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As church scandal grows, Catholic Charities keeps an eye on donations

MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis' services include the Dorothy Day Center which provides hot meals, mental health services and medical care.

Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis is closely watching for any decline in giving because of fallout from the ongoing clergy sexual-abuse scandal in Minnesota.

But so far, officials for the nonprofit that’s been helping immigrants and the poor for 144 years say donations are holding steady.

The mounting scandal involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis could even result in more donations going to the charity. That’s because some faithful and high-profile donors are channeling their money away from the archdiocese and its Annual Catholic Services Appeal, which provides a tiny percentage of income to Catholic Charities, and instead funneling donations directly to Catholic Charities.

But it’s too early to discern any pattern, and some people — believing that the archdiocese and Archbishop John Nienstedt control Catholic Charities’ budget, an assertion the charity says is wrong —  say they are side-stepping the social-service organization.

One lifelong Catholic, a 75-year-old St. Paul woman, told me she worries any donations to Catholic Charities would “be under the control of the archdiocese.’’ The woman, who spoke only on condition her name not be used because she didn’t want to get involved with the church controversy, said she gives about 5 percent of her income each year to a variety of social-service, art and environmental groups — including organizations that have connections to the Catholic Church, such as the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul — but not to Catholic Charities. The woman, who has cut off donations to Catholic Charities because of the scandal, said “I give to organizations that may be served by Catholic Charities’’ instead.

Donations stay ‘exclusively’ with Catholic Charities

In response to such views, Tim Marx, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, said donations to his organization stay “solely and exclusively” with Catholic Charities “to serve and advocate” for those most in need in the community. He added that his staff is monitoring the situation carefully and responding to concerns by many “stakeholders, donors and partners.”

Marx said that donations over the last couple of years and over the past several months are “steady to increasing’’ and that the organization has seen “no discernible impact from the controversy surrounding clergy misconduct.’’

“We hear some people might be giving to us because of that and some people might not be giving to us because of that,’’ Marx said.

Catholic Charities has an annual budget of $44 million and serves about 35,000 people each year by helping to house, feed and otherwise aid the poor. The charity receives about $1.4 million from the Annual Catholic Services Appeal, an archdiocesan fundraising effort, and Nienstedt is one of Catholic Charities’ 42 board members. In 2013, 37.4 percent of Catholic Charities’ revenue came from individuals, organizations, wills and bequests. Government contracts made up 41 percent of the budget.

Donations this year to Catholic Charities on Give to the Max Day on Nov. 14 at first were down —  $82,000, compared with $110,000 last year. But Jessie Sorensen, vice president of development and external affairs for Catholic Charities, said that’s not a fair measure of donors’ attitudes because technical difficulties forced a five-hour shutdown of  the Give MN charity fund’s website that day. While the Give MN website was malfunctioning, donors turned to the Catholic Charities website, Sorenson said Monday, with the upshot being those donations about equaled last year’s numbers. Matching grants that day generated additional funds, she said.

High-profile donors

Among high-profile donors supporting Catholic Charities but not the archdiocesan leadership are Tom Horner, a Twin Cities public-affairs strategist who ran for governor as an Independence Party candidate in 2010.

Explained Horner: “My wife Libby and I were strong, loyal supporters of Catholic Charities before Archbishop Nienstedt and we will be strong, loyal supporters of Catholic Charities after Archbishop Nienstedt.”

Horner said “the concern we have is with the archbishop” and his handling of abuse cases as well as the archdiocese’s $1 million campaign to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

Horner would not reveal the size of the Horners’ donation — only that it is not in the “top tier.’’

Others redirecting their giving include James R. Frey, president and CEO of the Frey Foundation of Minnesota, which donates funds to many nonprofit and Catholic-related organizations serving the poor.

In an email response to my questions, Frey said he and his wife, Mary, have stopped donating to the archdiocese and increased direct monetary gifts to Catholic Charities and other organizations because of concerns about the leadership of the archdiocese and its past expenditures.

Smaller donors

Those who make more modest donations are also upset by the church’s response to the sexual-abuse cases and are protesting with their checkbooks.

Bob Walz, a lifelong Catholic and retired Catholic church employee from North Branch, used to allocate about $50 a week to his parish.

That has ended. “I have stopped contributing to anything the archdiocese shares in,’’ said Walz, who was educated in Catholic schools and studied for a time to become a priest.

Instead he contributes to the cemetery fund and a homeless shelter at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale where he worked until retiring last year.

“There are a lot of Catholics who feel the way I do,’’ Walz said, adding that a fellow parishioner told him, “The only thing this church understands is money. And if people would stop contributing, then they would feel the financial pressure to do something.’’

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Chris Bjorklund on 11/18/2013 - 10:20 am.

    An Exercise in Hair Splitting

    While I understand the distinction between these organizations, and further understand the charity arm panicking at the prospect of its sister firm crashing and burning, I think that this would be an opportune time to point out that there are many worthy destinations for charity dollars which do not involve hide-bound, archaic belief systems.

