September 3, 2003
gifts require new study
am having a problem reconciling what is happening in certain
parts of organized religion, and the various scandals,
including the latest pedophilia mess. Here is my dilemma:
If I stop giving to my church out of concern that its
leaders are using the money irresponsibly and unethically
in dealing with these scandals, then what about worthwhile
charitable activities helped by my church donations?
is at the heart of the issue. It appears that current
administrative costs in some churches are high and that
some of these religious institutions and charities have
engaged in practices that turn off many people, including
you. Some have used donations to make settlements to fight
their legal conflicts instead of using the funds for the
named purposes of the institution. Their decisions to
spend financial resources for one purpose after raising
the funds for a very different purpose lack consistency
millions of dollars were earmarked in Massachusetts to
pay settlements related to lawsuits directed at ordained
priests who abused young people. It is unthinkable that
the caring and generous parishioners who donated those
millions of dollars intended for their sacrificial giving
to pay for legal problems created by such destructive
behaviors. If this were a business transaction, it might
be called "bait and switch:" The buyer is
shown one product and asked to pay for it, only to be
provided something very different, worth a great deal
The example to which you refer by your question, namely,
that of pedophilia, has been one of the most disturbing.
However, responsible parish councils, pastors and their
congregations are working through that known set of problems.
It seems probable that the involved religious institutions
and other social service organizations will emerge wiser
and with new and stronger self-regulating processes. It
is also true that our society has a network of socially
responsive and critical services that are sustained by
charities do a lot of good for people who might have no
other place to turn.
may, of course, simply move your money to another church
or charity. That is quick and direct and has the virtue
of removing you from any need to get involved with those
who have disappointed you. You need to decide if the greater
good is served by cutting off the charities with known,
visible problems, and shift the money to charities with
which you have less connection, but whose reputations
are, for now at least, unblemished.
Another and perhaps more prudent approach
might be to get involved directly with the institutions
you support - organizations engaged in work relevant to
your interests. Your involvement might improve their administrative
and professional performance. The larger safety net provided
by your institution is thereby protected and even improved.
If leaders of charities you support remain
unresponsive to the need for change, then your issue becomes
very clear, and you will very likely move your charitable
giving to more responsive providers.