For decades, Michael Drweiga has opened his wallet whenever the donation basket comes around at church, but the latest revelations of priests sexually abusing children brought him to the conclusion that he can no longer justify giving.
Brice Sokolowski helps small Catholic nonprofits and churches raise money, but he too supports the recent calls to withhold donations.
And Georgene Sorensen has felt enough anger and “just total sadness” over the past few weeks that she’s reconsidering her weekly offering at her parish.
Across the U.S., Catholics once faithful with their financial support to their churches are searching for ways to respond to the constant sex-abuse scandals that have tarnished the institution in which they believe, with back-to-back scandals in the past two months.
The most recent came Aug. 14 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 – crimes that church leaders are accused of covering up. The report came two months after Pope Francis ordered disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick removed from public ministry amid allegations the 88-year-old retired archbishop sexually abused a teenage altar boy and engaged in sexual misconduct with adult seminarians decades ago. Last month, Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation as cardinal and ordered him to a “life of prayer and penance.”
The most recent “whopper of a report” from Pennsylvania, Drweiga said, was enough to make him wonder where his money was going and whether it was being used to cover up abuses.
“In an organization that spans the whole world like the Catholic Church, you don’t know where your money is going. And when you read about these priest-abuse scandals, it just raises that question to the highest power. What is this money going for?” said Drweiga, 63, who lives in Wilmette, Illinois.
Sokolowski, an Austin, Texas, resident who founded Catholicfundraiser.net to provide advice to Catholic nonprofits and churches, said he’s heard from many who are “really sick and tired” of hearing about priests abusing children.
“So the big thing that people are saying is, ‘We just need to stop funding their crap,’” said Sokolowski, 36. He said he encourages people to stop giving money to their diocese, which oversees the network of churches in an area, but to keep supporting their local parish and tell their priest and bishop what they’re doing.
Calls to financially boycott the Catholic Church are not new. Five years ago, after sex-abuse scandals rocked the archdiocese in St. Paul, Minnesota, parishioners talked about withholding their donations in protest.
But Catholics face a delicate balance because some of the money dioceses raise are shared with parishes, cautioned Dr. Edward Peters, the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
“I’m just saying, be careful about punishing the Spouse of Christ and her dependent children because some priests and even bishops, men presumably wedded to her as Jesus was wedded to her, abandoned her so shamelessly,” Peters wrote in a blog post last week, 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 voicing their concerns.
“Then came the Pennsylvania scandal and we thought, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t over. We thought it was over,’” the 72-year-old Sorensen said. “We thought we were building the new church again.”
Sorensen said she doesn’t plan to withhold money that she has pledged, including her diocese’s Annual Catholic Appeal, but she has spoken with others about the possibility of not giving a regular weekly contribution or only offering money to specific projects.
As for future major giving, she said, “we are definitely waiting to see where all the chips are going to fall.”
“It comes down to one thing: It’s the message, not the messenger,” she said. “I’m 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 – one to which he converted about a decade ago and has intensely studied through three years of night school to earn a master’s degree in theology.
“I am struggling with it – it’s not easy for me,” said Shih, a Taiwanese immigrant who lives in New York City and attends several Catholic churches. “I don’t think I’ll leave the church but I can imagine a lot of people ... will 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’s an action as opposed to just sitting here doing nothing,” he said, but added that it’s a symbolic gesture.
“That in itself will not protect children. That in itself will not support survivors. That in itself will not compel ... an attorney general to take action,” he said. “It’s just a message to the church that it’s not just survivors knocking at their door as we have been for the last 30 years.”
Ilene Kennedy, a San Antonio resident who attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City last weekend, said she doesn’t know “what the fix would be” aside from “holding the higher-ups accountable.” Still, she doesn’t think withholding her money from the collection basket is the answer.
“I don’t think that we should punish all churches just for that,” she said. “I don’t think that’s right.”
Associated Press video producer Robert Bumsted in New York contributed to this report.