American bishops of the Roman Catholic Church reluctantly adopted the largest budget in the history of their national office at their semiannual meeting here this week.
To finance the $14.5 million budget, they agreed to a 25 percent increase in the amount each bishop would contribute from diocesan treasures. Each diocese will contribute 10 cents per Catholic to help keep the national office alfloat.
The national office of the hierarchy, with headquarters here, conducts a wide range of programs for the church and the larger society.
The $1.9 million increase over last year's budget is largely the result of inflation. The largest single increase is $325,000 for a one-time "cost-of-living increase and salary schedule revision."
Among the programs receiving the largest amounts are the national church's lobbying office, the right-to-life program, the secretariat for Hispanic affairs and the offices for social development and peace efforts, both at home and worldwide.
Debate on the financial situation of the church in this country was echoed in a report on the extraordinary Vatican meeting last week between the church's cardinals and Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia said that reports given the cardinals at that meeting indicated "beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Catholic Church is indeed the church of the poor, and a poor church."
In discussing the Vatican's reported $20 million deficit at a press conference, Krol said that he and other English-speaking cardinals were convinced that before any appeal for help is made, the Vatican "should get a highly credible accounting agency from outside (the church) to make a full audit of the Vatican's resources."
He said such a step was needed to counter the "fables and myths" that the Roman Catholic Church has vast wealth. Krol also dismissed reports that the Vatican lost large amounts of money through investments in the defunct financial empire of Italian financier Michele Sindona. Krol conceded that the Vatican bank did invest in "the Sindona venture," but he said it did not suffer the vast losses that were reported.
In a discussion of Spanish-speaking Catholics, who some estimate make up one-fourth of the church's membershipin this country, the bishops rejected a request from the Census Bureau that the church help count Spanish-speaking persons, particularly those who are here illegally, for next year's census.
The bishop expressed fears that despite promises from the Census Bureau that the information would be kept confidential, name or locations might be disclosed that could result in deportations.
"I've spoken to judges in immigration cases and they tell me that there are too many points at which confidentiality could be broken," said Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez of Sante Fe. "If the confidentiality is broken only once and someone is arrested our credibility would be jeopardized," he said.
In other actions, the bishops adopted a pastoral letter sharply condemning racism in both church and society. The lengthy statement, which was debated briefly on Monday, was not brought up for discussion and final action until shortly before the scheduled adjournment, when it reappeared, together with 60 proposed amendments.
With many members of black caucuses in the church looking on, the bishops beat back efforts to put off action on the pastoral letter until next year's meeting.
"I fear that putting it off we will be giving a counter-signal," said Bishop James A. Hickey of Cleveland. "These problems (of racism) are very real and they are growing."