The ongoing clergy abuse scandal that has enveloped the Catholic Church is now really hitting where it hurts.
Those of you who attended Mass a few Sundays ago surely noticed a letter tucked into the bulletin to alert you of changes to the Diocese of Scranton’s Annual Appeal.
The Appeal is the diocese’s premier fundraiser and its proceeds go to a host of causes. Chief among them is care and education of clergy. Money from the Appeal covers tuition and living expenses for seminarians studying for the priesthood and also health care and other assistance for retired bishops and priests. (A few of them have come under scrutiny in the wake of the scathing grand jury report, most notably Bishop Emeritus James Timlin.)
Other Appeal money supports Catholic schools, covers the publication of The Catholic Light and other media endeavors, and goes to the many good deeds provided by Catholic Social Services, including housing for the homeless and food pantries for the poor.
Since so many of the Church’s doings depend on the Appeal, there is a well-planned campaign to go along with it. And it’s usually very successful. For the diocesan fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, the drive topped its $5 million goal across the 11-county diocese.
But so much has changed since the horrible sex abuse and prolonged cover-up efforts on the part of six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses, including Scranton, were laid out in disgusting detail last month via the grand jury report.
And the Church is recognizing the harm done in one of the biggest ways possible.
It’s not going to be as aggressive when it comes to soliciting money during this Annual Appeal.
Here’s what Bishop Joseph Bambera said in the letter that parishioners recently received:
“After much thought and prayerful reflection and in consideration of the gravity of the findings of the Grand Jury report and the impact it is having on victims, their families and all members of the faithful, I have decided to make some changes to this year’s Annual Appeal.”
” … Some components of the Appeal will be suspended this year — the showing of the Appeal video in the parishes and our In-Pew Commitment Weekend.
“We will be requesting support through an Appeal letter to be sent to past Appeal donors in September. There will also be pledge envelopes in the back of your church for anyone wishing to make a gift to the Annual Appeal.”
Translation: This Appeal season will be subtle.
If you’ve given before and are likely to give again, you got a letter in the mail.
If you want to give for the first time, there are avenues available for you to do that.
But if you don’t want to be involved, the Church is not going to make a prolonged, in-your-face push to get you to give.
A recent poll by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion found 53 percent of likely voters view the Church unfavorably, while only 29 percent maintain a favorable view.
Those are damning numbers.
And they would likely not improve even a little if the diocese went hard after parishioner dollars during the Appeal.
Considering the far-reaching implications of the abuse that’s been revealed — more than 300 predator priests and at least 1,000 victims statewide — Bishop Bambera needs to seriously consider this toned-down approach to the Appeal in the years ahead.
The wounds are going to take a long time to heal.
The focus for now, like Bambera wrote to his flock, must be to “restore trust, care for all who seek our assistance and once again bring hope to our people.”
— Times Leader