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Spotlight Report

Church launches fund-raising drive, with goal of $9m

Lennon stresses need to back 'good works'

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 4/26/2003

WALTHAM -- Bishop Richard G. Lennon, seeking to repair a church whose treasury has been depleted by the clergy sex abuse scandal, yesterday urged Boston Catholics to focus on the church's good works.

Launching the first major fund-raising drive since he was appointed interim administrator of the archdiocese in December, Lennon said that even at a time of scandal, the church is funding a variety of programs aimed at helping immigrants, children, the poor, and the sick.

He promised that none of the money raised would be used to pay the costs associated with sexual abuse by priests, and also vowed to do everything he can to settle the legal claims brought by more than 400 people who say they were harmed by the misconduct of clergy. He dismissed the comments of lawyers for alleged victims who said the church is not trying to settle cases.

Church officials, who summoned reporters to Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Waltham to see several dozen church employees who minister to the sick or teach the young, acknowledged that they face an extraordinarily difficult climate for raising money, with a down economy, a laity outraged by the scandal, and some philanthropic fatigue from those who have recently been asked to contribute large sums to an archdiocesan capital campaign.

The tough climate is emphasized by a flier the archdiocese is sending potential contributors, in which archdiocesan Chancellor David W. Smith answers frequently asked questions such as ''Will my gift . . . be used to settle lawsuits?'' and ''What would happen to my [gift] if the archdiocese were forced into bankruptcy?''

''Clearly, this has been a challenging time for us,'' said Damien DeVasto, director of the Annual Catholic Appeal. ''But people recognize Bishop Lennon is trying his best. It's going to take time, but all of his actions are directed toward healing and unity . . . and this is one way in which people can come back together.''

The church is aiming to raise $9 million this year, up from $8.6 million last year but down from $16 million in 2001. The money is used to fund the church's operating budget, which finances 80 programs, including religious education for 156,000 children, premarital counseling for couples, continuing education for priests and nuns, and support for parishes. Church officials said that they were not prepared to give an exact breakdown of how the $9 million would be spent, but that they were committed to openness on such matters.

Because of the poor performance of last year's fund-raising, Lennon has recently ordered $5 million in cuts in archdiocesan spending and has borrowed $5 million from the Knights of Columbus. He did not eliminate any ministries but reduced the funding of many, and he laid off four workers, accepted the retirement of another four, and froze six open positions. Two bishops, Francis X. Irwin and Emilio S. Allue, have been asked to move out of their residences in Peabody and Lowell to save money, as the church considers whether to sell those buildings.

The annual campaign had long been known as the Cardinal's Appeal, and was driven by the personal appeal of Cardinal Bernard F. Law. But since Law's resignation last December, the archdiocese has chosen a new name, the Annual Catholic Appeal, and a slogan focused not on a personality but on the church's programs: One Church, Many Works.

''The faithful of the archdiocese are all invited to participate to fund the many good works that the church continues to carry on and perform for the good of the community, to individuals and families, to parishes, to Catholics and non-Catholics, to laity, religious and clergy,'' Lennon said.

The appeal is to be rolled out in two phases, with 240 parishes being asked to contribute this spring, and another 118 being solicited in the fall.

Lennon was supported by a variety of church officials, including Rev. Walter J. Waldron, pastor of Saint Patrick Church in Roxbury, who said low-income parishes such as his could not survive without assistance from the archdiocese.

The bishop's comments came as two attorneys representing alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse said talks with church lawyers aimed at reaching a financial settlement of more than 400 claims have ground to a halt.

Jeffrey A. Newman, a lawyer with the firm of Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 200 people with claims against officials of the Boston archdiocese, said ''settlement talks are at a standstill'' and predicted that no agreement would be reached before a 90-day moratorium on most of the clergy abuse litigation expires May 20.

''It's clear to me that they believe they should challenge each and every case in court,'' Newman said. ''There's been no progress, and there is no indication of a willingness to devise a mechanism that could be used to value the claims.''

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer representing more than 100 people with claims against church officials, echoed Newman's assessment, noting that lawyers for the church have attempted unsuccessfully to have all of the abuse claims dismissed on freedom-of-religion grounds.

''The archdiocese is proceeding much more intensely with litigation than with settlement talks,'' Garabedian said.

Lennon said that he is trying to settle the cases and that he has ''no idea'' what the plaintiffs' attorneys are talking about when they describe the church's intentions.

''It is very definitely our intention and our desire to settle all the lawsuits in a comprehensive settlement which is presently being worked on,'' he said. ''The church stands committed to addressing in a financial way all of these suits . . . I know that there are active conversations going on at this time regarding the coverage issues by the insurance companies and also regarding the mechanisms that will be possibly used at such time when we have a settlement. And those will be ongoing.''

In the flier sent to potential contributors, Smith said any settlements will be paid for through ''a combination of insurance, liquidation of assets, and money specifically given by donors for this purpose.'' The church has already begun selling real estate but has refused to say what properties are being affected.

Smith said that if the archdiocese files for bankruptcy, ''no court or agent of the courts can redistribute the funds'' and that ''gifts made to the Annual Catholic Appeal must be applied to the programs and ministries of the archdiocese.''

Michael Rezendes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.


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