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
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.