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Baltimore archdiocese changes name of fundraising drive to reassure donors, as Catholics worry about costs of sex abuse scandal

As part of an effort to reassure Catholics concerned about the implications of the sex-abuse scandal that has roiled the church, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has changed the name of its annual fund-raising drive.

Long titled the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, the drive will be renamed the Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries starting in January. The change is meant to reassure donors that the campaign pays for ministry efforts of the archdiocese, not to defray costs associated with the scandal.

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“Some of you have rightly expressed concern … that your appeal gifts are being used to meet costs incurred due to clerical misconduct,” Archbishop William E. Lori said in a letter to the region’s half-million Catholics. “I want to be very clear in assuring you that this has never been the case.”

Rather, he said, the donations “support the core mission of our Church: pastoral ministry, Catholic education, programs of service offered by our outreach partners, and priestly vocations.”

Costs associated with clerical abuse are always paid out of an insurance trust the archdiocese set up “many, many years ago,” said Sean Caine, an archdiocese spokesman.

Church leaders decided re-naming the fund to better reflect its purpose would “assure people that their gifts have always been about the ministries,” including Catholic schools, parishes and charitable institutions such as Catholic Charities, Caine said.

It’s not unusual for the annual drive to raise $10 million. Caine said it’s too early to tell how the church sex abuse scandals that erupted into public view last summer — including the bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report that found more than 300 priests had molested more than 1,000 children over seven decades in the state — have affected donations this year.

The crisis reached the highest levels of the American Catholic Church, including the unprecedented resignation of a U.S. cardinal over sex abuse allegations and the removal of the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., over charges he had mishandled sex abuse cases earlier in his career. Attorneys general in at least 13 states and the District of Columbia have opened investigations into dioceses’ handling of sex abuse cases.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and religion writer who has long covered the church, said Catholics across the country are voicing similar concerns, and the Baltimore archdiocese is not the only one to have removed references to a local bishop from the name of its appeal.

Now that several bishops have been implicated in the sex abuse crisis, it’s no longer seen as automatically helpful to include their names or titles.

“Fundraising professionals say that ‘people give to people,’ ” Reese said. “They give when they like and have confidence in the person asking for the donation, which is why ‘The Archbishop’s Appeal’ made sense when people liked and respected the bishop. Today that is more problematic. These appeals [now] tend to stress how the money is used to help the poor and provide education to students.”

The name change is one of several steps the Baltimore Archdiocese has taken this year in reaction to the long-standing crisis.

Lori announced creation of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council to foster greater lay involvement, held listening sessions at parishes around the diocese and set up virtual town halls in which parishioners have shared questions and concerns in thousands of messages.

One of the most frequently cited was a fear that donations would be used to pay legal expenses or settlements associated with the scandal.

Brice Sokolowski, founder of a website that focuses on the “ins and outs” of fundraising for the church, said donors’ concerns over how their gifts will be used is nothing new.

Concerns about the sex abuse crisis may well be exacerbating those worries, he said. But a more important factor might be that lay apostolates and independent Catholic schools are proliferating, and Catholics have become likelier to donate to these smaller operations with their more easily identifiable ministries.

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Against that backdrop, he said, it might be more important than ever that dioceses like Baltimore’s are clear about what purpose donations will serve.

“The good news is that there are always Catholics willing to donate, and they’ll continue to donate to their local diocese, but they have many more options today, and they’re getting savvier with their giving,” Sokolowski said.

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