  2. Submitted by Ann Lyons on 11/18/2013 - 11:12 am.


    The church is paying out MILLIONS, in St. Paul alone, in settlements to the abused. Maybe if we talk about this in terms of the money more Catholics will stand up and protest. In my experience most parishooners don’t want to think about it – and shouldn’t have think about it, but they need to demand better from their church. Only then will real change happen.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/18/2013 - 11:38 am.


    …to Chris Bjorklund.

  4. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 11/18/2013 - 11:41 am.

    Time for transparency

    Given the lack of transparency in the Archdiocesan finances it is hard to see how much , if any diocesan money goes directly to the poor. Open sharing by the hierarchy is likely to increase support for programs that do good for our brothers and sisters in need.

    When scandal flares , the church is always quick to point out the excellent charitable work done in its name. It is equally important to point out that government dollars are the biggest funder of Catholic Charities’ efforts.

  5. Submitted by bea sinna on 11/18/2013 - 11:45 am.

    On being “Catholic” (all-embracing).

    Blessings to you who have found ways to be all-embracing outside the confines of Nienstedt’s archdiocese. There ARE many ways.

    Thanks, Cindy- great piece

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/18/2013 - 12:48 pm.

    I contribute to Catholic Charities

    because I know it irritates the secular humanists. And I’m not even Catholic.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/18/2013 - 02:21 pm.


      With that motive it doesn’t even sound Christian let alone Catholic. Way to turn charity into an exercise in hate!

      (…yes I know you won’t hurt his feelings and publish this.)

  7. Submitted by jason myron on 11/18/2013 - 07:50 pm.

    Doesn’t irritate me in the least..

    in fact, it’s amusing to think that a supposed grown man would actually assume anyone would care. Besides, do you issue a press release when you write your check? How could anyone be irritated by something they don’t even know?

  8. Submitted by Michael Skiendzielewski on 11/18/2013 - 09:32 pm.

    Catholic Charities and Clergy Sexual Abuse

    Since 2002, the Catholic faithful here in America have witnessed time and again, the duplicity, insincerity, hypocrisy and untruthful conduct, behavior and decision-making of many of the religious leaders of the dioceses and archdioceses across this country. Over the past several months, Bishop Myers as well as Archbishop Nienstedt in Minneapolis-St. Paul have been shown, via statements, evidence, correspondence, etc., to be unable and unwilling to protect the children and young adults of the Catholic faithful in their charge. Along with Bishop Finn in Kansas City, it is well past the time that any further consideration be given these “leaders” and push for the tough and necessary legislative proposals that will help to protect ALL children, now and in the future.

    Even here in Philadelphia, this past weekend witnessed the removal/resignation of a pastor of 12 years as a result of an abuse allegation that was received in the beginning of 2013 and the parishioners, famillies and children were notified 11 months later.

    Why do I bring these details up? Because, quite simply, if I cannot trust you (Catholic Church leadership) with the safety of our children, then I certainly cannot trust you with the safety of our monies (via Catholic Charities).

    It is unreasonable to trust an organization that destroys the lives of children and young adults, since many of the leaders are simply not honorable men.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (Retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept

  9. Submitted by Dr Rosemary McHugh on 11/19/2013 - 03:44 pm.

    Horner said “the concern we have is with the archbishop” and his handling of abuse cases….”

    I do not believe that many Catholics realize that the way this archbishop handled sexual abuse cases is the way that popes in the Vatican in Rome and hierarchy have handled clergy sexual abuse cases for centuries. I am a cradle Catholic and I still take my faith seriously. I am also a physician who has met many who have been sexually abused by priests, brothers, nuns, bishops. I have learned that cover-up and secrecy about clergy sexual abuse, protection of the sexual predator priests, denial of the truth, revictimization of the victims are part of the clerical culture. It was just a few years ago that Cardinal Rigali in Philadelphia said there were no predator priests in active ministry. Two grand juries later, it was found that there were 37 sexual predator priests still in active ministry. Cardinal Rigali was never disciplined and is in comfortable retirement.The celibate and childless men of the Roman Catholic Church continue to put children at risk. They say one thing to appease lay people, and continue their cover ups. Sadly, predators and their protectors can be charming and charismatic. Because they have no conscience about the rape of children, they easily deny the truth. Something has to be done worldwide to make the church leaders accountable for the crimes that they and their clergy have been involved in. Here in the USA, these crimes must be dealt with by civil law, since the church cannot be trusted to police its own. Unfortunately the clergy are master manipulators and have manipulated police, lawyers, judges and politicians to do their bidding and protect them from accountability. For example, Cardinal Dolan of New York paid sexual predator priests to leave the priesthood and gave them monthly stipends and health care benefits when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee. Dolan never notified police, so children remain at risk of these predators whose names are unknown by police. Has Cardinal Dolan been made accountable? No, he just smiles it off as no big deal. It is a big deal to parents and to their children, if the children are to be protected from harm.

  10. Submitted by Anne Farrell on 11/26/2013 - 01:35 pm.

    Other ways to give to the poor

    I agree completely with Chris Bjorklund. What worries me about giving money to a religious group that provides for people in need, is that these people in need will be too easily coerced into being evangelized. Religion feeds on desperation.

    Catholic Charities likely gets a lot of money from the government as well. Can’t we provide for people directly, with no expectation that they convert to any religion, and cut out this middle man?

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