The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington has received $71 million in pledges at the midpoint of a capital fundraising campaign with a goal of $87 million, a sign that the clergy sex abuse scandal has not shaken the loyalty of most local Catholics toward their church, analysts say.
The capital campaign, the first in the Arlington Diocese since it was created out of the Richmond Diocese in 1974, was launched in March, when the scandal was battering the church. The campaign has canvassed 36 of the diocese's 66 parishes, and parishioners in the remaining 30 churches will be solicited for pledges between now and June.
"We're doing very well," said Robert Mueller, director of development for the diocese. "The people have been very generous."
The money will be used primarily for buildings to meet the expanding needs of the diocese, which serves 21 counties and seven cities in Northern Virginia and counts 382,574 registered Catholics.
The response to the fundraising is another illustration that Catholics identify most closely with their own parishes and dioceses and will continue to support them even if they are disaffected by larger issues in the church, scholars said.
Former U.S. House speaker Thomas P. " 'Tip' O'Neill once said that all politics is local, and giving is very local," said Charles E. Zech, a professor of economics at Villanova University who specializes in Catholic Church finances.
The Archdiocese of Washington's last capital campaign, in 1988, raised $22 million, exceeding its $17 million goal. A new campaign will be launched in 2004, said archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs. In its 1997-99 campaign, the Archdiocese of Baltimore collected pledges of $138 million, surpassing its goal of $50 million, said archdiocese spokesman Steve Kearney.
As in most of the country's 177 Catholic dioceses, Arlington's capital campaign is distinct from both the annual bishop's drive, which often takes place during Lent and funds diocesan operating expenses, and the weekly collections at Masses that support individual parishes.
While church finance experts are awaiting data to determine whether the sexual abuse scandal hurt those revenue sources on a national level, preliminary indications are that there was a drop in giving in some dioceses in 2002, especially in areas most affected by the scandal.
Matthew R. Paratore, secretary general of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, an association of diocesan officials in charge of fundraising, said it appears revenue declined last year, but the drop was "much less than one would anticipate" and probably "has far more to do with the economy than the scandal."
The 2002 annual drive in the Arlington Diocese brought in less than the previous year -- $5.9 million in 2002, $6.2 million in 2001. Mueller said this was because several large parishes targeted early in the capital campaign were not approached to contribute to the annual appeal until late in the year.
The Archdiocese of Washington does not have final figures for its 2002 annual drive, but it does know that collections "surpassed last year's total of $10.6 million," Gibbs said. In Baltimore, the 2002 annual drive collected $5 million, compared with $4.1 million in 2001, Kearney said.
For its capital campaign, Arlington Diocese pastors urged generosity from the pulpits, and parish volunteers visited church members' homes to ask for pledges -- in many cases $5,000 per family to be paid over five years.
The diocese said 33 percent of the funds collected would help pay for two new Catholic high schools planned for Prince William and Loudoun counties. Of the rest, 20 percent is earmarked for school endowments, religious education and youth ministry; 20 percent for parish needs; 13 percent for social services provided by Catholic Charities; 7 percent for a priests' retirement home and 7 percent for a spiritual center to host gatherings.
Mary Peters, who has been in the diocese all her life and attends St. Timothy's Church in Chantilly, said that in meetings with more than 100 parishioners to solicit donations, no one mentioned the sexual abuse scandal. "It just hasn't been relevant to what we're doing," she said.
No Arlington Diocese priests are known to have been removed permanently from ministries over child sexual abuse allegations in recent years.
Mueller said the diocese has allayed concerns expressed by some donors that their donations might be used for future legal fees or court settlements arising from priestly misbehavior by setting up a separate, nonprofit corporation to receive proceeds from the campaign.
Still, some Catholics said they are unwilling to support their dioceses financially until the church hierarchy undertakes more reforms.
"I'm still steamed at these people," said retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the national drug policy director in the Clinton administration and a Catholic who lives in Northern Virginia. "I'm not giving a dime until I understand there is a resolution and accountability on the issue of abuse of adolescents and children by the Catholic Church."
McCaffrey said in recent years he had increased his charitable giving. Now, he said, "That money is going to the Salvation Army and the Army Emergency Relief and directly to Catholic schools until [the Catholic bishops] straighten their act out."