January 20, 2005

Behind stained glass

BOSTON (MA)
Boston Phoenix

BY DAVID S. BERNSTEIN

IT HAS BEEN more than three years since the clergy-sexual-abuse scandal erupted in the Catholic Church, yet there are troubling signs that the powerful men of the Boston archdiocese still think the laity was outraged only by the acts of abuse. They canít seem to get it into their heads that parishioners also were appalled by the secrecy, the obfuscation, the flat obstinacy with which diocesan leaders guarded the internal workings of the Church ó and, not incidentally, what they do with the money collected each week at Sunday services.

Thatís money the parishes and the archdiocese desperately need, since contributions have declined as costs have risen in the wake of the abuse blow-up. Itís also money that parishioners here and nationally are still reluctant to hand over. And now the Church is finding that its financial murkiness is beginning to trouble the flock just as much as have the sexual shenanigans of its priests.

In fact, when asked to name the greatest influence on their financial support of the Church in the past year, almost as many regular-Mass-attending Catholics now cite financial-accountability concerns as cite the sexual-abuse scandal. Thatís according to a national survey released last week by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), a consortium representing $200 million worth of Catholic philanthropy. FADICA also found, amazingly, that more Catholics now approve of their bishopsí handling of the abuse crisis (41 percent, up from 35 percent two years ago) than approve those same bishopsí handling of Church-finance accountability (38 percent, down from 46 percent). Large majorities in the survey want the Church to be more open and accountable with its finances.

"I think the clergy-abuse scandal opened peopleís eyes to how little they know about church operations," says Charles Zech, of the Center for the Study of Church Management, at Villanova University. "Thatís going to linger on long after the scandal subsides."

Posted by kshaw at January 20, 2005 06:10 AM