Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In Gateway City, a Clash on Charities

Termed a "locking of horns," the interim head of the St Louis church is moving to consolidate fund-raising oversight for the 550,000-member archdiocese's Catholic Charities... and the fallout hasn't been pretty.
Bishop Robert Hermann has given the board members an ultimatum: Agree with his plan, or get out.

The archdiocese says that it has talked with Catholic Charities about its "day-to-day operations" and that it wants to better coordinate fundraising with the agency. But, at least one board member claims the dispute is really about the archdiocese trying to seize control of the nonprofit and how it is run.

In a memo to board members dated Oct. 30 and obtained by the Post-Dispatch, Hermann wrote that Catholic Charities "was allowed ... to drift in a direction that began to work contrary to the desires of Archbishop Rigali and Archbishop Burke" and that the relationship between the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities is "at an impasse."

Cardinal Justin Rigali, now archbishop of Philadelphia, preceded Archbishop Raymond Burke as St. Louis' Catholic leader. Hermann has been interim bishop since Burke was named to a Vatican post in June.

Hermann wrote in the memo that he wants to combine the two organizations' development offices because the archdiocese has been "getting complaints of donor fatigue in going to the same people at the same time for donations."

He added that while "I treasure and respect each and every one of you," he understood that they may be "uncomfortable" with his approach. He told them he wanted to know by the end of this week whether they wanted to remain on the board.

"While I prefer that you stay, I would not want you to stay if this were a constant thorn in your side," he wrote.

Former board member James Gunn said talks about combining fundraising operations began soon after Hermann was named acting bishop.

Gunn, a lawyer and partner at Thompson Coburn, said he and board chair Kelly O'Malley, a partner at O'Malley Hansen Communications, were removed for objecting to Hermann's directives. O'Malley did not respond to a request for comment.

Several other board members did not respond to phone calls, or declined to speak on the record, citing an agreement with the archdiocese that they not speak to reporters.

Archdiocesan officials "want to be able to solicit people for their own purposes," Gunn said. "The social ministry of the church is not nearly as important to them as their far-right conservative Catholic agenda."

Catholic Charities President Thomas Mulhearn did not respond to an interview request Monday. Hermann denied an interview request, but released a statement saying that he and Burke had been discussing Catholic Charities' day-to-day operations with Mulhearn over the last year.

"Per those conversations, I continued to move forward to implement the Archbishop's desire that Catholic Charities' fundraising activities and those of the Archdiocese of St. Louis be more closely synchronized," according to the statement. "In an effort to further improve stewardship within the entire Archdiocese, we are attempting to continue to improve coordination of operations."
Its annual budget topping $80 million, the work of the Gateway City church's diaconal arm was recently highlighted in a video-series featuring "90 Second Stories of Hope."

Speaking of the work of charity, next week's November Meeting will feature a cameo appearance from the Vatican's top humanitarian hand: the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes.

A close German compatriot of Papa Ratzi's -- and, so it's been said, a ghostwriter of B16's first encyclical -- Cordes touched down yesterday and will hit Denver and New York before arriving in the Premier See to "share experiences in the field of Catholic charity" with the prelates and top brass of the nation's Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.

"From the nation’s very beginnings, the church has been at the forefront of providing for those in need both within and outside the United States," the council said in announcing Cordes' visit.

"Today, there are new challenges and opportunities given the rapidly changing demographic and social fabric. The mission of diakonia remains indispensable both for the poor and the very essence of the Church. Since diakonia is one of the three missions of the church, the ministry of the bishop or local ordinary is primordial: indeed, the ultimate responsibility for charitable action is his."

The 73 year-old cardinal will also receive an honorary doctorate from Seton Hall.

PHOTO: Huy Richard Mach/St Louis Post-Dispatch