- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

A prominent Catholic journal has urged U.S. Catholics not to withhold contributions from the bishops' annual appeal as "punishment" for some of the leaders' handling of sexual-abuse accusations against priests.
Both a churchgoer boycott and the million-dollar court awards are "punishing the wrong people" by undermining Catholic educational and charitable services, the Jesuit journal America said in an editorial.
"The church is not just the bishops," the Rev. Thomas Reese, journal editor, said in the commentary. "There are no deep pockets with unlimited funds. Churches depend on the small weekly contributions from their congregations."
Though no formal boycott movement is afoot, a February poll in the Archdiocese of Boston found that 20 percent of Catholics said they would withhold giving. The month before, Boston parishioners learned that the church was paying millions of dollars in settlements concerning sexual-abuse cases against priests.
A lawyer who is church fund-raiser in West Palm Beach, Fla., where the bishop resigned last month over charges of abuse 25 years ago, has threatened a boycott unless all clergy sign affidavits of innocence.
Father Reese, an expert on church bureaucracy, told concerned Catholics that if they "specify the purpose of their donation, both civil and canon law require that the church respect the intention of the donor. Specifying is better than boycotting."
The scandal's financial toll on the U.S. Catholic Church is not known because of sealed court settlements and confidentiality by insurance groups.
The first known multimillion-dollar settlement came in a Louisiana church case in 1985. Estimates of damages paid by various dioceses since then have ranged from $350 million to $1 billion.
The high estimate may include cases still to be settled in the fallout of the Boston controversy, which has forced bishops in many other dioceses to open records about complaints against priests going back 40 years.
Since 1985, several dioceses have sold land and buildings or borrowed from banks, parishes or other dioceses to pay settlements and fund therapy for abusive priests and their victims.
No major shortfalls in dioceses are being reported yet. The Boston Archdiocese extended its $300 million capital campaign for another year after almost canceling it, and Cardinal Bernard Law said he might sell his Boston residence.
The financial stakes for the Vatican may soon be clear. Last week, two American men who claim being abused as teen-agers sued the Holy See.
As the lawyers and legal teams specializing in such lawsuits begin to grow in number, the Jesuit journal hoped to remind them of how the church is a different kind of target.
"Big jury awards make sense as a way to punish profit-making businesses, but they are a very blunt instrument for dealing with nonprofit organizations, which have no stockholders," the editorial said.

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