As church scandal grows, Catholic Charities keeps an eye on donations


Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis is closely watching for any decline in giving because of fallout from the ongoing clergy sexual-abuse scandal in Minnesota.

But so far, officials for the nonprofit that’s been helping immigrants and the poor for 144 years say donations are holding steady.

The mounting scandal involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis could even result in more donations going to the charity. That’s because some faithful and high-profile donors are channeling their money away from the archdiocese and its Annual Catholic Services Appeal, which provides a tiny percentage of income to Catholic Charities, and instead funneling donations directly to Catholic Charities.

But it’s too early to discern any pattern, and some people — believing that the archdiocese and Archbishop John Nienstedt control Catholic Charities’ budget, an assertion the charity says is wrong — say they are side-stepping the social-service organization.

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One lifelong Catholic, a 75-year-old St. Paul woman, told me she worries any donations to Catholic Charities would “be under the control of the archdiocese.’’ The woman, who spoke only on condition her name not be used because she didn’t want to get involved with the church controversy, said she gives about 5 percent of her income each year to a variety of social-service, art and environmental groups — including organizations that have connections to the Catholic Church, such as the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul — but not to Catholic Charities. The woman, who has cut off donations to Catholic Charities because of the scandal, said “I give to organizations that may be served by Catholic Charities’’ instead.

Donations stay ‘exclusively’ with Catholic Charities

In response to such views, Tim Marx, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, said donations to his organization stay “solely and exclusively” with Catholic Charities “to serve and advocate” for those most in need in the community. He added that his staff is monitoring the situation carefully and responding to concerns by many “stakeholders, donors and partners.”

Marx said that donations over the last couple of years and over the past several months are “steady to increasing’’ and that the organization has seen “no discernible impact from the controversy surrounding clergy misconduct.’’

“We hear some people might be giving to us because of that and some people might not be giving to us because of that,’’ Marx said.

Catholic Charities has an annual budget of $44 million and serves about 35,000 people each year by helping to house, feed and otherwise aid the poor. The charity receives about $1.4 million from the Annual Catholic Services Appeal, an archdiocesan fundraising effort, and Nienstedt is one of Catholic Charities’ 42 board members. In 2013, 37.4 percent of Catholic Charities’ revenue came from individuals, organizations, wills and bequests. Government contracts made up 41 percent of the budget.

Donations this year to Catholic Charities on Give to the Max Day on Nov. 14 at first were down — $82,000, compared with $110,000 last year. But Jessie Sorensen, vice president of development and external affairs for Catholic Charities, said that’s not a fair measure of donors’ attitudes because technical difficulties forced a five-hour shutdown of the Give MN charity fund’s website that day. While the Give MN website was malfunctioning, donors turned to the Catholic Charities website, Sorenson said Monday, with the upshot being those donations about equaled last year’s numbers. Matching grants that day generated additional funds, she said.

High-profile donors

Among high-profile donors supporting Catholic Charities but not the archdiocesan leadership are Tom Horner, a Twin Cities public-affairs strategist who ran for governor as an Independence Party candidate in 2010.

Explained Horner: “My wife Libby and I were strong, loyal supporters of Catholic Charities before Archbishop Nienstedt and we will be strong, loyal supporters of Catholic Charities after Archbishop Nienstedt.”

Horner said “the concern we have is with the archbishop” and his handling of abuse cases as well as the archdiocese’s $1 million campaign to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

Horner would not reveal the size of the Horners’ donation — only that it is not in the “top tier.’’

Others redirecting their giving include James R. Frey, president and CEO of the Frey Foundation of Minnesota, which donates funds to many nonprofit and Catholic-related organizations serving the poor.

In an email response to my questions, Frey said he and his wife, Mary, have stopped donating to the archdiocese and increased direct monetary gifts to Catholic Charities and other organizations because of concerns about the leadership of the archdiocese and its past expenditures.

Smaller donors

Those who make more modest donations are also upset by the church’s response to the sexual-abuse cases and are protesting with their checkbooks.

Bob Walz, a lifelong Catholic and retired Catholic church employee from North Branch, used to allocate about $50 a week to his parish.

That has ended. “I have stopped contributing to anything the archdiocese shares in,’’ said Walz, who was educated in Catholic schools and studied for a time to become a priest.

Instead he contributes to the cemetery fund and a homeless shelter at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale where he worked until retiring last year.

“There are a lot of Catholics who feel the way I do,’’ Walz said, adding that a fellow parishioner told him, “The only thing this church understands is money. And if people would stop contributing, then they would feel the financial pressure to do something.’’