These past weeks we have seen the organization “United Nurses and Allied Professionals” (UNAP) speaking out about the St. Joseph’s Pension Fund by placing full page ad hominem attacks in the Providence Journal aimed at Bishop Tobin, picketing Holy Mass on St. Patrick’s Day where children were present, and publishing YouTube videos criticizing priests’ comments from their parish livestreams.
This vitriol is not healthy spiritually for the Church and is disrespectful and counterproductive to its mission of helping those in the greatest need.
There is no doubt that everyone involved wants there to be a quick and responsible solution. However, UNAP’s appeal to Catholics to stop giving to their parish collections and diocesan charities is not only harmful to those in need, but counter to our common Catholic values. Jesus clearly stated “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Pope Francis has said that charity sets us “free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.” He went on by stressing his wish for the Church; “How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us!”
It’s commonplace on Sundays that the collection basket is passed along with the occasional appeal for donations from the pastor, of course eliciting good natured gibes of, “there goes Father asking for money again!” It’s important to understand that weekend collections make it possible for our beloved parishes to pay for electricity, heat, building upkeep, staffing, and of course local outreach. Sometimes there is even a “second collection” which supports the Church’s missionary efforts, and even Pope Francis’ personal charity called “Peter’s Pence.”
At the same time, our diocesan charities go directly to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, seminarian education, tuition assistance to the poor, and care of the elderly. One of the greatest recipients of diocesan charity donations is the Diocese of Providence Immigration and Refugee Services. This office is the largest refugee resettlement organization in Rhode Island, working closely with other nonprofits and the RI Department of Human Services to provide homes and funds to Afghans, South Americans, Africans, and in the future Ukrainians fleeing war and poverty.
Here at home, Bishop Tobin’s “Keep the Heat On” initiative has provided more than $3.5 million in assistance to more than 15,467 Rhode Island households in need. This assistance was essential during the cold winter months during the pandemic.
These are just a few examples of charities funded through the generous donations of faithful Catholics. The clarion call of UNAP to stop donating to the Church is confusing and divisive since it asks Catholics to harm one group in support of another. Claiming deep faith in Christ while asking others to cease charitable giving is contrary to the Gospel values held deeply by all involved. I think we can all agree that the solution to the pension fund problem will be found in prayer and dialogue in good faith, and not in using the poor as pawns.
Father Adam A. Young is pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, Wakefield.