Catholic non-profit organizations and churches, said he heard of many people who are “really sick and tired of hearing about the priests abusing children.

“So the big things that people say, ‘We just need to stop with the funding of their crap,'” said Sokolowski, 36. He said that he encourages people to stop giving money to their diocese, which oversees the network of churches in an area, but in order to avoid that the support of their local parish and tell their priest and bishop and what they do.

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

But the Catholics are faced with a delicate balance, because part of the money from the dioceses to raise are shared with the parishes, warned Dr. Edward Peters, the Edmund Cardinal Szoka President of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

“I’m just saying, be careful about the penalties of the bride of Christ and her dependent children, because a number of priests and even bishops, men probably have married her if Jesus was married to her, leave her so blatantly,” Peters wrote in a blog post Thursday, referring to the Catholic Church.

Sorensen, who lives near Tucson, Arizona, said after the McCarrick story broke, her prayer group sent a letter to her bishop to express their concerns.

“Then came the Pennsylvania scandal and we thought, ‘Oh my God, this is not over yet. We thought it was over,'” the 72-year-old Sorensen said. “We thought We built the new church.”

Sørensen said that they do not intend to withhold money that they undertook, including her diocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal, but she has spoken with others about the possibility of not giving a weekly contribution, or only the offer of money for specific projects.

As for future major task, she said, “we are definitely waiting to see where all the chips are going to fall.”

“It comes down to one thing: It is the message, not the messenger,” she said. “I am a faithful Catholic. … I will never leave the church. I will fight to save it.”

For Eddie Shih, however, the scandal has shaken his faith that he converted approximately ten years ago and has been studied intensively by means of three years of night school to earn a master’s degree in theology.

“I’m struggling with it — it is not easy for me,” said Shih, a Taiwanese immigrant who lives in New York and live the different Catholic churches. “I don’t think I left the church, but I can imagine that a lot of people … just drop out of the church.”

Tim Lennon, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said his organization has fielded calls from Catholics who have pledged to stop giving to their church.

“It is an action in contrast to just sit here doing nothing,” he said, but added that it’s a symbolic gesture.

“That is not in itself protect children. That in itself will not support for the survivors. That is not a force … an attorney-general to take measures,” he said. “It’s just a message to the church that it is not only survivors knock on the door as we are for the last 30 years.”

Ilene Kennedy, a San Antonio resident who attended the Mass at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Sunday, said that she did not know “what the solution would be” next to “the retention of the higher-ups from accountability.” Still, she does not think that the withholding of the money from the collection basket is the answer.

“I don’t think we should punish all the churches for that,” she said. “I don’t think that’s right.”


Associated Press video producer Robert Bumsted in New York contributed to this report.

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