In this year's Catholic Charities of Buffalo fundraising appeal, held amid the tumult of the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, organizers gave donors a choice of where they wanted their funds to go.
Nearly half of the donors, 44.5%, opted to have their money go exclusively to Catholic Charities, and not be split with the Diocese of Buffalo, Catholic Charities CEO Dennis Walczyk said Thursday while announcing the appeal has raised $7.2 million so far, about 65% of its $11 million goal.
This year's appeal progress lags behind previous campaigns. At this time a year ago, the appeal had reached $9.1 million, more than 80% of its goal.
The lower fundraising total could be a result of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, although Bishop Richard J. Malone has said none of the money raised through the Catholic Charities appeal will be used to pay settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The diocese has offered more than $8 million in recent months to people sexually abused as children by priests, according to victims and lawyers who represent them. Beginning in mid-August, the diocese is also expected to face a wave of new lawsuits when the recently passed Child Victims Act creates a one-year window for people to file claims about abuse that occurred beyond the normal statute of limitations.
Still, organizers cited this year's format change as a positive.
"Last year we heard from people who weren’t giving because they were angry," said 2019 appeal co-chair John Daly, referring to the scandal. "We were trying to say, look, it’s different. Catholic Charities isn’t the Diocese, it’s got nothing to do with that scandal. And people need help."
Historically, 59% of donations during Catholic Charities' appeal went directly to the nonprofit, with 41% going to the Diocese of Buffalo's Fund for the Faith, Walczyk said.
"We felt very strongly that in light of everything that was going on, we had to be very, very open and transparent with people," Walczyk said. "If there were people that would have said to us, 'I’m angry with the institutional church and the hierarchy and the only choice I have is to have 40% of my money go, then I’m not going to give.' ... We certainly didn’t want to lose those donors. So we felt, and he approved, that we would give people an option."
This year the bishop approved the plan to give donors options.
When donors go to ccwny.org/donation, there is a drop-down menu in which the default selection for "I would like my 2019 Appeal gift to support ... " is "Both Catholic Charities & Fund for the Faith."
The other options: "Catholic Charities' Programs and Services Only" or "Fund for the Faith Only."
Walczyk said 55% of donors chose the traditional split and less than 1% directed their donation go only to the diocese's Fund for the Faith.
"We have encouraged people, in all of our literature, and we must have spoken at 50 parishes this year ... please give the way you have," Walczyk said. "Because not only are you supporting our Catholic Charities programs, but the programs that are operated out of Funds for the Faith are very significant in enhancing parish life, campus ministry, hospital ministry. They’re good programs, too."
— Keith McShea (@ByKeithMcShea) May 2, 2019
Catholic Charities' annual appeal helps to support 70 programs across 61 sites covering eight counties of Western New York which benefit more than 150,000 people, officials said.
Daly said they had hoped to be near 70% by Thursday, but “we are really encouraged by the results so far.”
Last year at this time, Catholic Charities ended up meeting its goal with four days to spare.
"We have a lot of work yet to go, but ... it’s great," Daly said. "It’s that extra 5% we’ve got to really work on in the next two months. Most parishes have reported back. Now we really have to reach out to the community. There’s the community division, and then there’s the corporate division and then the Day of Giving. Hopefully those three things will get us over the top."
During Thursday's presentation, Kedra Small, a client of the Catholic Charities Chemical Dependency Treatment Program at the Monsignor Carr Institute on Humboldt Avenue, spoke of how the program helped her overcome drug addiction. "That program has basically helped save my life," she said.
Johnathan Samol, a sixth-grader at St. Christopher School in Tonawanda, read his essay in response to this year's Catholic Charities appeal video, "Help Your Neighbor Find Hope." The essay won first place among the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade entries at the school and closed with "we need people to help Catholic Charities, that help so many homeless people, year to year. Then we can give the homeless people a bit of hope."
Johnathan Samol, sixth grader at St. Christopher’s School in Tonawanda, finishes reading his first-place essay about the 2019 @ccbuffalo Appeal video, “Help Your Neighbor Find Hope.” pic.twitter.com/ZbT1Qm0vMN
— Keith McShea (@ByKeithMcShea) May 2, 2019
Malone, whose handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal has prompted calls for his resignation, did not attend Thursday's news conference.
"He decided not to be here today because he wanted 100% of the focus to be on Catholic Charities, on the client speaker, the young boy from St. Christopher's and the appeal leadership, and he didn’t want to do anything to take away from that," Walczyk said. "So he chose not to show up today."