THE 61-COUNT INDICTMENT of the Very Rev. Guido John Carcich, former chief fund-raiser for the Pallottine Fathers of Baltimore, has brought the problem of abuses of charity onto the front pages again. The charges against Father Carcich, returned by a special Maryland grand jury, includ embezzling around $1.4 million from the Pallottine, misappropriating interests in six real-estate ventures and concealing bank records involving some $15 million of Pallottine funds.
So far these are just allegations, and Father Carcich should be presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. Whatever the outcome of the criminal case, however, other investigations have already established a great deal about the Pallottines' financial operations under Father Carcich's management. Throught 1975, the order raised millions of dollars through massive direct-mail appeals for funds to aid the poor. Over $20.4 million was raised in one 18-month period. But only a tiny fraction of those contributions, perhaps 2 1/2 cents out of every dollars, actually went toward mission work. Millions were diverted to various land deals, other investments and items such as the notorious $54,000 loan to Gov. Marvin Mandel. Thus while the legal verdicts are not in, there is already ample evidence to support judgments such as that of Baltimore Archbishop William D. Borders, who declared two years ago that the Pallottines' practices were "immoral" and their actions "clearly wrong."
Both Catholic and civil authorities have cracked down on the Pallottines. Beside banning Father Carcich, Archbishop Borders has issued strict new rules for Catholic fund-raising in the diocese. Maryland Attorney General Francis B. Burch negotiated an argeement under which the order is to liquidate its assets by August and sent the money, finally, to the missions. Meanwhile, the grand-jury investigationa are continuing.
The larger question, of course, is what effect all of this may have had no general public faith in charities. Actual rip-offs by religious groups may be rare. Yet people who get appeals for funds, especially in the name of faith, often have little information by which to gauge whether their contributions will be used widely and for the stated purposes.
Fortunately, reputable religious charities - like many secular ones - are recognizing more and more that they must be much more forthcoming in order retain public trust. Last November, after about two years of work, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the conferences of superiors of men's and women's religious orders adopted impressive guideline for virtually all Catholic fund-raising activities in the United State. The term "guidelines" understates the force of this initiative; the new standards of stewardship, disclosure and accountablity are really rules, binding on and enforceable by all levels of the church in America. Leading Protestant fund-raising groups are now moving toward the adoption of similiar principles.
Some lay charities and lawmakers think these initiatives are not enough. As Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Cal.) explains on the opposite page today, he and others believe that the surest public protection would be federal legislation requiring certain financial disclosures by all charities that solicit funds by mail. We have real reservations about this approach, particularly as a governmental step into religious realms.It is far better, in our view, for religious charities to impose more discloure requirements and higher standards of public accountablity on themselves.