Sunday, June 23, 2013

Twin Cities Archdiocese Seeks Bigger Cut of Collections

By Rose French

Note: This article was first published June 22, 2013 by the Star Tribune.

The Twin Cities archdiocese wants Catholics to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to support schools and other church ministries.

About one-fourth of the nearly 190 parishes will see their assessments on the collection plate and other income rise from 8 to up to 9 percent; parishes with schools will catch a break on what they have to pay.

At the same time, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is considering a $165 million capital campaign shared with parishes and other partners to pump money into Catholic schools, charities, seminarian education and preservation of the St. Paul Cathedral and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

The moves come at a time when many Catholics are still upset with church leaders for contributing nearly $650,000 to the campaign for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which failed Nov. 6.

Archdiocesan officials say they’ve been considering the new assessment and capital campaign for years. Critics contend the efforts indicate the church’s political activism has hurt its bottom line.

“The motivation for the archdiocese to do this is that . . . an independent campaign, they’re fearful it wouldn’t produce the $165 million . . . By piggybacking on the parishes they could hope to be more productive,” said Robert Beutel, a St. Paul attorney and co-chair of the board of Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, a frequent critic of the archdiocese.

Revenue from the new assessment formula is to be collected beginning in fiscal year 2015-16, based on parish collections starting fiscal year 2013-14, which begins July 1. The last time the assessment changed was 1999, according to an archdiocesan spokesman.

For parishes that operate schools, the archdiocese will keep the assessment at 8 percent and eliminate assessments on school tuition and income. Next school year, the archdiocese will have 91 schools, most operated by parishes.

More support for schools

“From a financial position, we’re trying to assist those parishes that are contributing to the Catholic schools,” said Tom Mertens, chief financial officer of the archdiocese. “The whole idea behind the assessment change was to simplify, to clarify and then to support Catholic education.”

Income from assessments — which help support the archdiocese — totaled about $14 million last fiscal year. Mertens said he can’t project how much the new formula would raise.

The Rev. Paul Jarvis says the revised formula is a move in “the right direction.” He leads St. Joseph’s in Rosemount, which operates a K-8 school with close to 220 students.

“I know I might be biased as a pastor of a parish with a school, but it benefits all parishes,” he said. “Many of the graduates of our parochial schools will be going on to be worshipers at other parishes, many of which will not have schools.”

By contrast, the St. Joan of Arc parish in Minneapolis fears the assessment may impinge on parish priorities.

In April, the church sent a letter to supporters seeking $500,000 for upgrades to the gym, hospitality hall and other projects before the new assessment takes effect July 1.

“The challenge is that we have a limited time to raise contributions for these improvements so that the dollars will not be subject to the archdiocesan assessment of 9 percent,” according to the letter from St. Joan’s pastor, the Rev. Jim DeBruycker.

Mertens said all parish contributions are subject to assessment, but the new formula will make that more clear.

Needs reaching ‘critical point’

Annual financial reports for the archdiocese show total revenue has been relatively flat, rising from $38.4 million in 2007 to $40.2 million in 2012.

“It has been a decade since the last major fundraising effort,” according to an archdiocesan document detailing the proposed capital campaign. “The long-term funding needs of our parishes and Catholic ministries have been put off and are now reaching a critical point.”

The last major fundraising effort in 2000-03 raised approximately $89 million, reports said. It went toward supporting parishes, education, care for retired priests, charities and renovation of the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The joint campaign being considered would allow parishes to keep 50 percent of their assigned goal and 100 percent of any money raised over that.

The Steier Group, a national fundraising and development firm based in Omaha, is conducting a feasibility study on the campaign, and is expected to present its recommendations this month.

After that, the archdiocese is expected to announce whether it will proceed with the campaign.

Pros and cons of campaign

One of the potential beneficiaries of the campaign is the Aim Higher Foundation, which works to increase enrollment and funds for Catholic schools.

“I’m very happy this is happening,” said Samuel Salas, a foundation board member and former headmaster at Breck School. “I think the purpose of the campaign is really to help the many good things the archdiocese can contribute to.”

Marsha Brintnall, a parishioner at St. Joan’s, says she contributed toward her church’s $500,000 goal.

She did not approve of the archbishop’s role in supporting the marriage amendment and says it wouldn’t surprise her if a number of local Catholics feel less compelled to give to the church.

“It’s very hard for a thinking, intelligent person out there to see [nearly $650,000] go toward a political amendment and then hear, ‘But we need your money. You’ve got to support us. We have a capital campaign going.’ How do you rationalize that? How does that seem like a good use of their funding?”

The archdiocese said funds for the marriage campaign came from “investment income and special donations.”

For the proposed capital campaign, the archdiocese said in a document, “Funds raised from this campaign will be overseen by an independent board comprised of clergy, lay leaders and donors. Campaign funds will go directly to parishes, schools and ministries in the archdiocese.”

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