A Modest Proposal

I have been reading so many comments and responses to the terrible latest evidence — in Pennsylvania dioceses — of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and cover-up by bishops.  As I suspect many of you have as well.

Some is just ranting, much is thoughtful criticism, all call for deep change in the Catholic world.

One article caught my attention and leads to this “modest proposal.”  It’s title: “Catholics consider withholding donations amid recent scandals.”  Of course withholding donations is far from the, for me, more serious consequence of simply leaving he church.  But for those, like myself, who choose to stay and fight for reform, there is another alternative.  It involves setting up trust funds in every parish and shifting donations to those funds.

I’ve written about this idea a number of times, in print and online, but never gotten much response.  Perhaps now the time is right.

I know little about the legal and financial mechanics of such a funds, but believe it’s easily done if the folks in the pews care enough.

Laity concerned with putting serious pressure for reform on dioceses could, like any group of citizens, establish a trust fund in their parish and urge fellow parishioners to make their weekly donations and yearly pledges to this fund.  The fund would be dedicated entirely to parish and diocesan needs, but its board would be elected by those choosing to donate to the fund rather than directly to the parish.  The pastor would have a non-voting voice on the fund’s board.  Monies collected would be spent on specific parish needs and opportunities — and similarly on diocesan needs and opportunities, as well as global needs and opportunities.  But always with (civic) legal protections to prevent such spending from being used otherwise by a pastor or bishop.

Again, I don’t know the legal and financial specifics for establishing and managing such a trust fund, but I suspect there are lawyers and bankers and the like who could and would (pro bono!) provide advice and assistance.

I do realize that such a fund in parishes could be divisive, but it would only bring into the open already existing divisions and could create the conditions for dialogue across those divisions — in the local parish and in the diocese.

I suspect such a fund, even if it redirected only a portion of Catholic donations, would quickly get attention from the hierarchy.

My fear is, that once again, too many of my fellow Catholics will take the easier paths — leaving the Church, or ending donations, or just ignoring things and continuing their present donation patterns.

My hope in again writing about this is that, as I said above, “the time is right.”  That enough Catholics will continue to care enough about their Church to take the slightly more difficult path of active work for reform.






9 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. The trust fund solution for parishes, carefully orchestrated to prevent pastors from dipping into it for their own purposes, may seem a small practical way for those parishioners who may want to stay in this corrupt church and try to reform it, However, the enormity of the crimes enabled by this organization would seem to call for more drastic reforms in the structure and fundamental vision of an institution that has functioned successfully and with impunity as a CULT. As such it managed to brainwash its followers into quietly drinking the Kool Aid of their crimes for decades and decades. I see no better way to stop them in their tracks but to target this arrogant church’s pockets with lawsuits that will make them accountable and force them to change their ways of doing business.


    1. Carmen, thanks for your reply. I certainly think drastic reforms are needed and hope they might come. I was simply taking another tack towards local reform. As to cult and cool aid brainwashing…I suspect that is right on for many, but simplistic as an overall evaluation of the church, even during its most repressive post-reformation and post Vatican I (1870s) forms which I too experienced. Something for us to talk about.


  2. I am a bit disturbed by the article’s title, “A Modest Proposal” because it reminds me of Johnathan Swift, perhaps the greatest satirist in the English language, who, back in the 18th Century, wrote an essay of the same title where he proposed that the English could solve their Irish problem by cutting up children into pieces and sell them for meat at the market. Okay, John, given the current situation of this catholic church and its sexual abuse of children, maybe you might want to change the title of your essay.


  3. No doubt there will be those who consider this crisis as the last straw. Others, as Carmen, see it as a further example of a deeply sinful institution. i share neither perspective; but I recognize, along with Vatican , that the Church herself, while a sacrament of salvation, is in constant need of salvation. Besides, if we leave her, where shall we go?

    So far as your modest proposal, John, I’m not sure that would have a greater impact than a reputable accounting of Parish/Diocesan funds. And, given that accounting, I see no reason to stop giving.

    My own thinking, on a different track, has to do with the mindset that enables clerical abuse. Clericalism is rooted in the archetype of the priest. Our psyche tends to see the priest as the necessary intermediary between us and God. Dostoevsky showed its power in the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor sends Christ to death, noting that the people would not counter his decision. Why? Because the Grand Inquisitor is seen as God’s (supposed) voice.

    Christianity should be able to tame this archetype by the recognition of the universal priesthood of the baptized. But that demands we accept the challenge and responsibility!


    1. Thanks as always. Disagree about diocesan accountability. That will happen after or along with local lay control. When folks first find their priesthood as context for any archetypal priests.


      1. Pennsylvania is not the only state affected by the sexual abuse and cover-up. We heard about the same abuse as well as the law suits because of it in Delaware a number of years ago. And as so many others a dear friend has stopped going to church because of it. Even understanding the horror of the corruption, I will not let it take away from me what is a meaningful part of my spirituality. I remind myself of all the other priests who are and have been true to their vocation and have provided care and consolation to many.


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