You Shouldn’t Give to the Church

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Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

You shouldn’t give to the Church – if you don’t support the mission of the Church or trust its leaders. There, I said it. Now let me explain.

My recommendation about when you shouldn’t support the Church is prompted by a letter I received from a disgruntled parishioner who was responding to our Annual Catholic Charity Fund Appeal. Each year at this time we send tens of thousands of letters to parishioners across the state asking for help. Many people, typically thirty-some percent, respond with very generous and thoughtful gifts, for which we are truly grateful. Some folks would like to give but are prevented from doing so because of their trying personal circumstances. Others simply ignore our request. And finally, a handful of people take the occasion to write and voice their complaints about the Church (or about me) and explain in no-uncertain-terms why they won’t support the Charity Fund, at least this year.

While I’m always disappointed that some members of the Church refuse to support the Charity Fund, I don’t take personal offense at their letters. I confess to being somewhat bemused when folks decline to help the poor because they don’t like me, as if their negative response will somehow punish me personally. Sometimes, however, the critical letters I receive give me pause and provide an opportunity for reflection.

That’s the case with the particular letter that occasions this column in which the author says that he won’t support the Appeal for the following reasons: because his parish has just undertaken a renovation of the rectory that he considers unnecessary and extravagant; because he’s against the funding of, among other things, Black Catholic Ministry, Hispanic Ministry, Marriage Preparation, and the Senior Priest Retirement Fund (“Why are our parishioners expected to live on social security and not your priests?”); because the Church has not officially apologized for the church abuse and arrogance that has gone on for years and continues today; because Pope Benedict has ignored the sexual abuse crisis; and because the Church is not doing anything about helping the poor.

The letter is passionate and sincere; without a doubt it raises some legitimate questions. The writer seems to be struggling with a number of challenges in his personal and family life that make any contribution to the Appeal impossible. But overall, it seems to me, the problem is that he doesn’t understand the mission of the Church in the Diocese of Providence, and he surely doesn’t trust the leadership of the Church, including his pastor, his bishop and his pope. From that perspective, it’s completely understandable why the writer won’t support the Charity Fund. (In fairness, I should point out that the author mentions a number of other worthwhile charities that he and his wife support, much to their credit!)

Perhaps the one accusation of his letter I found most perplexing is that the Church in the Diocese of Providence isn’t doing anything to help the poor. This guy simply isn’t paying attention.

In just the last few months, for example, the Diocese of Providence has taken the lead in providing financial support for heating assistance for needy families through the very successful “Keep the Heat On” campaign; we provided support for a homeless shelter in Providence that, according to a state official, literally saved the lives of those who had no shelter at the end of the day”; we provided direct grants to soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters across the state; we gave staff support and direct and immediate financial assistance to victims of the recent flood, and we’ve authorized a collection so that the assistance can continue; and we visited and comforted members of the Haitian community after the earthquake and promoted an enormously successful collection for Haitian relief.

These specific initiatives are typical of what we do throughout the year and are in addition to the regular, planned, charitable work that the Charity Fund supports every year – some of which the individual doesn’t approve of – and the great works of charity that are performed by our parishes, schools and organizations throughout the State of Rhode Island every day.

“What are we truly doing about the poor?” my correspondent asks. A great deal my friend. Although the Church too has limited resources, and though we can’t solve every problem and meet every need, the members of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Providence should be aware of and proud of the enormous charitable work the Church does everyday – for individuals and families, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike – and it’s possible only because of the generous support of our faithful laity.

So, if you don’t support the fundamental mission of the Church, or if you don’t trust its leaders, please don’t feel any obligation to support our charitable appeals. But if you appreciate the mission of the Church, and if you do trust the stewardship of its leaders, your support of the Catholic Charity Fund, and other appeals of the Church will be greatly appreciated and will be put to very good use to help others. I promise.