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A New Kind of Withholding (Sat Dec 18, 2004 12:28 pm)

Some reform-minded Catholics are giving the concept of a withholding tax a new twist. They've started to withhold money from their bishops. They have good reasons to do so: lack of financial transparency and accountability; the almost billion dollars in sealed payouts and hush money to people sexually abused as children by priests; the bankruptcies in Portland, Tucson, and Spokane; the large number of parish closings; and, finally, overall poor money management, i.e., poor stewardship, by church officials.

Recently ARCC Board member Father Thomas Doyle, during the 10th annual John XXIII lecture for the Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity, said Catholics should use pocketbook-power to stop what he described as the church's abuse of power. "We've got to stop giving money to the institution," Doyle said. "That's the only act they'll understand." He suggests people donate instead to organizations that help victims of sexual abuse, such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Linkup. Obviously, other reform and renewal groups, such as FutureChurch, One Catholic Voice for Action, and ARCC would also be appropriate recipients. Another ARCC Board member, Vice President Bob Hart, created a stir in a church in Maine during a recent Peter's Pence collection for the Vatican. As the collection basket passed in front of him, Bob blurted out in a loud voice that could be heard in the back of the church, "NO MORE MONEY FOR ROME!"

Some withholders suggest dropping an envelope in the collection basket each Sunday with a note explaining that the donation is going to another group, naming the group, and giving the reason for the change in contributing habits. Others are investigating the possibility of creating escrow accounts or trusts until certain conditions are met.

Still others link contributions to an ARCC-like call for a voice in church governance. "Pray, pay, and obey," has been the laity's job description for centuries. Some reformers want to change "obey" to "say," as in "having a say in church governance." These withholders contend the current system of church governance is unjust and that to change it one must engage in a political struggle for control. They say the bishops have monarchical control, and many Americans, schooled in democracy and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, want what they consider is their God-given right: to have a real say in church governance. Finally, they argue that withholding money is the right thing to do because bishops use the hard-earned fruits of the laity's labor to perpetuate an unjust system. Withholders link democratic reforms and money by a little phrase they hope will catch on: "No Say, No Pay."

Of course, there are ethical and financial considerations in withholding. Many don't want to penalize parish operations. Others point out that withholding poses problems similar to boycotting a country with an oppressive regime: it's the "little guy" or the poor who usually gets hurt the most. Clear designation, definition, and public reporting (i.e., complete transparency) of donations for different programs might be one solution that addresses both ethical and financial concerns.

Will individual withholders evolve into an emerging movement? Will the ethical and financial problems be solved, at least partially? Only time, the marketplace, and the power and efficacy of the withholding initiative, or the lack thereof, will tell.

Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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